…we’ll be watching you. Bluetooth, that is. At least according to the rather over-hyped Bluetooth is watching: secret study gives Bath a flavour of Big Brother. I don’t have a lot of sympathy. If you go around shouting out “Hello my name is Eric Fertang” then you shouldn’t complain if people listen.

Top quote: “This is yet another example of moronic use of privacy concerns,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, an independent campaigning group defending personal privacy (err, well no, not quite: he actually said “technology” not “privacy concerns”, but I know what he meant). “If the technology is as safe as they claim, then all the technical specifications should be published and people should be informed when they are being tracked.” The BT spec *is* published… how does he think people implement it? Guesswork? And I can’t see being constantly pinged with text messages saying “you’re being tracked… you’re still being tracked…” would be very popular (or even possible: you can’t get someones phone number from their BT address, unless they give it to you; nor can you necessarily talk to them just cos they are shouting at you). “It would not take much adjustment to make this system a ubiquitous surveillance infrastructure over which we have no control”. Well no, you just have to tell your phone not to go around shouting at people.

[This is my first post in my "bluetooth" category, and my first into the "technology" channel"]


  1. #1 Babakathy

    I do not see how this is a very significant development. It is already possible to track the locations of active SIM cards (ie in mobile phones which are on, with or without bluetooth) and this is used in some cities for traffic monitoring and planning (the one case I have heard of they us they get the realtime locations but not the mobile numbers from the telecommunications provider). Bluetooth seems to me a more restricted monitoring tool, given the short distance it communicates over. It is also more private as it is (i) easy to turn off and (ii) does not transmit any details you do not programme in about your identity: the basic bluetooth ID relates to the hardware (cellphone, laptop etc) and to trace this to an individual whilst not impossible would be complex. SIM tracking provides a much readier way to track individuals, but could be regulated (perhaps already is?) in terms of what details mobile network provider may legally disclose to government or to anyone.

    [I don't know about sim tracking. Can anyone do it, or do you have to be a mobile phone company? -W]

  2. #2 Adam

    My only worry (for want of a better word) about BT tracking is that I’ve seen some phones sold with BT turned on, and know many people who (a) have no idea what it is, (b) have no idea their phone has it and (c) don’t know (how) to turn it off. However, if all phones were sold with it turned off, it’s not an issue – and I accept that may be the case nowadays, I haven’t bought a phone for a few years.

  3. #3 Babakathy

    SIM tracking: Th method that was explained to me (verbally, sorry, no citation) you need access to data automatically recorded by the mobile network base stations, so either they are cooperating with you or (possibly) you are hacking the base stations.

  4. #4 Ian

    Your name is really “Eric Fertang”? That’s an anagram of “Recta Finger”. I knew it! You’re the alter-ego of my favorite superhero! No wonder I like your blog!

    [Should have been Fred Fertang I think - its Milligan. Though google doesn't know it -W]

  5. #5 Eli Rabett

    Eric Fertang, Eric Blair, the second most powerful man on Wikipedia, our William is a stoat of many names.

  6. #6 phisrow

    Surely you don’t actually think that the fellow you quoted is talking about the Bluetooth Specification itself? He is referring to the existence of however many hundreds or thousands of BT scanner stations throughout the city. I strongly suspect that that one isn’t exactly well publicized. Obviously texting people every few yards is stupid; but do you think that oh, a few articles in local media about the project would be so unreasonable? There is a considerable difference between the well known fact that BT devices are designed to be discoverable and the not so well known fact that the entire city is wired with scanners looking for BT devices, and aggregating the data.

    [BT devices are designed to have a discoverable mode; you don'thave to turn it on. Nor, usually, will people learn anything useful if you turn it on, including your identity. Unless they track you to your home, I suppose... -W]

    Ultimately, the interesting bit about such a development is not the type of sensors chosen. As you say, BT is an easy one to defeat. Cameras(much beloved of the brits), eventually with machine vision, or cell tracking would not be. A combination of sensor techniques would be essentially impossible to defeat. The interesting bit is that sensors are deliberately being deployed, along with a database and data aggregation system in the background, putting the sensor data together for everybody. Being detectable in public is as old as human society. It being economically viable to watch everybody, all the time, is quite new(outside of the tiniest and closest knit of villages). The fact that the first iteration is imperfect doesn’t change that.

