Betrayed by the Smartphone


As we all know, there are essential ingredients for a good result in moving house. Muscles, of course: furniture and furnishings do not move by themselves. But also delicacy, in order not to leave marks on objects: brute force alone is not enough. The last ingredient, absolutely essential: impeccable organization. Logistical and procedural organization, to be planned in detail. First the kitchen or first the living room? Is grandfather’s shop window to be empty immediately, or at the end? There are choices to make.

Amber retraced the steps already taken, checking the various TODO lists on the appropriate application on her smartphone. A real personal assistant, inseparable. Together with her trusted digital organizer, she was preparing for the worst. They were now in the hottest phase of the move. In full force: half of the stuff in the old house, half in the new house. At this point she was mostly worried for the friends involved. After all, they were not professionals, unlike the boys sent by the “EASY removals, moving stuff since 1910”. And then…

WhatsApp! “We are all below, we are coming up. P.” “Ok” A familiar noise at the door. “Hi love, we’re here.” Petra was already back, early from work, and signaled to her companion that she was in the company of Lenny and Mark, two old friends. Disposable arms!

“Thanks for coming so early,” said Amber.

“You’re welcome! You know it’s a pleasure,” replied Lenny.

“Always!” adds Mark.

“Something to drink?” said Amber.

“No thanks, we’re good.” replied Lenny.

“But, nice house. It’s a shame to leave it.” said Mark.

“Ah yes, by dint of being in Italy it’s the first time that you’ve come to our house! But we came to visit you… now you have to see the new one: it’s much brighter!” Petra replied.

“Now back to work.” Amber was directing, of course.

“Here, get up from here… Well done… Watch out for the door! Perfect. Lift.”

Then came the time for the boxes, diligently stacked at the entrance.

“I would kill for a glass of water now,” said Mark.

“Coming! I have left four chairs there on the veranda,” Amber was the queen of the house.

“Did you check the shortest road? It’s rush hour, and it seems to me that there was a metro strike, there will be chaos,” Amber said.

“I’ll take care of it,” Mark said. Zac! In an instant he was online. The best route was soon indicated. Perfect.

“But you don’t you have an Italian SIM? Earlier it sucked all your credit to download two roaming emails, now you play with maps?”, Lenny wondered.

“Oh but no, it’s the wifi,” said Amber. “The wifi? But there is a very long password!”, Petra noted…

Right. How could Mark have guessed the wifi password? Miracles of Italian telephones? A flaw? An application to crack passwords? But no, it had taken a split second, he had done that typical “blip”, known networks available, automatically connected. But then…

An embarrassed silence fell, one could almost hear the sound of the reasoning that everyone made on their own.

“Oh, curious, wifi works. Strange. I didn’t even notice it,” Mark said.

Meanwhile Petra was thinking. There was only one explanation. Mark had already been to their home. He had already connected to the wifi network, with the very long password marked under the the router. But how was that possible?

“What network company do you use here, Sky?” Mark asked. “No, it’s Vodafone, isn’t it, love?” replied Petra. Amber hastened to confirm, yes of course, she knew it well, she was the one to take care of all the bills, among a thousand other tasks.

“Ah, the mystery is explained. I hooked up to a free Sky connection, it will be your neighbor who is not very attentive to privacy!” Mmm. Ok. Ok.

Later, Petra tried to find that famous open network. Because she didn’t remember ever noticing it. And in fact there was no open Sky connection. The previous doubt had become a certainty. Mark had already been there, and for a long time. With her partner!

To Understand

Our smartphones are a real mine of information. Sometimes they also “keep in mind” things that we ignore the existence of. There is nothing unseemly in our desire to see these technological jewels react to our every touch, indeed to our every gaze, more and more quickly. Growing automation is not a miracle, but depends strictly on the data stored in our devices. It often makes life easier for us.

But sometimes it also puts us in difficult situations, even compromising our security. Greater automation almost always means less capacity for autonomous organization.

Our smartphone can become very talkative if we always leave Wi-Fi on, even if we are not connected to any network. Thanks to its MAC address (a unique identification number of our Wi-Fi interface), it allows us to track both our every virtual movement, and also our physical movement, without the intervention of our GPS.

Already in 2016, researchers from the Lausanne Polytechnic had been able to use this type of data (even if they had made it anonymous) to study the eating habits of students on their campus. They had been able to obtain statistics on what had led to the choice of a particular restaurant or snack bar (proximity, price, waiting time and so on).

Google, to quote the usual known, also uses this technique for geolocation purposes. So if on the one hand it is easy to determine where you are, the history of the networks you connect to reveals your movements and habits. It also says a lot about your dating.

And if we want to maintain a minimum of confidentiality, it is better to take some precautions, even if it can be tiring or boring.

Good Practice

  • When connecting to a network, it is a good idea to take a look at its terms of use to get an idea of what data is collected, how long it is stored and what it is used for. If these conditions are too intrusive, forget it!
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi function (but also bluetooth or other connection systems) when you are not using it. You will also save your battery.

A Bit of Technique

  • “Forget” the networks you’re connected to: delete them from the list of known networks on your device.
  • Adjust geolocation by controlling which apps have access to your location.
  • Remember that smartphones offer far fewer possibilities for intervention and customization than computers. An example for everyone: it may happen that you cannot access a website because it is automatically blocked for technical or legal reasons. An often decisive trick is to change the computer’s DNS (Domain Name Server) addresses, a rather simple operation. This changes the way in which HTTP/S addresses are resolved and new ways to reach the blocked address are experimented with, so to speak. The same operation on smartphones is instead complicated or even impossible.