New microchip for smartphones to provide unprecedented ultra-precise location data
By End the Lie
The Broadcom Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, recently unveiled a brand new microchip for smartphones which will provide ultra-precise location details, potentially even within a few centimeters, far beyond what current smartphones can detect.
Today cell phones, but smartphones in particular, have become one of the most powerful surveillance tools available with Carrier IQ, citizen spying applications distributed by both the private sector and government agencies, techniques to encourage citizen spying, and a total lack of privacy.
The new chip, called Broadcom 4752 or BCM4752, will relay information about the vertical and horizontal position, if the individual is indoors or out, all through combining a wide variety of information sources.
It is loaded with sensors which can draw data from global navigation satellites, which is common in many modern smartphones, along with cell phone towers, wireless hotspots, gyroscopic information, data from the phone’s accelerometer, step counters and even altimeters.
Combining all of this information will allow for location data which is unprecedented in its preciseness, raising the potential of even more powerful surveillance via smartphones.
Technology Review points out that that in our radio-frequency-dense modern world – which is only becoming increasingly saturated with electromagnetic radiation with smart meters and near ubiquitous wireless internet, not to mention cell phone radiation – more location data will be made available to manufacturers of mobile devices thus making location-based services even more refined.
The sheer amount of information that could be garnered from this new chip is nothing short of unbelievable.
Theoretically, the chip can even relay the exact floor of a building you are on by assessing information from the atmospheric pressure sensor already present on many Android-based devices.
Broadcom calls this eerie technology “ubiquitous navigation.” They are selling it as a revolutionary way to conduct business because shopkeepers will be able to detect the moment someone walks by their storefront or when browsing particular products and then offer the customer coupons in real time.
I see this claim a lot like the selling points for many other products which fall under the category of Big Brother technology, like Google’s new patent which would allow disturbing amounts of information to be collected in order to produce targeted advertisements.
Of course, this chip will also allow for the government to request unprecedented amounts of highly specific and accurate information on smart phone users.
The fact that this will also use location data outside of GPS signals means that people can be closely tracked even when indoors or in areas where GPS signals are weak.
Currently, Broadcom is already the provider of the majority of GPS chips to manufacturers of smartphones, meaning that the new chip will likely have a large customer base.
That being said, not all smartphones have the same sensors and the integrated circuit in this new chip relies on some sensors which are not currently present in all phones.
For now, this means that it will not perform the same in every device, but as technology improves and these types of sensors become more common, this will be minimized.
The new chip uses the not-so-new technique of triangulating using Wi-Fi signals, although an interesting tidbit from Technology Review comes when we discover that, “Broadcom maintains a database of these hot spots for client use, but it says most of its clients maintain their own.”
One of the companies that is behind the creation and maintenance of said Wi-Fi hotspot databases is a little known corporation called SkyHook Wireless.
Ted Morgan, SkyHook’s chief executive officer (CEO), does not believe that Broadcom’s new chip will be able to compete with SkyHook’s software-based system.
“Broadcom is just now talking about something we have been doing for seven to eight years, uncovering all the challenges,” Morgan said. “Broadcom has never done major deployment.”
Some of these challenges are managing battery use, cataloging new mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and much more, all of which he thinks Broadcom will not be able to conquer as SkyHook has in their quest for precise indoor location data.
However, Broadcom’s vice president for the GPS division Scott Pomerantz says that “the big [mobile] operating systems all have a strategy in place” to create their own Wi-Fi databases like those produced by SkyHook.
This is highlighted by the fact that Apple used to use SkyHook for the iPhone’s location services, although now they use their own location system they built. While Pomerantz was not authorized to name specific clients, Technology Review points out that “one of Broadcom’s biggest customers is Apple.”
This new chip is also designed to integrate sources of information which have yet to be deployed in a commercial context, like Bluetooth beacons.
“The use case [for Bluetooth beacons] might be malls,” Pomerantz explained. “It would be a good investment for a mall to put up a deployment—perhaps put them up every 100 yards, and then unlock the ability for people walking around mall to get very precise couponing information.”
“The density of these sensors will give you even finer location,” Charlie Abraham, the vice president of engineering at Broadcom, added. “It could show you where the bananas are within a store—even on which shelf there’s a specific brand.”
While this might seem quite wonderful in terms of convenience and more precise directions from navigation applications, it also raises the disturbing prospect of our government having even more highly precise and personal information on Americans.
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