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The Smartphone That Spies, and Other Surprises 132

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-see-what-you-did-there dept.
GMGruman writes "As smartphones become ubiquitous accessories, unexpected consequences can result. In this blog post, InfoWorld's Galen Gruman looks at some of the unintended consequences of mobile technology's ubiquity, in which very useful technology can also raise issues. For example, the US Army has put out a training video to tell troops how to disable the location detection on iPhones and Androids so they can't be tracked when on deployment. That's just one example of the behavior and awareness that most people haven't yet grokked. Others involve cameras, microphones, and USB drives."
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The Smartphone That Spies, and Other Surprises

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  • by Presto Vivace (882157) <marshall@prestovivace.biz> on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @03:03PM (#34632084) Homepage Journal
    someone will put out a phone with built in privacy?
    • by thewils (463314)

      For sure, but then only "terrorists" would want one.

      • by boristdog (133725)

        For sure, but then only "terrorists" would want one.

        A good excuse for the government to put a secret tracking device in all "untrackable" phones.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Yes. It's called a brick.

      Honestly, a phone is designed for social interaction, you can't have 100% privacy while audibly conversing with someone, they are bound to at least know the sound of your voice...

      You want a phone that doesn't have a GPS built in to track you, a camera to be logged, or a microphone to listen in on, go to a shady pawn shop, find a flip phone from 2001, call your telco about setting up the new phone, it might be as simple as moving the sim card over and having them change the device ID

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        Eventually, TSA will require all phones to scan through clothes and broadcast an updated image every 4 minutes to Hot or Not.

      • by digitig (1056110)

        Yes. It's called a brick.

        Honestly, a phone is designed for social interaction, you can't have 100% privacy while audibly conversing with someone, they are bound to at least know the sound of your voice...

        You want a phone that doesn't have a GPS built in to track you, a camera to be logged, or a microphone to listen in on, go to a shady pawn shop, find a flip phone from 2001, call your telco about setting up the new phone, it might be as simple as moving the sim card over and having them change the device ID they have listed.

        Seriously, strong privacy options are out there but most people want to be able to snap a pic and upload to facebook right away - so of course you don't get phones designed with privacy in mind.

        Catch up! Manufacturers and retailers have realised that there's a market for simple phones that are just phones. I bought one a few weeks ago for UK£0.99.

    • by spun (1352)

      someone will put out a phone with built in privacy?

      Yes, it's called two tin cans and a piece of string.

      • Sorry. One problem: Google Maps. You need to add: duck while you're doing it.

      • by migla (1099771)

        someone will put out a phone with built in privacy?

        Yes, it's called two tin cans and a piece of string.

        If you tie another string with a can at the other end to the string between the first two cans, you can overhear or join the conversation.

        • by spun (1352)

          Seeing as how the lines need to be taut to work, you would need to pull on your end, letting the other two parties know there was an eavesdropper.

          • by migla (1099771)

            Maybe, if I used a small lightweight paper cup and hung it on the line and stuck some really high tech mic into it... Maybe the pull would be small enough for the others not to suspect anything.

            • by spun (1352)

              Or you could use a line tied to mine at the center and pulled in both directions with the same force. Damn it, I just undid my own example.

              • by migla (1099771)

                I don't know... I've heard that these things get really finicky when you add enough cups. With some angles and number of cups you'll be able to hear just some parts of the conversations. I have a feeling directions perpendicular to the original line would be problematic, but maybe if both pulled in opposite directions from each others, but not at 90 degrees from the original line, and maybe the eavesdroppers would need to combine their notes...

                And, obviously it would be a good thing if both the original spe

    • Anti-Smartphone Phone Launched For Technophobes [slashdot.org]

      "A Dutch company has launched what it calls 'the world's simplest phone [johnsphones.com],' targeting users who are sick of new-generation models. Only capable of making and receiving calls, John's Phone is dubbed the world's simplest mobile phone, specifically designed for anti-smartphones users. It does not provide any hi-tech features. No apps. No Internet. No camera. No text messaging. All you have to do -- in fact, all you can do -- is call, talk and hang up."

      • It does not provide any hi-tech features. No apps. No Internet. No camera. No text messaging. All you have to do -- in fact, all you can do -- is call, talk and hang up.
         
        You don't have to be crazy to want a phone like that but you do have to be crazy to pay 79.95 EUR ($105) for it.

        • You don't have to be crazy to want a phone like that but you do have to be crazy to pay 79.95 EUR ($105) for it.

