back to article Mobiles help UK malls track shoppers' every move

Mobile phone tracking technology is being put to good use watching how punters migrate around a shopping centre, thanks to gear from Portsmouth-based Path Technologies. By installing receivers around a shopping centre the company can pick up communication between handsets and base stations, enabling them to track shoppers to …

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Black Helicopters

Cue.... (queue? que? Let's not start that again...)

me turning my phone off and on repeatedly whilst waiting for the gf to decide which pair of shoes she actually wants. If they want to know where I'm going and what I'm doing, they can ask me.

(And I'll say no, of course, but it's only polite for them to ask, rather than assuming that I want them to track me.)

Any details which malls are involved in this?

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Coat

I don't see how this will work a Mall

As once you are logged on to your network and no calls or SMSs are received, a message is only sent from the phone to the tower every 90 minutes or so, unless the signal is lost or the mobile requests to change cells. So the only way this could be implemented in a Mall is to put in some kind of mobile jammer at shop entrances that will block the signal temporarily and cause the phone to re-log on to the network.

You can prove the phone doesn't send regular data by either leaving your next to a radio so you can hear the interference when the phone broadcasts, and if you are in a strong signal area this will not happen often.

Or if you remove the battery from your phone (to simulate going out of coverage and so it does not send any shutdown messages), then phone it. There will be a 10-15 second delay before going to voicemail.

If you turn it off via the off button and then phone the mobile you will be instantly sent to voicemail as when the phone shutdown it tells the network this is occurring.

So if the network was expecting to receive data from the phone every few seconds, the delay to voicemail wouldn't occur if it wasn't shutdown gracefully.

However this system would work for tracking across towns are when moving the phone will be often changing between cells.

Mines the one with nerd on the back

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Flame

Tracking InPhormation ?

*cough*

"I am NOT a target market!"

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Alien

alton towers shopping???

what the hell is going on...I don't want people tracking me round the shopping centre or tellilng me when there are no queues in woolworths so I can run over there!!

I have enough trouble shopping without being thinking someone is watching me and saying that muppet has already been to that shop three times!!!

I hope their putting up signs to tell people their being tracked....how the hell can people get away with thinking they have the right to do things like this 8(

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Rob
Stop

malls? in the uk?

I thought we had shops, leave the made up words bastardising the english language to the 'merkins.

I know they are just trying to conjure up some sort of cultural identity, but please don't pander to it, they'll just play up even more.

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Anonymous Coward

Please leave a message after beep.

Hi, I can't answer my phone right now. I am either in a meeting, at the cinema, or I have temporarily turned my phone off because I am in a location known for tracking GSM signals. Please leave a message or try to phone me again in a few hours time. <beep>

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Seems like an old-tech way of doing this

When RFID is everywhere, this kind of thing will be much easier to do.

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Anonymous Coward

Slipper slope

And no doubt some dick will demand that data be logged, for erm, anti terrorism purposes. That way they can map the existing log of the phone to the local log to locate the corresponding CCTV image which is also recorded.

The EU has already accepted Blairs argument that it's perfectly OK to put people under surveillance and store that data away for a couple of years, JUST IN CASE they go onto to commit a crime, instead of actually have cause first, then warrant then surveillance....

Once you do away with the old fashioned idea of privacy rights, this is only a tiny step away from that.

Then other things become possible too, the German interior minister wants all transactions (email/internet/phone/atm everything) logged and continuously data mined for evidence of crimes. Having already accepted the principle of monitoring innocent people not under suspicion this too is only a small step away.

And UK wants to record all transactions to outside UK, because non UK citizens don't vote presumably, it make it easier to justify. Having accepted that you can monitor innocent people without particular suspicion of crime, all things become possible. So they'd monitor the web to go arrest anyone looking at dirty prono sites no doubt, or reading up on 'lethal' cannbis plant sites.

Why you could even demand the right to turn on their webcams and remotely record their own homes, hey they might go on to commit a crime.... think how much easier it is to arrest people if you can pull up their data at the flick on a switch.

All things become possible when you remove the right of privacy. The ECJ should strike down that data retention directive, since it's that directive that accepted the principle of preemptive surveillance of innocent people, and it's from that, that all this creepy stuff is made possible.

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Anonymous Coward

Portsmouth

According to Times Online:

"It has already been installed in two shopping centres, including Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, and three more centres will begin using it next month."

