Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

May 5, 2022

Thoughts around using GPS tracking to stop car thieves

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 2:56 PM

Earlier today, I saw the following tweet Retweeted by the BengaluruCityPolice where they recommend that we install a hidden GPS tracker in the car that can be used to find the car if it is ever stolen.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea but there are larger implications that we are missing here. But first lets talk about why this wouldn’t work for long:

  • The thief’s are not fools, once this technique starts getting more popular the first thing they will do is search the car from top to bottom to find and remove the tracker.
  • If the car is underground or behind concrete/metal then the GPS tracker will not be able to transmit. So no signal.

There are other reasons as well but these are the top two that make the tracker useless. Now let’s look at the drawbacks shall we:

Once we have a GPS tracker in the car, all movement information of the car is now tracked and stored online. The current data privacy laws in India allow cops or others to get access to this data fairly simply. This data can also be sold to others (after anonymizing it) but it is quite simple to de-anonymize a dataset as proven by various people recently, such as the case last year where a Priest was outed as a user of Grindr app due to data de-anonymizer.

This is especially risky for women as this potentially allows people to figure out where they live or work, what their schedule looks like etc. Another problem is misuse of data by the company hosting it. History has shown that insiders at companies that store private data have used their access to view private details. This includes cops, tech employees etc. So the more data that is stored the more risk of data misuse and this doesn’t take into account the possibility of attackers hacking into the network to steal the movement data.

Once people have the data, it can then be used for many things such as:

  • Abusers can track their victims (wives/kids)
  • Identify who is having an affair with whom (Uber did this)
  • Figure out who is undergoing medical treatments
  • Criminals can see when we are on vacation and the house is empty.
  • Locate people who are traveling home at late night through empty areas
  • Employers could begin tracking employees to see if an employee is thinking about leaving by looking at visits to competitor’s office etc

These are not theoretical concerns there are been proven cases for each of the above. The risk is grave enough that the US Women’s Law Organization, which deals with a lot of domestic abuse cases has a whole section dedicated to GPS monitoring abuse.

We need to look at all aspects of the technology before we start implementing on a large scale. This includes looking at how the tech could potentially be misused.

– Suramya

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