Not to Be Outdone by Apple, Google’s Android Tracks Everywhere You Go, Too. Michigan Police Taking Data Already for Years.

I wrote earlier this week about the revelation that Apple was recording everywhere an iPhone went in a hidden file on the iPhone, and on any computer with which it was synched.

It appears that any concept of privacy is simply toast in this nation. It has now been reported that police in Michigan have already for a couple of years or more been using technology to suck data off phones, without warrant or due process, or notification to the owner of the phone.

And an acquaintance mentioned to me after seeing the post on the Apple iPhone debacle that they had started to get an iPhone, but had decided on the Android instead, because they trusted Android more than Apple.

Well, so much for that trust, apparently.

Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Google Inc.’s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal—intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people’s locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

n the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.

Google declined to comment on the findings.

Apple, Google Collect User Data

Yeah, I guess in the wake of all the uproar over the ‘accidental’ recording of information off of peoples WiFi connections by the Google Street View team, Google might want a moment to think about this latest revelation before responding. Don’t Be Evil? What an outdated motto and credo, I guess. So last century. So pre-9/11. Presumption of innocence and the idea of silly fluff like probable cause and warrants is just so 1776 – 2001.

As for the Police in Michigan, their actions are the perfect illustration of what one commentator notes is the rocky relationship between technology and civil liberties.

The “Universal Forensic Extraction Device” sounds like the perfect cell phone snooping gadget.

Its maker, Israel-based Cellbrite, says it can copy all the content in a cell phone — including contacts, text messages, call history, and pictures — within a few minutes. Even deleted texts and other data can be restored by UFED 2.0, the latest version of the product, it says.

And it really is a universal tool. The firm says UFED works with 3,000 cell phone models, representing 95 percent of the handset market. Coming soon, the firm says on its website: “Additional major breakthroughs, including comprehensive iPhone physical solution; Android physical support – allowing bypassing of user lock code, (Windows Phone) support, and much more.” For good measure, UFEC can extract information from GPS units in most cars.

The gadget isn’t a stalker’s dream; it’s an evidence-gathering tool for law enforcement. Cellbrite claims it’s already in use in 60 countries.

That apparently includes the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan says it has learned that state police there have purchased some of the gadgets. What is it doing with them? So far, Michigan authorities aren’t telling. A public records request for information by the ACLU was met with a prohibitive $500,000 bill to cover the supposed cost of making the documents available.

“They did produce documents which confirmed that they have them,” said Mark Fancher, a staff attorney at the ACLU office. “We have no idea what they are doing with them.”

Technology and the Fourth Amendment have had a rocky relationship. When The Founding Fathers created protections against unlimited search and seizure, they never imagined the kind of tools that would be available to 21st century police officers.

Gadget gives cops quick access to cell phone data

The ACLU (and why are you NOT a member? Got something against the Constitution and Bill of Rights?) is already pursuing these issues in court. I wish I could say I had great hopes of the ACLU making progress on this, but given the tendency of the courts since the beginning of the Bush administration to simply abandon all pretense of actually ruling based on the law, and not whim and caprice, I am not holding my breath.

The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

“With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity,” Fancher wrote. “A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched.”

The national ACLU is currently suing the Department of Homeland Security for its policy of warrantless electronic searches of laptops and cell phones belonging to people entering the country who are not suspected of committing any crime.

ACLU seeks information on Michigan program that allows cops to download information from smart phones belonging to stopped motorists.

Here is another report on the ACLU’s efforts in Michigan.

A civil rights organization is urging the Michigan State Police to release information about devices it has that are capable of quickly extracting all kinds of information from cell phones.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says it has been battling the state for information about the devices for three years and worries the tool is being used to obtain information unlawfully.

In a statement Wednesday, the State Police said the devices are used only if a search warrant is obtained or the person in possession of the phone consents and are not used to extract personal information from citizens during routine traffic stops. The devices, the statement says, are to “only be used by MSP specialty teams on criminal cases, such as crimes against children.”

Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan with the Racial Justice Project, said the group’s initial Freedom of Information Act request to the State Police was made in 2008, which confirmed that the police had the devices. A subsequent request for records showing use of the devices was met with a bill from the State Police of more than $500,000 for the information, according to the group. He said narrower requests also were unsuccessful.

ACLU scrutinizes State Police over device that grabs cell phone data

Finally, here is some commentary by Lauren Weinstein, of The Privacy Forum.

iPhone Location Tracking Brouhaha in Perspective + Personal Status Note

Before I proceed to the main topic of this posting, I’d like to apologize to everyone who has sent me email over the last several days that has been unacknowledged and unanswered, and for the sudden cessation of all activity on my main mailing lists — PRIVACY Forum ( ) – People For Internet Responsibility ( ) – Network Neutrality Squad ( ) — the IDONS Forums ( ), as well as on my blog, Twitter, and Google Buzz. I am not purposely ignoring you, and I’ll try to explain a bit more after the iPhone tracking discussion that begins … now.

I’ve probably received more email on the recent “revelations” concerning location “tracking” data being stored on various iOS (iPhone, iPad) devices (and thence apparently backed up routinely to connected computers) than for nearly any other topic in recent memory. Some articles that provide background on this are: (Engadget) and (Huffington).

I will not now delve into the question of “who discovered what when” or the specific precision and granularity of the data collected (e.g. cell site triangulation/location vs. GPS) — except to note that especially in urban regions, the area covered by a single cell sector or microcell can be very small and yield quite precise location information even without user GPS data. The applicability of the Apple/iOS Terms of Service (ToS) to the collection of the location data in question I’ll let the lawyers tangle over.

Some observers (many of whom seem to be rather hardcore Apple “fanboys”), appear to be attempting to minimize the seriousness of this situation, suggesting that it really isn’t a big deal since Apple reportedly isn’t routinely sending the collected location data to their own servers — some apologists even parroting the tired and dangerous meme that “if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear from such data being gathered.”

There’s also considerable speculation regarding the whys and wherefores behind Apple’s deploying this data mechanism.

None of this substantively changes the bottom line.

This isn’t rocket science. The collection of this data on these devices, especially in unencrypted form, is incredibly dangerous, stupid, and disrespectful of Apple’s customers.

In an age when U.S. Customs and now even local police departments ( [Digital Trends] ) are claiming the right to use specialized equipment ( [Google Buzz] ) to drain smartphones and laptops of their stored data without any kind of warrants or court orders ( [Lauren’s Blog] ), the presence of such comprehensive location data in these devices represents a treasure trove for everything from completely unreasonable law enforcement “fishing expeditions” to aggressive and nosy divorce attorneys.

There’s just no way to justify what Apple is doing with iOS in this regard. It’s impossible to imagine legitimate mitigating excuses.

That something like this could slip through Apple’s “privacy standards” process is mysterious and extremely troubling.

Overall, this one isn’t even a close call. Apple is dead wrong.


Author: Ron