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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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How your smartphone could narc on you

3 September 2019

There are now probably more smartphones on the planet than people.

Everyone (except me) has one.

They're just so damned convenient and, dare I say it, essential to modern life.

A far cry from the early Motorola "beige bricks", today's mobile phone is more of a wireless mainframe computer than a simple device for handling voice calls. Every year people upgrade to the "latest and greatest" just to get bragging rights over how much they've spent, how many cores their processor has or how many GB of RAM they're carrying in their pocket.

The science fiction of a few decades ago has become the reality of today with video calling, access to the seemingly infinite knowledgebase that is the internet and really impressive digital camera tech, all in the one convenient package.

So smartphones are great eh? Who (apart from me) wouldn't want one?

Well anyone considering committing a crime might want to think twice about carrying a smartphone on the job with them, and here's why.

If you're carrying a smartphone, your location could be tracked almost continuously.

If you access any of Google's many services or use other apps that you have allowed to access your location, the GPS coordinates of your precise position are probably being fired off into the ether where they'll be stored on someone's server, somewhere.

Even if you're not running any such apps and religiously avoid giving those permissions to any new software on your phone, you'll still be trackable -- thanks to the ability for cellphone towers to triangulate your position based on signal strength.

While this is not a problem if you're just sitting at home in front of the TV or you've just nipped down to the shops for a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread, it might be a different story if you're doing an armed robbery or committing some other crime.

In fact, police in the USA are already using this information to try and solve crimes, as evidenced in this story.

Hey, sounds like a great idea eh?

Well it probably does... unless circumstance puts you in the wrong place at the wrong time and you find yourself on a suspect list solely because your smartphone has narc'd your position during the course of your innocent movements.

The cynic inside me also wonders how long before authorities spy the opportunity to turn this data into a new form of taxation and revenue gathering...

Drove to work this morning did you?

Google (and others) know if you were speeding, because they can track your movements. How long before data-mining code reguarly scans the records of your movement to pick up any breaches of the speed limits -- automatically issuing fines when it does?

"But hey, it wasn't me driving, I was just a passenger". Really... prove it (and dob in the real triver in the process) or pay the fine.

Right now you're probably wondering... why doesn't Bruce carry a smartphone? Is he paranoid or something?

No, the reason *I* don't carry a smartphone is because they're too damned big to fit in my jeans pocket and almost everywhere I go, I already have computing devices that will do the job quite nicely thank you.

The reality is that I have several smartphones -- but none of them have SIM cards and I simply use them as tablets, with any connectivity being delivered via wifi.

They get used to configure my wifi-enabled action cameras, adjust flight controllers on RC models, watch YouTube videos while I'm reclined in a chair (away from my desk) having a coffee, or to stop papers blowing off my desk when the window is open in summer.

Smartphones have their place in my life... but that place simply isn't in my pocket. Instead, I have a "flip phone" that has 3G capabilities but I choose not to run a plan that has data included so it's strictly voice and text-based SMS. The flip-phone is small, convenient, fits in my pocket and (so far) has resisted being dropped onto a concrete floor many times without the need for expensive repairs.

I'm not a luddite and I'm not paranoid... I'm simply very practical.

Which is why, if I was planning a crime, I'd leave even my flip-phone at home -- so it couldn't narc on me.

We should be thankful that most criminals aren't smart enough to work that out for themselves eh?

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