Tracking Capitol rioters through their mobile phone data

For NYT Opinion, Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson returned to the topic of location data logged by our mobile phones. This time though, they turned their attention to the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021:

The data we were given showed what some in the tech industry might call a God-view vantage of that dark day. It included about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building. Times Opinion is only publishing the names of people who gave their permission to be quoted in this article.

As the animation plays out, you can clearly see the dots cluster around the rally area and then make their way to the Capitol building.

This surveillance stuff through consumer data (which companies can buy) seems way too easy.

Tags: , , ,

U.S. military buys location data from apps

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard:

Some app developers Motherboard spoke to were not aware who their users’ location data ends up with, and even if a user examines an app’s privacy policy, they may not ultimately realize how many different industries, companies, or government agencies are buying some of their most sensitive data. U.S. law enforcement purchase of such information has raised questions about authorities buying their way to location data that may ordinarily require a warrant to access. But the USSOCOM contract and additional reporting is the first evidence that U.S. location data purchases have extended from law enforcement to military agencies.

Oh.

Tags: , , , , ,

Hidden trackers on your phone

Sara Morrison for Recode:

Then there’s Cuebiq, which collected location data through its SDK and shared that information with the New York Times for multiple articles about how social distancing changed as stay-at-home orders were lifted and states reopened. This was just a few months after the newspaper gave Cuebiq’s location collection practices a much more critical eye in an expansive feature, and shows a possible shift in public opinion now that this invasive data might be used to save lives or hasten the return to normality.

People worry about Big Brother, but privacy concerns through our phones and computers is just kind of meh. I keep wondering if that will change. Seems unlikely.

Tags: , ,

Protecting your mobile data and privacy while at a protest

Maddy Varner reporting for The Markup:

“All protesting and all marches are a series of balancing acts of different priorities and acceptable risks,” said Mason Donahue, a member of Lucy Parsons Labs, a Chicago-based group of technologists and activists that run digital security training classes and have investigated the Chicago Police Department’s use of surveillance technology. “There is a lot of communication ability that goes away if you don’t bring a phone period,” he said.

So if you’re going to take your phone, you might want to do some of the following things to minimize risk.

These are straightforward items like installing an app or changing a setting on your phone, so it should only take a few minutes before you step out.

Tags: , ,

✚ Shifting to Responsive Charts, Tools for Mobile (The Process #35)

In this issue I go over my somewhat delayed shift towards making charts that work in different screen sizes and the tools that work for me. Read More

Using an audience’s own data to highlight both play and security

This is great. Daniel Goddemeyer and Dominikus Baur made Data Futures, which collects multiple choice answers from audience members and then allows the speaker to interact and visualize the results on stage, as well as highlight audience members.

I’m imagining this project restructured in a college statistics course with several hundred unwitting students. Seems like a great learning opportunity.

Tags: , ,

Cell reception on the subway, mapped

Subspotting

Daniel Goddemeyer and Dominikus Baur grew interested in cell reception while on the New York subway:

In recent years, the MTA has started to equip select stations with WiFi and cell phone transmitters, but due to the remaining lack of connectivity in the tunnels, passengers rely on stray signals from surface transmitters to send or receive messages in between stations.

So they traveled the lines, collected data, and mapped out their results.

Tags: , ,

A month in the life of personal location and messaging metadata

Pathways

Data researcher and artist Mimi Onuoha looked at the personal location and messaging data from four groups of people in a project called Pathways. It's less about how much we can find out from a person's traces and more about what the data doesn't capture.

The interesting thing about this group was the degree to which their data couldn't capture the reality of what they were experiencing. I was present for the goodbye their data leads up to, and I witnessed every bit of its difficulty. But data visualizations add a level of abstraction over real world events; they gather the messiness of human life and render it in objective simplicity. In life, goodbyes can be heartbreaking affairs, painful for all involved.

But on a map, a goodbye is as simple as one dot moving out of view.

Tags: ,

Surveillance selfie with cell phone metadata

Surveilence selfie

How much can you find out from “just the metadata” about your cell phone? ABC News in Australia aims to find out.

Australia's new data retention laws mean phone and internet companies have to save this information for two years: that's every time you call someone, where you call them from, which cell tower your phone pings every time it connects to the internet, and more.

On a mission to find out what that data might reveal, ABC reporter Will Ockenden took a 'surveillance selfie': he got access to his own metadata, and now for the first time you can see what an individual Australian's metadata actually looks like.

They've started with a few summary interactives that show where Ockenden goes during the week through cell tower connections and who he communicates with through call logs. They'll be going deeper in the coming weeks. Also, Ockenden's data is available to download so that you can look for information too.

The Paul Revere example came to mind. Just metadata?

Tags: , ,

Finding small villages in big cities

Urban Village

Daily life in cities tends to differ from daily life in small towns, especially by who we interact with. The MIT Senseable City Lab and the Santa Fe Institute studied this social aspect — individuals' contacts by city size — through anonymized mobile phone logs. As expected, those in cities with greater populations tended to have more contacts. However, when the researchers looked at who knew who, the results were more constant.

Surprisingly, however, group clustering (the odds that your friends mutually know one another) does not change with city size. It seems that even in large cities we tend to build tightly knit communities, or 'villages,' around ourselves. There is an important difference, though: if in a real village our connections might simply be defined by proximity, in a large city we can elect a community based on any number of factors, from affinity to interest to sexual preference.

Read the full paper for more details.

Tags: , , ,