SiliconFilter

Why Security Researcher Who Discovered iPhone Location Data Long Ago Almost Went Unnoticed

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As more information about the “secret” location-data file on Apple’s iPhone 4s and iPad 3Gs becomes available, the story surrounding this discovery is becoming more about the people involved than the location data itself. As it turns out, Alex Levinson, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, had long discovered this file in his research and work with forensic firm Katana Forensics. Katana Forensics produces a tool called Lantern, which can extract this data and map it in Google Earth’s KMZ format. Levinson also presented his findings in an IEEE journal all the way back in 2007. So why did the blogosphere and mainstream press go crazy about this affair yesterday (including me) and why was Levinson, who emailed virtually all major publications about this yesterday afternoon Pacific Time, ignored by all but a few outlets (again: including me)?

Note: a lot of this is inside baseball about how the blog sausage is made. If that’s not of interest to you, here is the tl;dr: Levinson’s email to the press was flawed and his research was only available in academic publications.

Why Was Levinson Mostly Ignored?

Talking to Gigaom’s Bobbie Johnson, Levinson explained his findings in detail, but also made this observation:

He adds that the press missed the story first time around, and now seems more focused on the horror of data storage than the reality (there, for example, is no evidence that the data is sent back to Apple at the moment).

‘I do blame the press somewhat for sensationalizing them without recourse,’ he says. ‘I emailed 20 of the top media outlets who covered this, linking them to my side — none of them replied, except a famous blogger who cursed me.’” (my emphasis)

To his point about missing the story the first time around: it’s a point well taken, but I should also note that his research was published in 2007 in the Hawaii International Conference for System Sciences 44 – not a publication most journalists and bloggers read at bedtime. He also published more about this in a book on iOS forensic analysis, but that, too, isn’t something even those of us who did a bit of research on this topic yesterday could have easily spotted. The sad reality is, neither the press nor blogosphere was going to pick up on this story unless somebody made us aware of it. As far as I know, nobody did.

As to why he was ignored yesterday: Every day, press and bloggers get pitches from “experts” about various topics. The reality is, we ignore 99% of those (and no, it wasn’t me who cursed at him). There were a few problems with Levinson’s pitch that made it even easier to ignore:

a) he didn’t use bcc and cc’ed everybody on the list (a pet peeve of reporters and other cubicle dwellers alike). Given the amount of emails flowing into most bloggers’ and reporters’ inboxes, emails like that immediately go to the bottom of the pile, especially after the second comment about the missing bcc arrives. A rookie PR mistake.

b) none of the pertinent information (links to the old publication etc.) was in the email – just a link to a blog post and to a blog nobody had ever heard of. Also, statements like “You will want to read this” and “it would be in your best interest to review what I have to say” are something most of us read about 50 times a day and just ignore.

The fact that I failed to see the value in Levinson’s pitch is obviously nothing to be proud of, but I thought you deserved a bit more of an explanation for why this story went mostly unnoticed the first time around and why Levinson’s voice was not heard until the news cycle was already over. I’m glad it’s being heard loud and clear now.



8:55 am


Echoecho 2.0 Makes Meeting Up With Your Friends as Easy as Five Clicks

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Echoecho is one of the most useful location-based apps on the market today. When you hear the word “location-based app,” chances are you are thinking about services like Foursquare and Gowalla. While these can be fun, their utility is rather limited (unless you really feel the need to collect virtual badges). Echoecho, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to solve a simple problem: finding out where your friends are.

While most of today’s location-based services were designed around the idea of the check-in, Echoecho takes a very different approach and allows to ask your friends where they are.

imageThe service offers free native apps for the iPhone (iTunes link), as well as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry devices. The latest update is currently only available for iOS and Android, though. The app falls back to SMS if your friends don’t have the app installed, so you can even use it if your friends haven’t installed it yet.

Echoecho doesn’t force you to join yet another social network. Instead, it simply uses your existing contacts on your phone.

Where are you?

Here is the problem Echoecho solves: Say you want to meet up with a friend in the city, but you don’t know exactly where he is. Today, you would probably send a few SMS messages back and forth to slowly triangulate where you both are and to decide what a convenient place to meet up would be. With Echoecho, you simply send a ping, get an answer, propose a meeting location and head there – all within a minute or two and with just a few clicks.

Where should we meet?

imageThe latest versions of the service’s iPhone and Android apps just arrived in their respective app stores. This new version takes the original concept of finding out where your friends are one step further. The app now also allows you to find, suggest and confirm meeting places with just a few clicks. While ensuring your privacy is at the heart of the service, the new version also allows you enable automatic replies for your best friends, spouses or children, so that the app will automatically tell them where you are.

If you want to discuss the meeting place in more depth, Echoecho currently still falls back to using text messages, but one of the next updates will move these discussions to a text chat in the app itself.

One minor limitation of the app is that it currently only revolves around one-on-one meetings. There is currently no way to easily use the app to poll a group of people about their locations and organize meetings.

Version 2.0 of the app now also sports a slick redesigned interface. In my first review, I praised the app for its simplicity and thankfully this has not changed, even as the team added more features.

To fully understand the power of this concept, you really have to see the app in action. Echoecho co-founder Nick Bicanic demoed the update at the Launch conference last month:



9:30 am



Study: Consumers Don't Want to Receive Location-Based Coupons While Shopping

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Only 8% of UK shoppers say that they would like to receive location-based mobile coupons while they are in the supermarket. According to a new study by U.K.-based Evolution Insights, the majority of shoppers (51%) said that they would rather receive their coupons before going to the store than when they are already in the supermarket.

That is not to say that consumers in the UK don’t want to use their smartphones to receive coupons at all. Indeed, only a minority (36%) of respondents said that they would not “consider the use of digital media for initiatives such as digital coupons and shopping lists at all.” Judging from the results of this study, though, most consumers today are not interested in what many location-based startups expect to be their main tool for generating revenue.

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While there has been a lot of hype around location in the tech world over the last few months, these sobering results show that this technology is still far away from mainstream adoption. As Evolution Insight’s lead analyst James Johnson notes, “the rise of GPS enabled smartphones brings opportunities to target shoppers with marketing based upon their actual location. But do grocery shoppers really want to be interrupted with the latest coupons and deals on their mobile when they walk past or enter the supermarket?”

It’s worth noting that just a month ago, a similar study in U.S. found higher acceptance rates for in-store coupon delivery. This study, however, also found that only about 14% of U.S. shoppers currently use mobile coupons.

Image Credit: Flickr user ralphogaboom.



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