Counter-surveillance phone case built with Raspberry Pi
The phenomenal growth of technology has impacted human society greatly. While these technologies have undoubtedly improved human life, more recent developments in technological advance have a potentially insidious character. With the rise of the internet, mobile phones, the IoT, and ubiquitous computing, there has never been a time in human history when more data has been generated, collected, and analyzed. This, coupled with the unpopularity and general public disregard for privacy concerns, has enabled a surveillance society. There are entire multi-billion dollar corporations whose main source of revenue is capitalizing on user data, most famously Facebook and Google. Online data collection is widespread, and difficult to opt out of. However, personal data collection occurs not only online in the traditional sense, but increasingly is spilling over into the physical world due to the emergence of the Internet of Things.
A particularly worrying manifestation of IoT and personal data collection is beacon technology, which is quickly growing in popularity. Beacons are a type of low-cost, micro-location-based technology that use Bluetooth 4.0 for communicating with beacon enabled devices. Compared to other existing location technologies, the major advantage of beacon technology is it can detect the micro-location between mobile device and beacon, allowing the system to know exactly where users are moving around within a particular location. Beacons, and location-based services in general, are concerning for reasons such as location-based spam, personal wellbeing and safety, intrusive inferences. As evidenced by web tracking, the IoT, location-based services, and beacons, technology is increasingly a source of privacy concerns.
Various technological solutions have been developed to help protect personal data privacy. However, they have for the most part been ineffective, largely due to their low adoption rate. Based on the considerations of user behavior and usability, PrivCase, a mobile phone case combined with a personal data obfuscation system was proposed.
PrivCase is a mobile phone case that protects a user’s privacy as well as their phone; it acts as a transparent, always available Tor router and beacon blocker for mobile phones. PrivCase piggybacks on the high adoption rates for phone cases, with an easy to use, easy to set up interface. Tor is not available natively on iPhones, so PrivCase provides access to personal data obfuscation for iPhone users. Furthermore, beacon usage is increasing exponentially, exposing current generation mobile phones to security issues such as unauthorized location tracking.
Alongside the design and technical specifications for a more complete, mass market product, we developed a prototype as a technical ‘proof of concept’, successfully setting up a Tor router. We administered tests to conclude that although our solution does make the internet on our test phone noticeably slower, it still operates at an acceptably quick level, especially given its security advantages