          This price seems pretty reasonable to me - By comparison, an unlocked, carrier-agnostic entry-level iPhone is over $500. Even a baseline LG GB250G is $150.

    • maybe you're ready there for a Jitterbug, pops, with you quaint ideas about privacy and such...
    • but then how would social networking work? The functionality behind the smart-phone drives the lack of privacy. The motivation of the supplier is not to give us privacy, quite the opposite. Bottom-line, we can only buy what they decide to sell and they will sell what makes them money. The true question is are we the driving revenue or is the collected information the biggest revenue? Then you can figure out who is the true customer and who are the cattle.
    • Any chance someone will put out a phone with built in privacy

      At least the Iphone gives you the option to disable location services for some or all apps requesting it. It's not much but still it's more than I expected.

      • At least the Iphone gives you the option to disable location services for some or all apps requesting it. that is something
    • The N900 is the closest modern phone to what you want, but even the cell network tracks your location, so no phone is private until you even disable the cell radio.

  • same old story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @03:05PM (#34632106) Homepage Journal

    It really is the same old story again.

    When the first iPhone was launched, one of the showcase apps was something where you could see where all your friends are. The first iPhone didn't have GPS, so it was WiFi and GSM triangulation and not very accurate, but my first thought was "do I want that?".

    Shouldn't it have a toggle - a hardware one even, just like the mute one - where I can decide whether I want my location shared or not? It should be quick and easy to toggle between those states. I would be off most of the time, other people would be on most of the time, but everyone has reasons, times or places they don't want to be located.

    • by kwerle (39371)

      Off/Airplane mode.

    • by drcheap (1897540)

      Well you can have a fairly quick and accessible toggle via SBSettings if you jailbreak an iPhone. Users of some other phones aren't so lucky.

      I agree that there needs to be a quick and easy way to toggle it, but at the same time you are going to need a few of those toggles, not just location but things like wifi, 3g, etc. But wait, that's going to get confusing/annoying to be constantly flipping toggles on the side of your phone (or even in software). That will actually detract from the device useability,

    • by spun (1352)

      You claim that everyone has reasons, times or places they don't want to be located.

      I claim that is not true, as an example, people who read slashdot do not have illicit sex.

    • by dbcad7 (771464)
      I keep my GPS turned off.. not because of this issue, but because of battery drain... and if I recall correctly, you have to opt-in to share your location, and then only to people you know.. which I would never do without a specific reason (say perhaps visiting some strange city with family/friends where we all go our own way exploring).. Further I also believe that even when you have this enabled, you can disable it any time you want... I am too lazy to look it up, and as I don't use it anyway, haven't nee
      • by dbcad7 (771464)

        Alright I spent a minute looking it up... http://google.about.com/od/mapsanddirections/p/Latitude_WhatIs.htm [about.com]

        Location Sharing:
        Latitude allows users to share their physical location with other users on their contact list. Likewise, they can see the location of their contacts.
        Privacy:
        Your location is not broadcast to the general public. In order to share your location, both you and your contact must agree to the service and explicitly turn Latitude on. You can disable Latitude at any point and either s

      • by icebike (68054)

        GPS is not that much of a battery drain. Its a very low power receiver. It only is switched on when something asks for your location.

        Turning GPS off often drops the phone into a mode where it has to fire up radios (hint: very high battery drain) to find where you are by triangulation with the towers. Usually this is when you are using the radio anyway, but it lengthens the transmissions with additional traffic.

        If the APP says it uses your location, and you install it anyway, you pay the price.

        So you are

    • Re:same old story (Score:5, Insightful)

      by symbolic (11752) on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @04:02PM (#34632996)

      I agree- There is a lot of room for improvement. For example, in the Android realm, when you download a new app, it tells you which permissions it wants - if you click the OK button, you've granted all those permissions. This is backward. It ought to be that you tell an app which of the requested permissions you'll allow. Second, there is no firewall on Android devices, unless you decide to root your tablet or phone. This should be standard. Finally, it's missing some other key tools that make for a more secure environment - for one, more control over things like Javascript.

    • You can turn off location services in settings, either generally or by app.

      Also when you are using a new application, you are asked two times when the application requests position, if you are OK with giving your location. It's not like applications can get your location without you knowing pretty well they are doing so.

      • by Tom (822)

        You can turn off location services in settings, either generally or by app.

        Yes, I know. I can also turn off sound the same way. Yet I use the mute button all the time. Does that tell you something about the incredible fun it is to hop through several screens to toggle a binary setting?

