I was at a birthday party with Lady C and her family this weekend, and at some point during the gig her old man came along to show me an iPhone application that he had, which could track any cellphone number you put in! For the sake of demonstration I gave him my cellphone number and at the second try I was horrified to see that it almost immediately could pinpoint my exact location, implementing Google Maps as a backdrop. You may have seen this yourself:
Personally I felt queezy about the whole thing. Because I knew I could not be tracked by GPS (it was turned off), and that triangulation in Norway requires top-down permission; and unless I’ve been compromised I have no tracker software installed on the phone. So why did he have to have my number? Could it be that this app was using the input telephone number, he was careful to put the +47 in front of it both tries, in comparison with a nearby telephone? But what kind of hardware would that imply? In fact, he did state that I had to stand next to him.
Cue Occam’s razor, from the developer’s notes on iTunes:
Well, it’s actually finding [the iPhone’s] location, but since you are with them, they will think it actually found THEIR location. The super realistic transitions and graphics are sure to fool anyone. Trust me… everyone i have tried this on has fallen for it every time! The app will then scan the world, transition across four different zoom levels and pinpoint their exact location (which is really your location) on the map with a radar icon marker.
I was totally duped, while at the same time I couldn’t really believe it. I did not for a second believe that it actually tracked my phone amongst all the world’s phones, because I know how hard this is to do. But I still gave him credit enough to consider a sensor which had to do with the EM spectrum of any nearby phone as compared to a lookup on phone number. I just never connected the dots. Or rather, and more importantly, removed the extra dots.
Idling at work today I just had to check this out. I found this horrible site which clearly ruins the surprise for everyone. Whoops! Right now I just don’t know what to make of it. Here’s my GF’s father setting me up, my GF’s sister and so on. Was it payback for my iPhone bashing or is he simply not aware that he’s tracking his own phone? And sending the data to Google Earth while he’s at it..
You could actually buy the ISP tracking information from I.C.U Inc. before but it became illegal under Bush in 2007. Just not for big brother. In terms of being an eye-opener to the possibilities of tracking, it was a fun little gag. And if you haven’t been confronted with it yet, consider yourself warned. Or better yet, informed. I’ll probably write more on the realities of tracking later.