7 Stories about Using GPS to Recover Stolen Mobiles


GPS is playing a major part in our lives these days and it is a brilliant tool to protect us from crime, or at the very least recover things that have been stolen and catch the people who stole them. In the USA 113 mobiles are stolen EVERY MINUTE and most of them are sold overseas. In many areas including New Zealand, iPhones are as good as cash for someone wanting to make a quick drug buy. 

BakkumOften we don’t realise how easy it is, despite the fact that we pretty much all have one or more GPS and location enabled devices on us. My iPhone and iPad both have SIM cards which are on all the time. If either of them went missing, I can trace them, create an audible tone to help me or police locate them and I can wipe them forever so they can’t be reused if someone stole them. We all use GPS apps of some sort, even if it is just the mapping application on our phone. We just don’t think about other ways that we can use this technology, or how the tech can be used to catch people who want to deprive us of our property and our safety.

The good news is that when people are smart and use an application like Find My iPhone, if not the thieves, then the receivers can be caught and often Police find a lot more than just your mobile. Let’s not make it easy for them.

If I went missing and I had my mobile on me, I could be found. Of course the Police would need a warrant to achieve that, but bottom line is they could. I also check in with Foursquare and other applications, so often my last known location can also be pinpointed.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know I love stories where GPS catches people in the act of, or following a crime. Here are a few recents.

  1. A drive by shooter gets caught within half an hour, by the GPS in his rental car in Providence R.I.
  2. Aspen Police leave bikes as bait with GPS trackers on the ready.
  3. Find my iPhone helps recover stolen iPad and bottle of whisky, 3 people arrested in Scottburgh.
  4. Utah Police recover $200,000 worth of tequila using the GPS in the stolen truck. 
  5. Here are 3 more stories from Techtrace, a company that sells an app that helps you protect your data and recover your mobile.

Can the NSA track you on your prepay mobile?


The recent news about PRISM and NSA surveillance on people based on their Internet usage and mobile usage is fascinating. The concept of being able to monitor people’s activity based on their mobile is nothing new, although of course we all thought that it would only happen under a warrant, or in emergency circumstances such as when someone makes a 911 call or perhaps in a SAR emergency.

USA 162Commercial vehicles are being tracked as a normal process, in some cases to ensure staff are working, but more commonly for more practical purposes, such as driver behaviour and safety, making sure that refrigerated trailers maintain correct temperatures and in countries like New Zealand to allow diesel truck operators to claim Road User Charge rebates when they are not driving on public roads, which can save businesses a truck load of money if you will pardon the pun.

As a fan of TV programs like Person of Interest and 24, which I hear is making a comeback, I often wonder why it seems so hard to track criminals, but if you follow my blogs and tweets you will see that more and more criminals are being caught, especially after stealing iPhones or other devices containing GPS and communications. I love those stories.

So, to the question of this blog. What we know is that government agencies (and businesses with their clients’ approval, such as finance and insurance companies) are tracking people and monitoring their behaviour. By monitoring Big Data about the location of people’s mobiles, algorithms can identify information such as where people live, work and play. They can identify associations with other people through this same data. For example if you monitor a person and establish their home (where their mobile is most nights of the year) and identify other mobile devices that are also at that location during most nights of the year, then you can identify that they also probably reside at that location.

If those people were criminal suspects of any kind, you could thereby potential make some assumptions that those people might also be criminals. This would be very useful, not only with terrorists, which we thought were the prime reason for being able to spy on people, but also gangs, drug dealers and manufacturers and more. I guess part of the issue there is whether this evidence is admissible in a court of law. But again I digress.

If you are able to monitor mobile phone radio connections using GPS or less accurate technologies and identify unknown devices such as prepaid mobiles that frequently appear at the same locations as known devices, that would suggest that you could infer the identity or characteristics of a user. If, for example, a person had a mobile for normal use and an anonymous prepaid mobile for more nefarious purposes and they were carried around together, you could infer that the user was the same person.