        • To claim it is binary is incorrect, because 99.9999999(% of people would never want to use it. I want to leave location services on all the time so I can use maps for a second and then do something else, without having to sit and remember a switch...

          It's really the toggle for various apps, where I would keep it off for most (but not) all apps. That lends itself way more to a setting screen.

          If you really, really care you would just jailbreak the phone and then add the top level switch there.

          • by Tom (822)

            If you really, really care you would just jailbreak the phone and then add the top level switch there.

            Because everyone who cares about cars absolutely must build his own? You've had a bit too much of the Linux Kool-aid. I can care about things that I can't or don't want to do myself.

            To claim it is binary is incorrect, because 99.9999999(% of people would never want to use it.

            That's also true for the mute button, or at least that's the impression I get every time I ride the train.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      My first thought at seeing the title of the article was "who is really surprised ?" I mean it is not like we have been talking about that for more than a decade...
      You have a microphone linked to a radio-emitter with a behavior you can not verify and everybody wears one. If you told that to a citizen of a democracy in 1980, it would tell you it is a potential Orwellian world. I mean people who call that a "surprise" are clearly lacking any sort of insight.
      • by jace_d (1955838)
        Yes it is the same old story, but one that needs to be retold over and over... for the children. The things that may be shocking and unheard of to you today ,will be the norms for the next generation. Morality often never spans the generation gap, it falls with its martyrs into the chasm,and only a faint echo from an "old fashioned" doom-sayer can be heard,and promptly dismissed. not fifty years ago,it was unheard of to have sex and children out of wedlock. now its a trend. ..... Even our current generatio
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      'but my first thought was "do I want that?"'

      Since your ID is 822, it's not for you, it's for your granddaughters.

    • When the iPhone was launched, it didn't have 3rd party apps. I don't know what this showcase app you're talking about is/was.

      Loopt, Facebook, etc let you check in so your friends can see where you are using the device's GPS, however the only way an app can access the GPS is through the API (otherwise your app won't get accepted to the app store). When the API is called, it asks the user if it wants to let the app use the GPS or not.

      This is an important benefit of the app store + approval model that Apple ha

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      When the first iPhone was launched, one of the showcase apps was something where you could see where all your friends are. The first iPhone didn't have GPS, so it was WiFi and GSM triangulation and not very accurate, but my first thought was "do I want that?".

      Shouldn't it have a toggle - a hardware one even, just like the mute one - where I can decide whether I want my location shared or not? It should be quick and easy to toggle between those states. I would be off most of the time, other people would be o

      • by Tom (822)

        But it is.

        No, it isn't. What you name is by far not the same thing. I don't want to go into settings, bla, bla. I use the mute hardware switch all the time, even though I could also go into settings, bla - because I don't want to change "settings". I want the damn thing to be silent until I tell it otherwise.

        An additional popup is a hack, not a solution. It gets in the way of me using stuff I want to use.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      It really is the same old story again.

      When the first iPhone was launched, one of the showcase apps was something where you could see where all your friends are. The first iPhone didn't have GPS, so it was WiFi and GSM triangulation and not very accurate, but my first thought was "do I want that?".

      Shouldn't it have a toggle - a hardware one even, just like the mute one - where I can decide whether I want my location shared or not? It should be quick and easy to toggle between those states. I would be off most of the time, other people would be on most of the time, but everyone has reasons, times or places they don't want to be located.

      wow, seriously?

      You telling me that they don't have options in the settings for togging gps, and location finding by wifi and stuff?

      Because, on my G1, they have those "toggles" as you say it. Software toggles, but that is sort of the point.

      the phone are mean to be sleek. putting a bunch of switch & sliders on it for stuff seems counter productive, costly, and of course, more crap to break.

      Seems to me your just bitching about people too lazy to actually go thru their phone settings and seeing what you

  • by S77IM (1371931) on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @03:12PM (#34632236)

    Am I the only one who thinks that when I buy a piece of hardware it should be mine to control, and that the company that built it should not be allowed to control it via software? For example, I want full and explicit control over whether programs can read my location -- like, a physical switch or something. Or the stories about how the FBI can remotely activate your phone's mic and listen to your conversations. That's kind of crap.

    Then this article comes along and... they want to give my boss control over my phone? Sorry, but that sucks too.

      -- S77IM

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Am I the only one who thinks that when I buy a piece of hardware it should be mine to control,

      No, but there aren't very many who agree with you. I am one who does agree with you, but then, I haven't bought one of the current smart phones for the very reason that it does not become mine to control after purchase.