    [Fair point. Especially about machine vision -W]

    How about this one? http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v453/n7196/full/nature06958.html
    If you were one of 100,000 people who had your cellphone on in some European city during a six month period, your location was continuously observed. Bluetooth or not, didn’t matter. If your phone was active, you were observed. Should privacy require not emitting any RF at all, at any time?

    [Thanks for the link. I can't help noting that We find that, in contrast with the random trajectories predicted by the prevailing Lévy flight and random walk models7, human trajectories show a high degree of temporal and spatial regularity seems utterly bizarre to me - who on earth would predict that human trajectories were random? Peoples trajectories are highly regular and strongly grouped. Being an ex-scientist, I can ask: isn't this the osrt of study where you assume something blatantly untrue but justify it with a high-falutin name, and then proceed to write a paper demonstrating the bleedin obvious?

    On the substance, as I understand it mobile phone tracking can only be done by agreement with the base stations owner (see previous comment) -W]

  7. #7 James Annan

    Foreigners in Japan are being threatened with RFID-equipped identity cards, that we must carry at all times, so our every movement can be tracked. It is rumoured that a few minutes in a microwave solves that problem…

  8. #8 Adam

    When I last looked into RFID (about three years ago), the only way that would work would be by having lots of scanners around, and they would be the ones trying to detect the RFID tags. This is quite possible, but the number involved for country-wide coverage makes it quite a daunting prospect.

    With the tag being passive there are (as you say) ways to defeat the system – some probably don’t involved damaging the tag either, which may end up being an offence of some sort.

  9. #9 phisrow

    I completely agree with respect to the null hypothesis of that paper I linked to. From a purely mathematical perspective, random walk might be the appropriate zero knowledge assumption; but I cannot imagine it receiving any serious consideration as an actual working hypothesis. The paper is notable, to my mind, almost exclusively by virtue of being an early and dramatic example of cell based datamining on a moderately large scale. The results are interesting; but not especially surprising.

    It is an a sobering reminder of what will soon be possible, particularly because of how limited the subset of possibility they actually made use of is. They only recorded the cell tower used to send/receive a call or text when one was transmitted. All modern cell equipment is capable of considerably higher resolution, with essentially continual reporting, and that with just the cooperation of the cell stations. If you bring manipulation of the handset into play, the options are even more dramatic. We’ve seen a few examples in the US of the Feds remotely activating cellphones to use them as “roving bugs”. Just send the phone a signal, and it silently activates its mic and opens a line to the FBI. All sorts of cute possibilities, with the cooperation of the telcoms and the right software.

  10. #10 James Annan

    I don’t think anyone was proposing actually tracking foreigners when they go on camping trips through the mountains, but rather at the ticket barriers of train station and shop entrances etc. It is hard to avoid these for any length of time while living a normal life…

  11. #11 Adam

    Obviously, but even then it would need to be a subset of shops surely, and a relatively a small one at that? Maybe not.

  12. #12 phisrow

    @Adam: Given the move toward using RFID for contactless payment(instead of/in addition to mag stripe) RFID readers are starting to show up in fairly standard, low-end point-of-sale cardswipe machines. In the short to medium term, it would be safe to bet on greater than 80% penetration of RFID scanners in the retail sector.

  13. #13 Adam

    phisrow thanks. It’s one of those aspects that seems alternately more and less feasible every time I revisit it. I guess the issue with what you’ve said though is the government being able to tap into those readers and them being able to read the tags. Both are possible, obviously.

    Ah well, I still use some shops who don’t even have card readers, but that’s in the UK so irrelevant to the case in point.

  14. #14 Olivia Reid

    I am concern about being watched 24/7 around the clock. When I am asleep my neighbors have a camera watching me. I am during research to try to find out what tpe of camera they are using to watch my every move, and to record my every word. This has bee going on since 1997. What type of camera could they be using or is it a phone or a GS device? from reading your information, I can see they have been tracking me through my cell phone. Please answer. Also, from the information, that i understand only a police officers can use this device. Please respond.Thank you, OR / 7/10/2009