[OPLIN 4cast] OPLIN 4cast #349: Telltale MACs

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Wed Aug 28 10:30:14 EDT 2013

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OPLIN 4cast #349: Telltale MACs
August 28st, 2013

radarModern smartphones contain quite a few sensors that apps can use to 
gather data about you. The tri-axial accelerometer, for example, can be 
used by exercise apps to determine how fast you are moving while your 
phone is in your pocket or purse, and when coupled with data gathered by 
the phone's magnetometer and gyroscope, the apps can also know in what 
direction you are moving and even gather clues 
about how much you weigh. Of course, if you don't use the apps, then you 
don't share this data about yourself. But there's one piece of 
information a smartphone broadcasts every time it is using Wi-Fi or 
Bluetooth that you can't turn off: its MAC (media access control) 
address, which is a hardware identification number required by most 
network technologies. A marketing company in London recently 
demonstrated a clever way of harvesting useful information from MAC 
addresses - until public outcry forced city officials to make them turn 
it off.

  * This recycling bin is following you
    (Quartz/Siraj Datoo)  "The bins record a unique identification
    number, known as a MAC address
    <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAC_address>, for any nearby phones
    and other devices that have Wi-Fi turned on. That allows Renew to
    identify if the person walking by is the same one from yesterday,
    even her specific route down the street and how fast she is walking."
  * No, this isn't a scene from /Minority Report/. This trash can /is/
    stalking you
    (Ars Technica/Dan Goodin)  "The marketing materials don't say this,
    but it might also be possible to attach specific attributes to the
    MAC addresses that are collected. A phone that goes into the women's
    room probably belongs to a female, for instance, while a MAC address
    entering the Big and Tall clothing retailer probably belongs to a
    person of large carriage."
  * Smartphone tracking: When good intentions go wrong
    (ScreenMedia Daily/SMD Editor)  "Renew didn't do itself any favors
    when they said in their press release that the 'consolidated data of
    our beta testing highlights the significance of the Renew ORB
    technology as a powerful tool for corporate clients and retailers.
    It provides an unparalleled insight into the past behavior of each
    unique device including entry/exit points, dwell times, places of
    work, places of interest, and affinity to other devices - and should
    provide compelling reach database for predictive analytics, such as
    likely places to eat, drink, personal habits etc.'"
  * City of London calls halt to smartphone tracking bins
    <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23665490> (BBC News/Joe
    Miller)  "While the collection of anonymous data through MAC
    addresses is legal in the UK, the practice has been described as a
    'grey area'. The UK and the EU have strict laws about mining
    personal data using cookies, which involves effectively installing a
    small monitoring device on people's phones or computers, but the
    process of tracking MAC codes leaves no trace on individuals' handsets."

*/MAC fact:/*

The first portion of the MAC address, which is stored in a smartphone's 
hardware when it is made, identifies the manufacturer, so the recycling 
bins in London also knew the brands of the phones people were carrying.
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