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Entries in Cell Phone (14)


'Stingray' Tech Lets Cops Track Cellphones -- No Warrant Required

The Gilbert, Ariz., police department has a lot of explaining to do.

Apparently, the department used Homeland Security Department funds to purchase cell phone tracking equipment back in 2008. And now, it's being investigated by the ACLU.

Several surveillance experts have agreed that it seems the department purchased a gadget that's sometimes called a stingray, which lets users set up what amounts to a fake cellphone tower. Then, nearby cellphones are tricked into connecting with it. Even if the owner of the phone isn't making a call, the stingray can still track their physical location. 

Although it can't record anything said on phone calls, the stingray can track the phone numbers dialed by nearby phones. Which, understandably, makes it a huge privacy concern.

Stingrays raise some very controversial issues, Catherine Crump, the lawyer who headed the ACLU project, told MSNBC.

"I think when law enforcement starts purchasing technology that allows them to track cellphones in that manner, it raises a whole host of questions about how that technology is being used that are even more serious when they track people through carriers," Crump said. "At least when a carrier is involved, there's a third party that may raise concerns if the request is of questionable legality. But when a law enforcement agency can do on its own surveillance, that raises even more serious questions about whether there is appropriate oversight."

The Supreme Court just decided that police can strip search pretty much anybody. So, maybe the use of stingrays is simply the next step.


Shopping Centers Monitor Customers Via Cell Phones

Information on consumers' habits, actions and preferences has always been marketing gold. But in a recession, these trends are even more important.

Enter technology. Not only are retailers beginning to use facial recognition to market to specific customers, they're also zeroing in on people's cell phones to track their shopping habits.

Privacy advocates are crying foul in Australia after a shopping center revealed that it will be the first in the country to install receivers that detect cell phone radio frequency codes. Imported from a UK-based company, the receivers can pinpoint a unique cell phone within 2 meters--and can track that particular phone around the shopping mall.

The Footpath system does not access user names or numbers, however.

"All we do is log the movement of a phone around an area and aggregate this to provide trend data for businesses," a spokeswoman said. "It's much less intrusive or invasive than existing people-counting methods, for instance CCTV cameras and number plate monitoring."

At this point, there is no plan to notify customers or seek their consent.


A New Way to Communicate During Disasters Without Cell Service, Internet or Landlines

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, millions of Americans face the possibility of losing cell, Internet and landline service. This loss of connectivity also impacts first responders, who often have difficulty organizing and communicating during their attempts to save lives and property. It's time for a better means of disaster communications.

LifeNet might be the answer. The innovative software lets people communicate wirelessly, even after a natural disaster has disabled cell service, the Internet and landline communications. Fast Company writes that LifeNet, developed by researchers at Georgia Tech University, is basically a piece of code that users can place on their laptop or phone.

"Once you have the software, the computers can communicate with each other, and you don't need infrastructure," Santosh Vempala, the Georgia Tech computer science professor in charge of the project, told Fast Company.

LifeNet enables any device to become a host and a router for the network. That lets users create a chain of communication, with the software routing information to and from each LifeNet device.  

For now, though, the software only works if users are fairly close to each other: up to 1 kilometer outdoors and only a couple hundred feet indoors. But as Vempala told Fast Company, "you could have a line of people on this network that are spaced 100 yards apart, and the line could go as long as you want."

The software is still in the testing phases, but the developers plan to bring it to market soon. And while it's not a perfect answer to the disaster communications question, it's an affordable step in the right direction. Too bad it won't be ready to help out the East Coast this weekend.


Let Your Favorite Tunes Charge Your Cell Phone

The Orange Sound Charge harnesses sound and converts it to energy to charge mobile phones.


Harnessing Noise to Charge Your Cell Phone

Imagine no more cell phone batteries dying or being leashed to your charging cable.

Engineers at the Institute of Nanotechnology at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul are attempting to convert background noise, music and voice calls into electricity to power a cell phone.

As engineer Sang-Woo Kim explains, he will use "tiny strands of zinc oxide sandwiched between two electrodes. A sound-absorbing pad on top vibrates when sound waves hit it, causing the tiny zinc oxide wires to compress and release. This movement generates an electrical current that can then be used to charge a battery."