Friday, October 2, 2015

OPINION: Privacy Infringement! (Or How Android Device Manager Recovered My Phone!)

The following story is true. It happened this week. It involved my family. But before I begin to tell the story, let me preface it with a word regarding “privacy”.

Is there such thing as privacy nowadays? Some call it a luxury. But calling it a “luxury” implies that its obtainable. Truth be told, we all at some point think about our privacy. We don’t want people peeping through our windows, or reading our emails without our consent, or spying on our Facebook page.

Yet, we don’t really do much to guard our privacy. It’s like car shopping. Everyone that shops for it at some point cares about the crash test ratings on the car, and the safety features the car has. But how many of those same people check their tires in the morning before going about their day? How often do they check the engine fluids? How many of them speed when driving? If safety were a priority, why risk an accident?

When it comes to national security, the American people yell it’s a violation of civil liberties for the government to spy on us (e.g. The Patriot Act, NSA, etc). But when it comes to healthcare, millions are willing to cede their civil liberties to the government to provide such care. Never mind the government determines who gets covered, how they get covered, and how much coverage they get (Google search for “Life Consolers” or “Death Panels”).

People living on the socials snap pictures and upload them to the social service of their choice. Many geotag their pictures to identify the location on GPS, and they also tag their friends. So you’re announcing to the world where you are, who’s you’re with, and what you’re doing?

Facebook, Google, etc. These companies sell our data to create target advertising. Facebook won’t allow you to delete your email account without first going through some “approval” process that requires you to not “access” your account for two weeks or it will break the deletion approval. In other words, log off Facebook from every app, device, computer, etc you’re logged into with. If either one of those refreshes the connection, you have to re-request the account deletion.

Google services are convenient but at what cost? I utilize Google Maps, Google Voice, Gmail, and YouTube among many other services. I am well aware that Google is tracking my position, scanning my email, storing my contacts, and aggregating information to predict what my daily schedule will look like and inform me through Google Now. Earlier this summer, Google “introduced” Timeline to their Google Maps service. When you activate it, Google will keep a record of your movement, length at a certain position, and determine how fast you’re traveling. If that’s not scary enough, notice that you can go “back in time” from the moment you authorize it. I went back TWO YEARS. Google has been tracking me all along even without that kind of consent.

So are we guarding our privacy or are just naive?

This week my sister’s designer bag containing their personal belongings was stolen from her jobsite. A suspicious individual with his female “lookout” were spotted scouting different stores at a plaza. It so happened my parents arrived to shop at the store my sister worked at. When my sister noticed her bag missing, my father singled-out the suspicious individuals. He tracked him but ended up losing him. My mom called and asked if there was some way to track my sister’s phone that in my sister’s bag.

My sister has a Samsung Galaxy S6. That means I could use Android Device Manager and Google Map’s Timeline.


Sample of Android Device Manager

I pulled up both portals using my sister’s credentials. I tracked the phone to within 12 meters of its presumed location. I relayed the coordinates to my father and that’s when he spotted the suspect individuals. They called the cops. My parents asked the individuals while in the presence of the police if they took my sister’s belongings. They denied any wrongdoing and balked at my parents for assuming they would steal any articles. The police did not take my Hispanic parents seriously considering the suspects in this case where black.

Using Android Device Manager I sent a command for the Samsung phone to ring at the loudest volume. Lo and behold, the phone was underneath the car. The police retrieved it and questioned the suspects regarding the rest of the missing belongings. Eventually, the suspects would admit to the thief and inform the police where they dumped my sister’s bag and wallet. All items were promptly recovered.

But the story is only half done. See, the cops were carelessly left my sister’s phone unattended on the trunk of the patrol vehicle. No one noticed when it went missing again. I was called later to track it and found it to be nearly a mile away. And I continued to track it as the new suspect went into hiding at an apartment complex. The police, feeling responsible for the second theif, mobilized a big seach and recover mission and converged on the area I was directing to. The suspect escaped the police perimeter and seemingly stopped moving a block away. The police called off the search after 1 and a half hours. My father and sister returned to the spot I traced the device to. On Google Maps I noticed a dumped. I singled the phone to ring and sure enough my father found it in the dumpster. The suspect must have freaked out how many cops came to his position. He had to assume the device was being tracked.

And so ends the saga of the double theft of my sister’s Samsung Galaxy S6.

Thank you, Google. Thank you.

Now stop tracking me until I complain that you should have tracked me when I needed it most.

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