Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×
Privacy

Austin Airport Tracks Cell Phones To Measure Security Line Wait 168

jfruh writes If you get into the TSA security line at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, you'll see monitors telling you how long your wait will be — and if you have a phone with Wi-Fi enabled, you're helping the airport come up with that number. A system implemented by Cisco tracks the MAC addresses of phones searching for Wi-Fi networks and sees how long it takes those phones to traverse the line, giving a sense of how quickly things are moving. While this is useful information to have, the privacy implications are a bit unsettling.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Austin Airport Tracks Cell Phones To Measure Security Line Wait

Comments Filter:
  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:28AM (#48213735)
    Its not like they don't already know where you are when you are entering airport security.
    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      But not when you're stepping out for a smoke [myfoxtwincities.com] before boarding a flight. That was yesterday.
      • Sources tell Fox 9 News that normally, an airport would be shut down for a situation like the one described. The terminals would need to be evacuated so that everyone could be re-screened -- but that didn't exactly happen in the Twin Cities. Instead, a TSA spokesperson confirmed that 5 minutes after the breach, screening operations were suspended for about 7 minutes while TSA officials and airport police swept the C concourse. When the passengers involved landed, they were reverse-screened and questioned before being released without charges.

        They didn't shut down the entire airport and declare a national emergency and crash the plane into the ground?

        What? The TSA reacted sanely?

        Those people are too smart to be working for the TSA. FIRE THEM!!!

    • by maliqua ( 1316471 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @12:25PM (#48214269)

      and its not like your mac address isn't seen by the access points and likely logged anyway simply organizing the information they alerady have to provide other useful insights

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @01:04PM (#48214619)

        and its not like your mac address isn't seen by the access points and likely logged anyway

        Indeed. Articles like this are not just stupid, they are harmful. By declaring every routine event to be "privacy violation", they are creating confusion and "outrage fatigue" which leads to apathy about the real violations of privacy that people should actually care about.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by bobaferret ( 513897 )

          DING! Get that man, or woman, a prize! I think "outrage fatigue" is a very important piece of the pie as far as DHS and taking away our privacy goes. The more fatigue the more they can take away.

    • You miss the point.
      Anyway, my dear, betrayed American friends. You are being fucked over by 'authorities' (can you btw. vote those out or is hanging them from lamp posts the only
      way to a clean slate?), you're being shafted by your own countrymen more than you'll ever even be slightly bothered by lessay the Chinese.

  • Who cares (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:32AM (#48213775)

    Modern IOS versions randomize the MAC used for passive wifi scans. I'd imagine android is also doing the same.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      Modern IOS versions randomize the MAC used for passive wifi scans. I'd imagine android is also doing the same.

      Android is all about tracking everything you do to send you ads, so I doubt it's doing the same. I should check mine sometime.

      • Re:Who cares (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2014 @12:17PM (#48214199)

        Modern IOS versions randomize the MAC used for passive wifi scans. I'd imagine android is also doing the same.

        Android is all about tracking everything you do to send you ads, so I doubt it's doing the same. I should check mine sometime.

        Just checked with my LG G3, I can confirm MAC is being randomized for passive scans.

    • While a cool idea I wouldn't count on the iOS implemention to actually guard any privacy ether. In order for the ramdomization to work you must: Not be connected to WIFI (probably) Have the phone locked (maybe, maybe not) Have Locations services turned off (almost for sure not) Have cell data off or removed sim card (ya right) http://blog.airtightnetworks.c... [airtightnetworks.com]
  • Opt out (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:32AM (#48213777)

    Don't use the FREE effing wifi, if you don't like it. If you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

    • It uses the phone's scanning in some instances, so it's enough for your phone to scan for a new Wifi to be tracked (unless you're using an iPhone where your MAC is randomised...)

  • Simple solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:33AM (#48213781) Homepage

    Turn off wi-fi. Done.

    You can be tracked anywhere anytime you're using a communication radio. Deal with it.

  • Sounds legit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:33AM (#48213787)

    I'm a huge privacy advocate... but how far are we going to go with this?
    You're in a public place.
    You're connecting to their network at various points.
    They're using that info to figure out how long it takes for you to get through the line.