      But don't for a minute think that we have much company. I'm guessing less than 1% of the populace cares.

    • by vlueboy (1799360)

      The day we as users found connectivity convenient to "locate" things on the web... corporations and governments realized the same thing, where s/locate things/locate YOU/. We allowed ourselves to be put in a game where we all want to play, and the price is that we must allow 2-ways tracking --otherwise our products never see the light of day.
      That the tracking leans heavily against us, even the paying customers is what the public is just discovering with Facebook (paid apps), governments versus Wikileaks and

    • by zero_out (1705074) on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @05:38PM (#34634524)
      Didn't you know, you don't BUY a piece of hardware? You LICENSE it. That means you have the right to use it only how they say you can use it. That allows Microsoft to brick your XBox if you mod it, Sony to remove features (Other OS), Apple to dictate which networks you can use your iPhone on, etc., etc.
    • If it is a company issued phone, your boss already owns it. (If you don't want your boss to see your extensive porn collection, don't surf porn on the company phone.)

      Being able to have your provider remotely access and/or wipe your phone is a feature that most people actually want. If you lose your phone and it can't be remotely wiped, what do you do about your private data? Grin and bear it becasue you smartly locked your phone down so that if it isn't in your hands, you are powerless? That sucks too. So
  • by Compaqt (1758360) on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @03:14PM (#34632264) Homepage

    says a General:

    Let's give every soldier a smartphone.

    Oh, and, to insure 100% privacy and OPSEC, let's have our Chinese suppliers build a "do not track" button into the device, which we'll tell the troops to activate when going out on a mission.

    • This is not about any army issue equipment. That's all made in the USA and the soldiers are trained in its use. It's about the soldiers' own personal phones.

      • by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @05:03PM (#34634002) Homepage

        Which doesn't at all change the point the parent is making... you don't have many options to verify that that button actually does what it claims to do, whereas it is a pretty well known fact among those who ever digged into the technology for a little bit, that a cellphone can be located to within a couple hundred meters, smartphone or not, location services or not.

        If the military wants to make sure soldiers aren't trackable during deployment, forbidding cellphones alltogether is the only option.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          only if you are using civilian towers. The military can, and has, put up their own 'towers' There not really towers since they can be redeployed easily.

    • Don't be ridiculous, an outsourced software group in Russia will be hired to review the specs to make sure everything's legit...
    • Back when I was in the navy, The Army decided to go to Black berets for every soldier. I picked up the an issue of army times, and saw that the first batch (700,000!) all had a "made in china" tag on them. The army ditched them of course. Expensive mistake
  • Hang on, I thought you did not take identifiable stuff with you when on deployment?
    Name and rank is all that is given? (according to tv anyway!)

    "Oh sorry Mr Torturer, I got a call from my girlfriend, can we stop the beatings whilst I take this?"

    • by icebike (68054)

      Your definition of deployment is not the one presumed here.

      It doesn't mean when on a combat mission in a war zone.

      It merely means when stationed somewhere other than the US where your phone is running on networks not owned/controlled by friendly companies, and where there are elements in the general population what would love to put a bullet in your ear.

      Even wandering around in supposedly friendly countries (with a certain level of enemy sympathizers) with your phone reporting your position to facebook or s

  • grok? really? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As much as I love Heinlein, using the term grok just doesn't work. It doesn't make you look cool. It doesn't make you look well read. It just doesn't work.
    • by Chapter80 (926879)

      As much as I love Heinlein, using the term grok just doesn't work. It doesn't make you look cool. It doesn't make you look well read. It just doesn't work.

      +1.

      Word choice is critical in making short messages easy to gro.., er, understand.

      • by vlueboy (1799360)

        Word choice is critical in making short messages easy to gro.., er, understand.

        Net-jargon that has failed to be approved for dictionaries will confuse readers of automatic translations --they were never perfect to begin with, but are increasingly ubiquitous.* [digitaltrends.com]

        People don't think they'll reach readers whose native language isn't theirs... that'll change: see how quick we link to Sweedish translations of Assange's newspaper stories, for example. This is important enough that a certain mainstream browser goes "It looks like you were sent to a Chinese website... want me to translate it to E

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Using it makes you look fucking ancient. "Grok" was in fashion a LONG time ago. Time to let it go.

      • Re:grok? really? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday December 21, 2010 @04:57PM (#34633888) Homepage Journal

        Using it makes you look fucking ancient

        I'm not the submitter, but I am fucking ancient! Now GOML!

        IMO anybody who cringes at "grok" has no right to call himself a nerd. It's one of OUR words; normal people have no clue what "grok" is.