This could mean that effectively the use of a prepaid mobile, being used for the purposes of criminal activity, on the basis of its implied anonymity, could be fatally flawed. Not a bad thing in my opinion. The problem is more in the assumption that a governmental agency has the right to spy on its citizens without recourse and without obtaining a warrant from a court first, a bit like apologising after the event.

I am all for keeping law abiding citizens safe, but there should be transparency on how that is done, especially in countries that we consider to be enlightened democracies. Anyway, the answer to the question in my opinion is that using a prepaid mobile will not by default prevent you from being tracked or identified if an agency has the power to track radio devices. the technology is certainly easy to access.


Luigi Cappel:

Locating people via GPS has been a hobby horse for me for many years as you will know if you follow my blog. Perhaps crises like these will help us get funding to develop suitable solutions.

Originally posted on Imersia NZ:

The bushfires are raging in Australia, temperatures are breaking records daily and the traditional hottest months haven’t even arrived yet. Meanwhile Imersia has been developing a technology that can reduce stress, improve efficiencies, information flows and potentially save lives in future.

It seems ironic watching this BBC News clip after watching a story on BBC News a couple of nights ago claiming that global warming is slowing down when in Australia the record books are being broken almost daily. Temperature maps on TV are being upgraded with new extreme grades and fire warning signs on the road now include Catastrophic as a condition. Catastrophic

First of all we want to wish all the best to our Australian cousins across the ditch who are personally involved or have friends and family in areas affected by this year’s terrible bushfires. I can’t imagine what it must be like, other than horrific and very frightening. Whilst we…

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I want a Segway Puma


I’ve been meaning to cancel my NZ Herald subscription, but every time I think about it, I find a nice little snippet that I might not have read, or at least till much later. In this morning’s paper (and online yesterday!) was news about a new version of the Segway designed to solve problems with urban traffic. Now first of all I have to say that I love Segways. I’ve only been on them twice and I am hooked.

A friend of mine, Steve Simms is involved with Segway Polo in New Zealand and makes me jealous every time I hear about the competition, which attracts tech leaders from around the world. I asked Steve how I could join in and he replied “Buy a Segway”. Unfortunately my wife didn’t like that idea very much.Anyway, if you go to YouTube and search for Segway Polo, you’ll find some examples.

Segway’s are used a lot in the US. When I was in Los Angeles earlier this year, I saw airport police similar to the ones in this image using Segways to get around the massive complex. I could have used one myself, having set off in the wrong direction to change airlines. If you are in Auckland and want to try one, go to Devonport Wharf and you can go for a 2-hour tour of Devonport and historic locations for only $75, cut that in half for US dollars.

So what caught my attention this morning was a story about the new Segway PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) which is a 2 man Segway with little trainer wheels on the front for safety and a roof that looks a bit like a roll cage. Looking like something out of a futuristic Science Fiction movie, this is for real. Once again an example of Science Fiction becoming reality, I guess its about this time that I appreciate the value of all those It is designed to haver a range of around 55 km at 55km an hour according to the NZ Herald. On the site I found that it also has features such as regenrative breaking, which means that it uses the inertia from stopping, to help charge the batteries. I’m not sure where the rest of the story came from because it wasn’t mirrored on the Segway page, but it said that it could ultimately drive itself using GPS and by monitoring traffic around it, being able to stop in a hurry if there is an incident ahead of it.

Given that I’m into LBS, I had a couple of issues with that concept. It would work if there were roads or paths that were only to be used by Segways but otherwise there could be a fatal flaw, because the concept of vehicles driving themselves and being aware of other vehicles (which will definitely happen one day) will only work if all the vehicles on the same stretch of road also carried the same technology. In New Zealand, the new RapidcV that GeoSmart is driving around New Zealand could certainly provide the data that would support this type of technology, because it is gathering full road and lane information nationwide at sub 20 cm accuracy. What is also nice is that as well as camber information it is also gathering inclination data, which could be used to identify routes that would support the Segway by identifying the range based on hills it has to climb up and downhill where it can recharge itself.