    How is this any different than them using your check ins with your boarding pass?

    "I just dumped the entire contents of my luggage in the middle of food court. I appreciate the offer to help me pick it up bu how dare you invade my privacy!"

    • How is this any different than them using your check ins with your boarding pass?

      Good question. This whole thing seems over-engineered.

      • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

        Not really because you don't have to scan your boarding pass AFTER going through security, you do it only ENTERING security. If they added this extra step it would just slow everything down even more.

        • What 'extra step'? Just have the scanner hook-up to the system.

          It would only measure throughput though, not queue-length, so there is a difference.

          • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

            If everyone getting out of security has to scan their boarding pass AGAIN, it will just make another line. It is a horrible idea.

            • I'll ask again:

              What 'extra step'? Just have the scanner hook-up to the system.

              I was quite clear: there's no obvious need to scan twice.

              • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

                Hook up to what system? You are not making any sense at all.

                Like I said already, currently you only scan your boarding pass pre-security. to do your plan, you have to add a second scan, after security. This second scan will be another bottleneck just like the line entering security.

                You aren't making any sense. I fly a lot, and the last thing I want to deal with is more BS in the security line to collect simple stats that can be collected in other ways.

      • how is it any different than having a guy look at how long the line is? I didn't read TFA, but my off the cuff idea of how to implement this is periodically count the number of unique mac addresses in the area of the line. That's all you need. You don't need to save them for later or compare the addresses from the last check. Just a quick query for quantity gives you a good estimate of how long the line is.

        If you are that worried about privacy, There are already security cameras recording everything you
        • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

          It happens automatically and reliably.

          The TSA can use more detailed information about line delays in order to shorten the lines. I don't know that they *will,* but it's easy to see that it could help.

  • by Jabrwock ( 985861 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:35AM (#48213797) Homepage
    Don't the new iOS randomly pick a MAC address when scanning for available networks now? If you don't want to be tracked, don't connect to the airport Wifi.
    • yeah, but it shouldn't matter to implement this. Every frame you count the number of unique mac address. That's your estimate. Is it a lot? then the line is long. Is it not a lot? then the line is short. It shouldn't matter what mac address you saw in the previous frame. maybe your polling frames are long enough allow a single device to be counted multiple times, but so what? the number of mac addresses is going to be relative to the number of phones. Throw a fancy learning algorithm at it, and you likely
      • I can't see them being that smart though. They likely just have low-range antennas that see what MAC address is where and track it as it moves along the line. Maybe scan them as they enter, and scan them as they leave. Bingo, you've got throughput, with stats on how long it took them to get through, as well as how many are still in line. Same as drive-thru measurements.
        • That would be cool, but might be overthinking it. For a long time, when you'd go to disney world or great america, there would be signs along the path that say, "1;43 from this point", etc. That's all the more detailed they need to be really. Line waits tend to be proportional to the number of people in line. tbh, i'd think they could estimate wait time simply by looking at crowd density on a camera.
  • by Wrath0fb0b ( 302444 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:37AM (#48213819)

    If you've got a recent iPhone [apple.com], it's already randomizing the MAC used for background scans:

    When iOS 8 is not associated with a Wi-Fi network and a device's processor is asleep, iOS 8 uses a randomized Media Access Control (MAC) address when conducting PNO scans. When iOS 8 is not associated with a Wi-Fi network or a device's processor is asleep, iOS 8 uses a randomized MAC address when conducting ePNO scans. Because a device's MAC address now changes when it's not connected to a network, it can't be used to persistently track a device by passive observers of Wi-Fi traffic.

    Of course, that doesn't work if you are using the phone to read Twitter while waiting in line, because seriously, what else are you expected to do while shuffling along?

    • by Nkwe ( 604125 )

      Of course, that doesn't work if you are using the phone to read Twitter while waiting in line, because seriously, what else are you expected to do while shuffling along?

      Reading Slashdot?