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Boffin

@Anonymous Coward

Most large indoor areas use special indoor base stations with a much smaller cell than outdoors.

They're often quite unobtrusive, and can also be spotted in small areas with high concentrations of cell phones (like railway platforms).

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Coat

Three ways round this...

I could keep turning my phone on and off...

Or I could shop elsewhere...

But I think the best solution involves a lump hammer applied to the receivers.

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Coat

Is this legal

At some level this is interception of a private conversation - all be it one that my phone is having with its base station. I am not a happy bunny about this at all.

Mine's the one with the lead lined pockets for me mobe

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If we all had ...

If we all had Professor Zyborg implants there wouldn't be a need for this anyway.

I presume that this is being done in the name of marketing. Or making money from marketing - so you can collect the data to sell as market intelligence. I favour the off switch approach.

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Pirate

It's illegal

Under pretty much every form of legislation in Europe - as it is listening in to private radio transmissions. Probably wouldn't stop net neutral webiots (just coined this one) signing up for their right to be snooped upon.

Bluetooth analysis is probably a lot more effective and legally less of a problem - if you leave Bluetooth on and discoverable (most people seem to do so) you are giving permission to be discovered.

Pirate because I'm still smiling at my home town's place on the BSA naughty list.

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@Portsmouth

"It has already been installed in two shopping centres, including Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth"

Oh well that's ok, then, there's bugger all worth going to the Gunwharf for anyway!

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Bronze badge

If I was a retailer I'd be more worried.....

If this tracks people in and out of the shops, just think your average property company would be bound to latch on to the idea of:

A. Raising your rent because of the number of people visiting you shop.

B. Kicking you out because you aren't attracting enough business.

C. Raising the rent of the coffee shop net door because there's more passing trade available.

D. Raising the rent because of the average amount of time customers spend in the shop.

Personally, I don't give a stuff who knows where and when I am, but I would like to know they know, and who they can give the information too.

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Flame

How it works

Technical details on how it works here:

http://v3.espacenet.com/textdes?DB=EPODOC&IDX=WO2006010774&QPN=WO2006010774

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CCTV?

Most shopping centres like this have CCTV which covers the entire mall. What's to stop them using this to track individuals' movements? (Though may be a rather manual time-consuming process until image processing techology gets to this level of sophistication).

Is there really any difference (other than scale) if they track your movements by phone signal? In terms of privacy, assuming you've agreed to being filmed by CCTV (which you have by walking past the signs at the mall entrances), they can theoretically track you. The fact that they can do this by a different technology now (GSM signals) doesn't change the privacy issue.

(If technology doesn't work, they could always send a spy to follow you at a safe distance...)

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Anonymous Coward

Mobile Phone Tracking

Mobile tracking companies like http://www.mobilelocators.com require permission to do this. Won't these shops be able to use the same technology to track your phone back to where you live?

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Anonymous Coward

FUN!

sounds like great fun to me!

get 10 phones and walk in and out of ann summers all day !

if you are worried about being tracked then leave the phone in the car !

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Ed

Which ones?

How do we find out where this technology is being used?

@Rob - Mall is perfectly valid in English as well as American. See Fowler's Modern English Usage.

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jai
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flashmobs

so in theory, you could really muck up their statistics by getting 500 people to turn up at a shopping centre (what we call malls on this side of the pond) and just aimlessly wander around for 3 hours without setting foot inside a single foot

OR worse, if a company is about to launch a new product, they could hire 500 people to turn up repeatedly throughout the day and just make a bee-line to the shop that's selling the product

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Boffin

Gunharf Quay

I notice that Gunwharf have a "Questions answered" section on their web site, strangely no questions about "do you track my every move including those of my bowels...

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re: webiots - @Charlie Clark

Sorry to rain on your parade mate but... your newly coined word has been doing the rounds for oh, at least for 3 years.

http://www.google.co.uk/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=webiots+&btnG=Google+Search&meta=

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Stop

Staff Tracking Too?

So what's the chances of the shopping centre's staff being able to remove themselves from this system? Bugger all, so you better stop hanging around the back room in pairs.

Looks like those almost-obsolete OFF-LINE stores are about to lose a load of staff, as well as the remainder of their shoppers.

