Your phone is probably being tracked right now, even if you have disabled access to your location. This is because the phones reveal personal identifiers to the antennas of the major network operators, in exchange for receiving phone service.
For the phone and internet service to work on your cell phone, the network must know your location and identify your device as a paying customer. That is why your data, such as identity and location, are tracked by the phone at all times.
As a result, an industry dedicated to collecting data from people has been generated that is largely unregulated, which sells that data to third parties without the consent of users. So far, there was no other option but to accept it, but it could soon be over.
A pair of researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering and Princeton University have found a way to stop this privacy breach using existing cellular networks. Through a new system, they seek to protect privacy while still providing normal mobile connectivity.
This system is called “Pretty Good Phone Privacy”(PGPP) and what it does is use software to decouple phone connectivity from authentication and billing, by transforming personal identifiers into anonymous data. This was possible because there is no reason why a personal identifier should grant network connectivity to a user, they are not necessarily related.
The new system works by breaking the direct line of communication between the user’s phone and the cell tower. So instead of sending a personally identifiable signal to the tower, it sends an anonymous “token”, using a virtual mobile operator as an intermediary or proxy server.
The researchers also thought of a way for operators to know that a user is a paying customer, despite providing anonymous data. “In the protocol we develop, the user pays the bills and gets a cryptographically signed token from the provider, which is anonymous. Now, identity at a specific location is separate from the fact that there is a phone at that location, ”they stated.
The best thing is that, according to the researchers, this solution made through software does not alter the hardware of the cellular network. They tested the system with real phones in their lab and found that it adds almost zero latency and does not create a bottleneck, preventing performance issues from other anonymity networks. Also, all location-based functions, such as contact tracing and searching for services on a map, can continue to work smoothly.
The researchers hope that this system will be accepted by default by the main networks, especially as concerns about privacy have been growing. They ensure that their technology could handle dozens of users on a server and that they can implement the system through network operators without major difficulties.