        Grok" was in fashion a LONG time ago

        Anybody who gives a shit about fashion has no right to call himself a nerd, either. And saying "it was in fashion a long time ago", well, "understand" was "in fashion" a lot longer (and "grok" means more than just "understand").

      • Using it makes you look fucking ancient.

        So it makes you look as if you had sex with a mummy? :-)

    • I was about to make my own post about this, it's fucking irritating (i'd rank it right up there with Microsoft's 'to the cloud!' ads), and I'm glad I didn't (potentially) have to eat the loss in karma. mod AC up informative.
  • C'mon, this isn't exactly a secret - a lot of non-geek users know about it, and many seem to see it as a plus. Ever hear of the app "Friend Tracker", for instance?

    While I personally agree this is a bad thing, a lot of non-geeks don't appear to agree. Heck, I've even got geek friends who obviously don't care about being tracked - at least it seems that way, based on the plethora of "Joe X is now at Slim's Sub Shoppe" messages I see from them on Facebook.

    • by khr (708262)

      ..While I personally agree this is a bad thing, a lot of non-geeks don't appear to agree. Heck, I've even got geek friends who obviously don't care about being tracked...

      I don't see what being a geek or non-geek has to do with it. I'd consider myself a geek and I think it's fun to have all those location updates when I'm out and about (especially if I can find something whitty to say about the places I go).

      The difference, though, is as a geek, I at least understand what I'm sharing.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I find several things appalling with regards to these sorts of things.

    Where to start? I find it to be sickening that blackberry phones have been -known- bug devices. They can be remotely powered on, without alerting the user in any way (no lights, sound, etc) and various agencies can listen in on any private conversation the person is having, while the phone is presumably off in their pocket.

    I find it really sickening that this has been known for years. *years* and so so so few people have any idea.

    I find i

    • What Ignorant Masses? Maybe "Paranoid Coward" or "Captain Imagination" is a better name for you.

      I've been admin of various BES boxes for many years, including my own personal BES at home. I've seen ways to remotely shut down/lock/erase blackberries but I've never discovered a way to remotely turn on a phone that's already off in someone's pocket. Interesting. I wonder why the battery doesn't die on these turned-off phones in everyone's pocket since of course they must still be awake ("on") enough to rec

  • ...did he just say grokked?
    • by ears_d (1400833)
      Yeah, he (she) did. Funny how old geek speak isn't being carried on....
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        It never really was. Just like 'boxen', it was only used by people that wanted to sound like they knew what they were talking about.
      • by Tacvek (948259)

        I was not aware the term had been out of use so long it would surprise people. I mean I know I have seen it in active use within the last year or two. I would have used it if the situation seemed appropriate without a second thought.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Warms the heart, doesn't it? Glad to see there are still a few real nerds here.

  • "Built-in microphone and cameras also can have unintended consequences... personal embarrassment (forgetting to end a call, then be heard talking like a sailor by a client)."

    How, exactly, is this new to smartphones?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      or ANY phone?

    • by frdmfghtr (603968)

      Been there, done that...thought I hung up the phone and left a short audio clip of me talking like a sailor (which, coincidentally, I was at the time). Later she asks, "Do you always talk like that?"

  • You mean, by removing the battery? Unless the phone is OFF, it is possible to at least trace which cell tower it is closest to.
    • The only way to switch your phone off is to remove the battery? Yeah, technically there are a few circuits still powered even if the phone is off (otherwise it would be impossible to switch it on again, given that phones don't have a hardware off switch (at least I don't know any which has). However as long as it doesn't use the communication circuits, it cannot be located.

      Of course, you don't even need to switch your phone off for this. You just have to put it into airplane mode.

  • Who the hell uses THAT word?? Still living in the Sci-Fi fantasy world?
  • Or maybe on friends or colleagues instead?

    "There's an app for it."

    At least if you've got an Apple iPhone:

    "PatriotApp
    By Citizen Concepts

    Description

    PatriotAppTM deputizes your iPhone or iPad! It is the world’s first app that allows citizens to assist government agencies in creating safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities. The easy to use graphical interface allows you to report pertinent information to government agencies and share with others via social networking and blogs, all at your fingerti

  • OK, obviously turning off Latitude, making sure there are no apps spying on you, etc... are important. Still, even if you do get an old TracPhone from the 90s or some other totally non-smart device the only way to be sure it can't be used against you is to remove the battery. Your position can be narrowed down surprisingly good just by checking the signal strength at a few towers.

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