Monday, October 13, 2014

Titan Is Watching You

Nobody involved could possibly think this is a good idea.  They probably enjoy being paid very well but you can't participate without thinking it might not end well. The headline on Buzzfeed read as follows:
"A company that controls thousands of New York City’s phone booth advertising displays has planted tiny radio transmitters known as “beacons” — devices that can be used to track people’s movements — in hundreds of pay phone booths in Manhattan"
Sadly it's true. Titan, the outdoor media company installed about 500 of the beacons in New York City. Their idea was to track users and serve them yet more advertisements. The problem was that they are physically tracking them.. you know like a creepy leery stalker guy. Apparently they have installed them in other major cities s well including San Francisco and L.A. among others. Supposedly, New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Communications (DoITT ) was only told by Titan that they were intended "for maintenance purposes only."  If that statement is true... then they should be expecting a tersely worded letter from the NY attorney general. Only weeks ago the U.S. Justice department arrested the CEO of InvoCode Hammad Akbar, for selling mobile apps designed to spying on peoples' smart phones including their location. More here.

How is this possible?  I'm not asking about oversight. I'm talking physics.  In a wordBluetooth.  Invented by telecom vendor Ericsson in 1994, it was originally intended as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cabling. Today it's the duct tape of the internet-of-things. Bluetooth operates in the UHF band between 2.4 to 2.485 GHz. Different standards can slice that into 40-79 channels that are either 1 or 2 MHz wide. The devices can change frequencies at up to 1600 hops per second, GFSK (Gaussian frequency-shift keying). it can move a lot of data quickly, but it only works over short distances.
For Titan, this meant extrapolating the movements by tracking the movements of multiple people via the wireless devices they carried as they passed near their beacons. they then tracked their movements like the old Decca air navigation system in reverse. [I wonder if they violated any patents doing that?] For the record the devices are made by Gimbal, Titan invented none of this RF technology. Previously before embarking on a career of crime, Titan was just selling ad space on the thousands of panels in phone kiosks around the city. After the story broke last week, New York City ordered the removal of the devices.