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Coat

hours of fun

Hang an unwanted phone from a string at the back of a display rack in any shop. Ann Summers has been mentioned, and this would work. Or somewhere unobtrusive in a public loo. Then be ostentatiously elsewhere, in view of CCTV. Worth the cost just to b*gger up their surveillance.

Or tin foil around the phone.

Mine's the dirty mac, me acting suspiciously. Or my phone is.

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Alert

Wireless Telegraphy Act ?

I thought it was illegal to intercept transmissions that were not intended for you. This being under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of the 1950s.

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Black Helicopters

GSM / Timing Advance 101

GSM uses a cyclical system whereby customers calls are all digitally sampled in turn. customer 1, then 2, then 3 etc... then back to customer 1 again. this all happens in a blink of an eye, so that customers can't detect the 'break' between each time their call is actually using a 'timeslot'.

GSM then gets clever... imagine you are standing by the BTS (phone mast) with your mate, talking to them on the phone (as you do), but then they dash off to Maccy D's 1km away.

You started off both covered by the same 'cell', and the BTS will use something called timing advance, whereby your mates signal is progressively broadcast fractions of a second sooner, to compensate far how far they are moving away from the BTS - this ensures that the above mentioned cyclical system remains intact, with customer 1 remaining as customer 1 within the cycle, and your mate say as customer 4... in a nutshell, timing advance tops your mates timeslot from running into customer 5's allocated timeslot.

As timing advance technology is based on the speed of radio waves through air, it can be used to find how far you are from the BTS. the frequency of this distance checking signal is such that GSM Timing advance maps you into one of several 500m 'distance zones' - so for your mate 1km away, their signal would have been broadcast one to two timing advance periods earlier than it would have been if they were still stood by you.

still awake?

So - you then get B-A listing where your phone maps out ALL it's surrounding BTS's, and figures out how far away it is from each. it's clever brain translates this into a trigonometric map showing roughly where you are.

HOWEVER the big no-no with this 'precision' shopping centre system is that the timeslot advance and B-A listing can only overlay several 500m zones over each other to build a probability map of which location you're actually in. You would need loads and loads of 'listening' equipment installed probably all the way out to 2km away from the shopping centre to get enough overlaid 500m zones to properly judge what individual phones are doing, This would require wayleaves and third party clauses with so many landlords etc for the install of 'black chopper kit' upon their rooftops that it would become unfeasible for a shopping centre to fund.

so - my conclusion? it's not using GSM timing to figure out where you are

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DM

@ Tom Wood

There are clearly defined DPA issues with recording CCTV, hence the signs will have a legal declaration about what they are collecting data for, usually something along the lines of "for the detection and prevention of crime" . I've yet to see one that says "To collect and sell information about where you've been"

That's the fundamental difference!

HTH

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Black Helicopters

I think it's time to..........

Purchase a mobile phone jammer for trips to the shopping centre!

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Alert

Flat Battery

If they are gonna keep requesting transmit from my phone will the battery go flat faster and where do I send the bill?

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Black Helicopters

Your journey to the dark side is complete!

Ah, the human race: we're the cleverest of all the earth-dwelling bipeds!

We have cameras following our every move, we have plans for a national database of emails and phone calls, and a system to track us as we traipse brainlessly from shop to shop stocking up on products to distract us from the fact that we have given up our individuality and humanity to an imposed order of compliance and acceptance.

This is what the 21st Century has brought us, though barely eight years in: Gordon Brown as Darth Vader without the vocoder and cool suit.

What fuckeries.

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Mall Usage

@Ed - F*****g c**t is perfectly valid in English. Doesn't mean that it should be used, or indeed that the majority of people wish it to be used. Be careful, soon you'll be spelling "Mall" as "Shopping Center". Anyway, isn't EN and EN-GB one and the same, so why the need for EN-GB?

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Black Helicopters

Privacy..

.. What privacy

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Bit strong

Sorry, swap previous asterisked comment for "b****y h**l" or some such milder expletive.

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Black Helicopters

Maybe....

Maybe it uses it's own proprietary system and just listens for the timing advance responses from individual phones without using the GSM carrier as a reference..... but itself uses much faster clocking to count how many cycles between each incoming signal. This would achieve a much more granular detection system (100 times faster detection cycle/frequency than the native GSM network would give a 5m distance zone.....)

