Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tracking Your Phone’s Location With GPS Turned Off

Jennifer Schlesinger and Andrea Day (via Hacker News):

Using Android phones running Google’s operating system, the researchers did the tracking using sensors in smartphones that were not designed to track location. Those tools included an accelerometer, which tracks how fast a phone is moving, a magnetometer, which works like a digital compass, and a gyroscope, which tracks rotation.


“In a place like Boston, which has a lot of unique turns and very curvy roads, you can get an accuracy of up to 50 percent of guessing the user’s location in the top five search results. In case of a place like Manhattan, which is mostly grid-like, it’s much more difficult,” Narain said.

This reminded me of the scene in Sneakers where they’re trying to figure out where Whistler Bishop was taken to, although it sounds like the Northeastern researchers did not use the microphone.

Update (2018-07-18): Adrian Tineo:

If it’s possible to create a plausible picture of a black hole with just a few pixels worth of data and plenty of algorithms, it should come as no surprise that the approximate location can be guessed from just orientation, speed and rotation (no GPS data)

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