Home Business IT Security Your every move will be tracked (updated)

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Imagine walking around a shopping centre and having your every move tracked; by software that has latched onto your mobile phone's unique ID.

Well-known privacy researcher Roger Clarke has labelled this technology 'seriously creepy.' Others call it an invasion of privacy.

What is it?  Path Intelligence (from the UK-based company of the same name) is a method of tracking people in any reasonably confined space (a shopping mall is perfect) by their mobile phone.  It appears that the mobile phone doesn't even need to be turned on for this technology to work as there is enough low-level processing happening in a phone even when (supposedly) turned off; it will certainly respond to ID number requests.  Your only option is to pull the battery out.  Which means the only way to avoid being tracked is to remove the battery from your phone; hardly convenient. (Update: Path Intelligence CEO Sharon Biggar has since asserted that the system will not track a phone that's turned off)

According to the Path Intelligence web site a set of aerials is installed throughout the facility which are able to latch on to every mobile phone within range and track its movement with an accuracy of two metres. 

A recent report indicated that the technology has been installed in two US shopping malls and it would appear that an as-yet unidentified Queensland-based mall will have the technology soon.

Despite the fact that the company is emphatically insistent that all privacy is maintained, that only the phones are tracked (not the users), the technology is ripe for abuse. 

Read on for all manner of possible ways this system could be misused in the future with a few simple changes to the storage and reporting of data.

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David Heath

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David Heath has over 25 years experience in the IT industry, specializing particularly in customer support, security and computer networking. Heath has worked previously as head of IT for The Television Shopping Network, as the network and desktop manager for Armstrong Jones (a major funds management organization) and has consulted into various Australian federal government agencies (including the Department of Immigration and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence). He has also served on various state, national and international committees for Novell Users International; he was also the organising chairman for the 1994 Novell Users' Conference in Brisbane. Heath is currently employed as an Instructional Designer, building technical training courses for industrial process control systems.

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