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Computing Now Exclusive Content — May 2011

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

by George Lawton

A mysterious location database file was on found on the iPhone 4, raising privacy concerns and geek curiosity. At the Where 2.0 Conference last April, Alisdair Allan, senior research fellow at the University of Exeter, and Pete Warden, founder of Data Science Toolkit, reported finding a mysterious unencrypted database file going by the name "consolidated.db" with almost a year's worth of location data. The file was being stored on both iPhone and iPad2 devices.

"The thing that startled me was that this survived through multiple devices," Allan said. It was also backed up unencrypted on the Mac.

Triangulation

Apple said this particular file actually represents data transmitted from Apple to the iPhone relating to cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots within 100 miles of the phone’s location. It’s used to improve the location-resolution process by using radio data the phone receives.

With GPS alone, an iPhone can take more than a minute to resolve a new location. Using the local Wi-Fi/cell-tower location cache, along with observations about nearby signal strength, the iPhone triangulate its location faster than it can with GPS alone. In some cases, such as inside a building, these other techniques can resolve a location without any GPS assistance.

An Apple update reduced the consolidated.db file size to seven days of data and lets users delete it entirely by turning location services off. The next major iOS operating system upgrade will also encrypt the file on the phone.

The Google Android phone, which uses a similar approach to improve location services, had already implemented the privacy measures that Apple recently made.

The use of mobile devices for gathering and utilizing shared location data represents a relatively new frontier in efforts to automate crowdsourcing. Many online efforts have sprung up to let the masses participate in the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI@home), track earthquakes (Quake-Catcher), or solve problems (Mechanical Turk).

Using cell phones as sensors to automatically gather data about cell networks can lead to better planning and network designs. Apple has announced plans to use similar techniques for automatically and anonymously gathering location data for an upcoming traffic application. However, automatically gathering data raises privacy concerns, even when efforts are made to anonymize the data. This recent programming error has shown that data leaks can show up in the most obscure places.

Privacy by Design

"In Apple's, case, their particular goal of helping users get location faster made sense, but could still create a privacy issue," said Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Consumer Privacy.

He said the fundamental issue is that organizations need to practice "privacy by design." This requires managers and engineers to think privacy implications through at design time, before they create more costly problems in the future.

In some cases, individuals opt for extended tracking from any application service provider to benefit from more features, such as Foursquare for social sharing. Location Labs works with cell-phone companies to aggregate access to location data from over 300 million phones in North America. Using this service, independent software developers can create applications for families or offices that use ordinary cell phones from different cell-phone providers with no installed software. More sophisticated applications can prevent kids from driving and texting.

The Skyhook Core Engine lets developers add location-tagging features to their applications. Skyhook mines about 300 million location requests per day to predict the density of people in predefined block-by-block areas. Developers can use this anonymous data in location-aware programming frameworks that work across multiple PC and smartphone operating systems.

In other cases, people can inadvertently publish personal data without realizing it. For example, smartphones can automatically record the location where a picture was taken, without the owner realizing it. "A photo-processing application might access the raw data and then spread it in ways you might not expect," Brookman said.

The Value of Anonymity

The concern is that if a big company like Apple can accidentally share your data, what about these smaller companies? And what about a company like a bar locater that might sell your location data to any advertiser that wants to pay? Or a company that might use the data to charge people different prices based on where they've gone. At the moment, there is no legal framework for sharing location information.

"There is a value, a right to anonymity," said Brookman. "I can do things without someone looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do. If I feel a lot of companies are watching me, I might behave differently than if I had true anonymity."

On the flip side, Allan just wants to use the data to learn more. He said he might not upgrade his iPhone OS, if he lost the ability to get a consolidated location file so easily.

To download the application Pete Warden wrote to visualize cell-tower location data, see http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker.

George Lawton is a freelance technology write based in Guerneville, CA. You can reach him at glawton@glawton.com.