      • by Holi ( 250190 )

        Before I get on a plane? No thanks, I really like to try and relax before my flight,

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      If you've got a recent iPhone, it's already randomizing the MAC used for background scans:

      Sort of.

      http://www.imore.com/closer-lo... [imore.com]

      The key is 'device's processor is asleep'. Any time it wakes up, it probes with its real mac. So if your in line at the store, phone is in your pocket, and twitter gets an update (over cellular data), that still wakes your phone up, and it probes with its real mac.

      Or, since your in line at the store and bored, you pull out your phone and check the time, and respond to an sms...

  • by Vokkyt ( 739289 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:38AM (#48213825)

    While this is useful information to have, the privacy implications are a bit unsettling.

    As best I can tell from the description, this sounds similar to what Disney and other themeparks use to track their wait times for rides, except the amusement parks occasionally hand out little RFID "things" to guests at the ride entrance and ask the guest to give it to the operator.

    As far as I'm aware, any time you're polling for WiFi networks you're broadcasting your MAC; this just seems like a fairly benign way to get information about a process without getting actual data on an individual.

    Granted, you can somewhat reliably tie together a MAC addy's travel path if you have the ability to see all the places that MAC has been, but that was true even without this particular software.

    So, yeah, what is the concern about this software in particular? It seems like the complaint is more with how the scanning for networks works.

    • Pretty much what I was thinking.

      "People everywhere are constantly scanning with their beady little eyes. If they see someone in public they have met before, they recognize them and are able to track them through the crowd with these eyes. The privacy implications of this being used in a place that is not at all private and completely public, are unsettling."

      • Moreover, the airport is riddled with security cameras that are recording your image. Your path through the airport is well documented and preserved. Trying to deduce where you were by records of your mac address is silly. It's already all on video.
    • The real danger to your privacy comes once you've joined the network, giving it your real MAC address, and start sending a bunch of data around that isn't encrypted end-to-end (like web browsing).
  • Anxiety over being late (for work, or for a plane) is a common concern.. this will help alleviate it.
    On the freeways where I live are large signs that show transit times to various points-- those are very accurate and very nice to have.If you're concerned about privacy and tracking, don't wear a device that can track you.

    But if you're in an airport, you can assume your name and travel details will be reported to the government. Even if your local coffee shop wants to know how many you stop in for a lat
  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:43AM (#48213869) Journal

    Certainly I don't want them to know I have a cell phone, that would be an invasion of my privacy while I wait in line for my NAKED BODY SCAN, right after I hand them my government-issued ID. There are privacy invasions happening there, but they aren't wifi related.

    • They don't do the naked body scan anymore, at least not to any monitors that I can see.

      It's just a rough outline of a generic person and indicates where anything odd is going on.

      The problem is, if I pull my sweat pants up too high while in line (to prevent accidental dropped pants in case of pat-down), it sometimes picks up the waist band being up that high as suspicious and I get a pat-down.

      • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

        The monitor only shows an outline, but the scan itself gets a lot more detail, and that is all stored in the system.

  • I don't see the need for a tinfoil hat here. If my phone is actively searching for a network, and the airport is using that information in a way that doesn't identify me, doesn't make my phone think it should be sending any other data, and generally makes my experience better, I don't see a problem. They're even letting me know that they do it.

    I love my privacy, but this use seems perfectly sane. Yes, they could hire a Walmart greeter to sit on a stool and watch the line, periodically holding up a chalk

  • by ledow ( 319597 )

    Erm... how do you think the traffic apps work on your satnav?

    They ask you to "anonymously" contribute statistics, they talk home over 3G to service centres, who spot traffic moving slowly (given speed and position is easy on a satnav), mark those roads with appropriate average speeds and then transmit that out to everyone with traffic services.

    Sure, they use roadside monitors and other things as well but the "HD" traffic you might get from any large satnav provider uses exactly the same technology.

    The quest

  • Okay, so turn your WiFi off before you walk into the airport. Super secret line monitoring DEFEATED! The TSA will never know where you are in line! You'll be like the Spanish Inquisition.

  • Cattle have had tags that help their handlers track them for decades. You people asked for this so you could feel safe, and you kept asking for it, by voting for the same corporate shills who are delighted that you've been so distracted by "teh terrorists" (and gay marriage, and abortions) that you're not paying attention to what's been happening. No move along, before we get out the prod.
  • At PDX and other places a TSA guy gives you a little colored card with a number on it.
    At the other end of the line a TSA guy takes it from you.
    They time of the line is measured by the transit time of the card.

