13 September 2017

More than one way to ...

... cross London by Underground - eg from Waterloo to King's Cross -
tfl tracked signals from mobile phones trying to connect to wi-fi, in a pilot study working towards providing live information on which routes are busiest, or easiest. 

As this article explains, data were obtained "by logging the individual Media Access Control (MAC) address numbers that all smartphones emit when trying to connect to a local Wi-Fi hotspot, and by logging each point where a smartphone tried to connect to the Wi-Fi service".

My immediate, horrified reaction was, if someone was concerned about "being tracked", they would need to turn off their phone so that it doesn't try, unasked, to connect. My phone sends me messages about "wi-fi networks are available", and now I realise that there's a MAC address number available to ... someone ... or everyone ...

Not that I'm paranoid about this, just trying to figure out how this 21st century world works! There are people who only turn their phone on when they need to use it, which might make some sense.

All this makes me wonder, what useful things does one have to give up (or see as trade-offs) in order to be part of the modern world?

Fortunately the article goes on to explain that the data were double-scrambled to anonymise and then put through an irreversible encryption code. But "Whether [the systems used here to allay privacy concerns] will survive the government’s current desire to weaken data encryption though, that’s the big issue that could cause a privacy headache in the future."

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