US lawyer and forensic investigator Craig Ball turns up in these pages quite often because he and I have a common interest in the easy availability of evidence from the devices which most of us carry and which, with or without our knowledge, record every step of our lives. I interviewed Craig Ball recently and wrote up the interview here.
In his most recent article on the subject, Loving Location Histories, Craig Ball takes up this “every step of our lives” point literally, explaining in detail how an iPhone and Google Maps allow the recording of our every move.
I was not aware of the “significant locations” feature of IOS location services and, as it turns out, mine is turned off (although higher level location services are on). My life is sadly devoid of secrets and I tweet about it anyway; the advertising shysters like Facebook and Google know all that there is to know about me and, judging by the irrelevance of the advertisements thrown at me, their expensively crap algorithms could do with some more help to send me things I might actually be interested in. Others may have good reason to be worried about what their phone is storing about them.
Other stories have come up recently which illustrate the power and the concomitant risks of our always-connected culture. A story in The Times on 27 November has as its headline GPS running watch ‘shows route of gang member’s killer [£]. A watch of the type worn by runners and cyclists is designed to allow routes, times and distances to be recorded. That was not helpful to the wearer who, so it is alleged, was following a rival gang leader in order to bump him off.
As I was about to publish this, Twitter threw me an article in the New York Times of today called Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret. It gives some actual cases of phone tracking, together with some good map-based illustrations.
Another story, in Private Eye of 13 December 2018, relates to Internet of Things devices and, specifically, the so-called smart meters designed to give greater information and therefore control over your heating systems. There are many reasons why the take-up of these has not matched expectations, but one of them is the fear that data can be used to reveal information about householders.
The Private Eye story is about researchers who have used smart meter data to track people whose conduct (randomly turning things on and off, for example) may indicate the onset of dementia or Alzheimers. Worthy stuff, no doubt, but if they can track this, then what else might “they” conclude about us?
Craig Ball’s main interest, like mine, goes beyond watching Big Brother watching you. All this data is a potential goldmine for discovery, whether in criminal or civil proceedings.