    Is this more or less creepy?

    • If there are two people who are earning a living wage doing nothing more than handing out/retrieving cards and logging times, I find that far more disturbing than an automated process.

  • Singapore Airport (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ChilyWily ( 162187 )
    Me thinks the transit time is the plausible excuse here. They really want to know who is going where so that if they nab you for some 'offense' then they have a history of all the places you were at and security footage as well. 'Free' wifi that really isn't free if you consider the implications.

    Of course, there are other instances where Governments have been rather crass about it:

    A few years ago I was transiting at Singapore's Changi Airport. They had free WiFi, but subject to me giving them the MAC
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      Um, you do realize that to even get in the line you have to a) prove who you are (goverment issued ID) and b) show where you are going (boarding pass). I don't think they need something obscure like a MAC address to know who is in the airport and where they are going.

      • True about showing ID and tickets, but as far as I know, they don't record that information, they just inspect it. (I could be wrong on that one too).

        Until we have randomized MAC addresses, the MAC is one common denominator.

        Perhaps I wasn't explicit enough, its not where you are going, it is where you have been, that is equally or more important to a Police State.

        • True about showing ID and tickets, but as far as I know, they don't record that information, they just inspect it. (I could be wrong on that one too).

          TSA don't need to record your information at the checkpoint, because they already get it from the airline as part of the Secure Flight [wikipedia.org] program.

  • To get to that point, one has to:

    1.) buy airplane tickets, most likely by credit card (I'm sure there's some way to use cash to pay for airplane tickets, but I don't know a single person who's done that in a decade). These tickets give a very good probability as to where you are going to be, when.
    2.) check in - in other words, directly inform the airline that you are at the airport.
    3.) get onto a line whose exit involves partial undress (shoes, belts, jackets), placing your personal effects on a conveyor belt to be searched, and an X-Ray of your body. ...so now they're using the MACs of cell phones to figure out how long people are going to be in the queue, and we're worried about "privacy concerns"? You're in the wrong place if you're worried about privacy in the security line at an airport.

  • What?! Whoever wrote this (timothy) doesn't understand technology.
    Counting unique MAC addresses means nothing.

    It is literally just the same as watching the airport cameras and counting the passengers as they move through security.
    Do you really honestly think there are no cameras at airports? Are you that clueless?

    Your ignorance is a bit unsettling. Put away the tin foil.
  • There are many things I would complain about, but an airport tracking information that you are publicly broadcasting is not one of them. You have 100% control over this. Pretty much the same thing as a server admin logging what IP addresses connect to his servers.
  • I don't see a great privacy implication here. WiFi is, again, a broadcast medium. If you've got WiFi turned on, you already know your phone is broadcasting to access points and that those access points know you're inside their range (and with the way modern beam-forming tech works, they have a good idea exactly where you are). If I were interested in privacy, I'd have WiFi turned off so I wasn't broadcasting my presence constantly.

  • In Copenhagen Airport, passengers have been tracked using Bluetooth for some years [nytimes.com]. The visible difference for the customers is a display that shows the security waiting time in minutes.
  • There are probably security cameras watching the line already. Use them to count the people. Software for this is available from several suppliers.

    Cameras at intersections already do this, as part of traffic signal control. The best systems report things like "3 cars waiting at signal, then a big gap, then more approaching cars". The controller can then let three cars through, then turn the light for that intersection face red and let the other direction go.

  • Am I the first to point out iOS8 fixes this.

    http://appleinsider.com/articl... [appleinsider.com]

  • I don't know what it is, but slashdot editors just LOVE the hell out of cell phone tracking. I mean, there has probably been a story or two on the subject before now:

    http://slashdot.org/story/05/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/05/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/05/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/05/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/02/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/02/0... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/06/0... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/07/0... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/12/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/story/06/1... [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot [slashdot.org]

"There are some good people in it, but the orchestra as a whole is equivalent to a gang bent on destruction." -- John Cage, composer

Working...