So just a few of these would be needed in the shopping centre to track you anonymously, and it's completely non invasive, being a listening only network of little black boxes

ok - so it's not GSM but exploits the fact that radio's are uniquley identifiable radio transmitters....

hang on - stick a bit of carrier wave amplitude modulation caused from power surges when you're actually talking down the microphone (inducing a current in the phone, therefore stronger radio output, intentional or not) and you have a way of bugging mobile phones whilst on your premises!

"No Darling, DO NOT BUY THE PRADA ONES!!!! "

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Unhappy

@Omer

Oh, well. It's a shit term anyway!

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Black Helicopters

I don't understand....

..the objections.

Why do people mind being tracked as they walk around a public place? Hundreds of people will see you and what you're doing anyway. Why on earth would you care if a little anonymous dot on a screen is being recorded as you walk around?

Sounds rather like certain commentators are doing things they probably shouldn't. The innocent have nothing to fear etc.

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@Xpositor

> Sorry, swap previous asterisked comment for "b****y h**l" or some such milder expletive.

What does Benny Hill have to do with anything?

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@Charlie Clark

Made up words are not allowed. Please see Rob and Xpositor for reasons why. How one can actually speak/write without using made-up words is beyond me I'm afraid - last I checked, 100% of the English language consisted of made-up words.

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Black Helicopters

SDR

the company that rents the RF tracking gear to the shopping centre has developed the 20 needed software defined radios (GNUradio FPGA based USRP's) using Open Source. Get your own GNU USRP from Matt Ettus (ettus.com) £350 for a DC to 2.9GHz universal (almost) radio and do your own tracking/whatever!

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Pirate

could just use simple trigonometry

It does not have to be rocket science, just clever use of trigonometry. While three active directional and active receivers would do for tracking if for pragmatic reasons any company implementing this might choose say eight receivers to cover a volume (mall) between them. It is not difficult to trace any sending technology with extreme precision. Also it would be possible to have software which did not get very confused by resets of the mobile phones. This could be sorted by error correction and probability algoritms. Yes it would not be 100% correct all the time, but it would certainly be working most of the time - how many mobile phones do you reset at the same time within any small volume of space? So if you only reset one phone - how likely do you think that the software would be able to correctly assume that 'the new' which all of a sudden appeared in the middle of the mall is the same as the one which just 'disappeared'? In fact you could even ignore the identifier in the signal completely and develop a reasonably reliable survaillance system by just having a signal to listen to.

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Unhappy

@I don't understand....

1) The tracking data is not being "seen, then forgotten". To the contrary, it's saved -- perhaps for years.

2) As stated in the article, someone can take that and cctv recordings and then remove the anonymity.

Looking at red shoes may be completely innocent today. In two weeks, when the next Osama video comes out with him wearing red shoes, you're all of a sudden implicated.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmm

Might be time to head down to GunWharf Quays with an old mobile phone, slip it in a dustbin and see if they get in flap when it hasn't moved for 2 hours

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Alert

My God

The number of clueless supposed knowledgeable IT bods on this message board fills me with an existential dread.

No where in the article was any reference to interception of communications mentioned, it is not required for the technology to work, they are just reading your TMSI which you broadcast.

Twats

"could use simple trigonometry" - errrr .. yes that's what they are doing, read the damn article again.

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AAAHHHHHHHH

My Head hurts

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Anonymous Coward

Re: My God

The Wireless Telegraphy Acts use the term "interception" to essentially mean eavesdropping. My TMSI is intended for reception by the network, if anyone else receives this signal and makes use of it (that last bit is important), then they have intercepted a communication and have broken the law.

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Linux

Simply do what I do

Don't go to those areas. I only go out shopping to get groceries on Saturday morning as I hate being crowded. All the shoppers are just mindless sheep following the pied piper.

The pied piper may have led children but he would have to bow down to business and government today with the way they get people to follow.

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Black Helicopters

Reply to 'My God'

"No where in the article was any reference to interception of communications mentioned, it is not required for the technology to work, they are just reading your TMSI which you broadcast."

The Wireless Telegraphy Act would cover this the TMSI would be classed as information that is not intended for the reception of the shopping centre! If the TMSI is encapsulated with other data, but recieved and separated, surely that is an offence just in the recieving part of it!

The TMSI's purpose is for handsets to be identified on the network, therefore the only people who would have a use for this is the handset and the phone network. Clearly not the third party (Shopping Centre) !

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: My God

Publish and be damned

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