Anyway, bottom line, I want one:)

Whos Looking at you on Facebook?


Sometime ago I wrote a couple of blogs about What can they find out about you on Facebook. In the second blog I did some digging into a random person who hadn’t managed her privacy settings. You will find many references to Facebook and other social network applications in my recent blogs, but here’s the thing, I wrote about what they could find out about you, but not so much about who’s looking.

I have also often blogged about how Science Fiction has a way of becoming reality and it seems that many of my favourite writers were foretelling the future. Some of these blogs were: A San Francisco Artist wanting a bionic eye, Living Longer with Cryonics, using In-Vitro to feed the future, Sky Scrapers and High Society, and tracking people with RFID.

Whether it was Orwell, Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Heinlein or any of my other favourites, they often had a common thread. That is a police state environment where privacy and personal freedom becomes something for people to fight to win back. Where for whatever good reason, governments gave themselves the right, initially with good intentions, to spy on the public or restrict their ability to communicate their personal beliefs. That was what the 5th Ammendment was all about. Of course some countries, like New Zealand don’t have a formal constitution and we generally have the attitude that everyone is trustworthy and honest until proven otherwise. I’d have to say that in many ways this has also served us well downunder, in that even though crime is rising at alarming rates, especially violent crime and the police now charge people for using unreasonable force in defending themselves, we are a much safer country than many I have visited in recent years.

Just on that topic of self defence. What actually is reasonable force. If you are faced with someone with a gun or other weapon, who knows how to use it and has experience with violence and you don’t, the situation is very different for a law abiding person who has never had to defend themselves before. If you know someone else will use whatever means they can to hurt you, possibly even kill you and are unpredictable. At what point does self defence become unreasonable. If the person who attacked you is o the ground but you are afraid they will get up again and running isn’t an option. If you are afraid and your heart is full of adrenalin, how can you be expected to know how or when to stop? Police are trained in the use of restraint and know how to deal with difficult situations, where the public are not. I don’t have the answer, but I do feel that criminals need to know that they won’t always get away with violent crime and that victims should have the rigt to defend themselves. But I digress.

Anyway, what prompted this reminder, that I hadn’t focussed much on who would want to look at your personal information on Facebook, was a story in this morning’s NZ Herald (which I couldn’t find online), with the Headline Govt plans to spy on social website users. I did find a story from the Daily Mail yesterday which in essence says that they plan to be able to monitor all email, social networking sites etc, because it is fertile ground for terrorists to communicate and plan.

Now I don’t have a problem, providing information is monitored under a search warrant, but blanket ability to go through all Internet usage of everyone is pushing it a little too far don’t you think? They are wanting the right to not only read everything you write, publish or comment on the net, but even to get a record of every single URL or website you visit.

I’ve always worked on the basis that I have nothing to hide, and indeed if you Google my name, you will be able to find out pretty much anything you want to know about me and my life. Maybe that’s a good thing because it makes me kind of transparent. But by giving government organisations rights beyond what anyone can do on the internet, the ability to intercept everything you do on the web, must be an invasion of good citizens privacy and I hope that there will be restrictions put in place, just as is required in most countries for telephone taps etc. The fear is that in any society there are corrupt individuals who could abuse their position. That is where we need protection.

There is no doubt that the threat of terrorism means that new measures must be put in place to locate terrorists, terrorist training grounds and do whatever is necessary to keep us safe from harm. But like any law and order legislation and policies, there must be reasonable suspicion and controls. Otherwise the risk that more of the Science Fiction writers stories about oppressive states undermining the rights of its citizens could become a reality in the ‘developed world’. I want to feel safe from harm, but I also want to know that my individual rights to freedom of expression and belief are protected.