Your Devices Spy Even More on You: Barometric Readings and Google’s Passkey Default

As regular readers may have inferred, your humble blogger hates the business philosophy of most technology companies. Planned obsolescence (for instance, peak word processing was WordPerfect circa 1994). Trying to drive your data into the cloud, where you don’t own it. And all the spying. It drives me crazy when users fail to understand that if a service appears to be free, you and your data are being sold. I don’t mind it much when it is explicit with advertising, but the harvesting of the customer is rarely transparent. I particularly take umbrage at the degree to which smartphones are spy machines and resisted getting one until it became necessary with my last move.1

Two tidbits, one an existing issue that just came to my attention regarding the existence and uses of sensors in smartphones, another the latest Google offense of making its passkeys a default (this on top of Google actively out to deny traffic to smaller independent news/analysis sites) confirm my prejudices.

Yours truly is particularly sensitive to being geolocated, not that I even go out much, much the less anywhere on the wild side. Yes, you can turn off GPS location in your device, but in the iPhone, it takes a bit of scrolling to get to it, which sure looks intended to impede disabling, and I don’t trust even then that it is fully off.2

By happenstance, your perhaps naive correspondent just learned of a raft of other ways my smartphone spies on me. It has a barometer and an accelerometer. Of course, it also has a gyroscope to change the screen image when you rotate the phone.

The barometer particularly frosted Lambert and me. As Lambert wrote:

Users should have the right to turn off any sensor, as in not just the software but the sensor proper. When they can’t that’s a ginormous red flag.

Not only is their existence not well advertised (and yes, both iPhones and Androids have them) but you also can’t turn them off. You can remove it in a iPhone, but you need to take the device apart, and I don’t have anyone I trust to do that.3

A proof of concept paper in 2017 found that a user’s location could be estimated from these sensors alone. If someone, say, had their phone mainly off but intermittently made calls and/or looked at data, it’s not hard to imagine that a few additional location scraps would firm the picture up. From Sophos in GPS is off so you can’t be tracked, right? Wrong:

… several researchers from the Electrical Engineering Department at Princeton University who created an app they call “PinMe” to show that, with just a couple thousand lines of added code (plenty of games and apps have hundreds of thousands of lines of code), smartphone users can be tracked just as precisely as their GPS, even when it’s turned off.

The researchers – Arsalan Mosenia, Xiaoliang Dai, Prateek Mittal and Niraj Jha – in a 15-page paper published on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website (paywall), describe how their app collects data from sensors in the device that don’t require special permission to access.

As they put it, in tests using an iPhone 6, iPhone 6S and Galaxy S4 i9500:

We describe PinMe, a novel user-location mechanism that exploits non-sensory/sensory data stored on the smartphone, e.g., the environment’s air pressure and device’s timezone, along with publicly-available auxiliary information, e.g., elevation maps, to estimate the user’s location when all location services, e.g., GPS are turned off.

….As they say, both iOS and Android are designed to run with third-party apps, of which there are hundreds of thousands on the market. And while smartphone operating systems are also designed to protect most personal information, “several types of non-sensory/sensory data, which are stored on the smartphone, are either loosely protected or not protected at all.”

Those include a gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer and magnetometer. According to the researchers, measurements from those sensors:

…are accessible by an application installed on the smartphone without requiring user’s approval. As a result, a malicious application that is installed on the smartphone and runs in the background can continuously capture such data without arousing suspicion.

Using what they describe as “presumably non-critical data” from those sensors, the app first determines what the user is doing – walking, driving a car, riding in a train or an airplane. As Christopher Loren put it, writing on Android Authority:

Moving at a slow pace in one direction indicates walking. Going a little bit quicker but turning at 90-degree angles means driving. Faster yet, we’re in train or airplane territory. Those are easy to figure out based on speed and air pressure.

A second team a year later showed how much sensor location it took to locate a user in selected cities. From CNBC:

You may think turning off your smartphone’s location will prevent this, but researchers from Northeastern University in Boston found that isn’t always the case.

“Not a lot of people are aware of this problem. Mainly because when we think about location, we associate it with the GPS on the phone,” said Sashank Narain a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern.

In a test, Narain and his team were able to track people driving through Boston, Waltham, Massachusetts, and London. Traditional locators, like GPS were turned off — so the researchers used other sensors….

In order to track the test subjects, the researchers had them download what seemed to be a flash light app — but actually was gathering sensor data..

“In a place like Boston, which has a lot of unique turns and very curvy roads, you can get an accuracy of up to 50 percent of guessing the user’s location in the top five search results. In case of a place like Manhattan, which is mostly grid-like, it’s much more difficult,” Narain said.

The ability to track gets easier with more information.

“If you were to travel the same path every day, we have extremely high probability to guess where you live, where you work and what trajectories you took. Extremely high meaning that on repeated paths more than 90 percent,” Noubir said….

“We were not honestly expecting such high accuracies,” he said. “As the sophistication of these sensors on smartphones improve, as they become more and more accurate, this may become a primary means of invading users’ privacy.”

A new offense is Google doing its best to force its new passkey system on users by making it a default. The excuse is that it improves security…with biometrics to become a preferred log-in method. Admittedly this is not the only passkey validation option but all the writeups I have seen so far, presumably following Google messaging, list biometric ID options first. So what happens when someone gets that data? How do you get new fingerprints, say? And why should I trust any private company with that information? I know that horse left the barn and is in the next county as far as many consumers are concerned, but the casualness over handing over personal information in general, and biometrics in particular, is still disturbing.

From TechCrunch in Google makes passkeys the default sign-in method for all users:

Google has announced that passkeys, touted by the tech giant as the “beginning of the end” for passwords, are becoming the default sign-in method for all users.

Passkeys are a phishing-resistant alternative to passwords that allow users to sign into accounts using the same biometrics or PINs they use to unlock their devices, or with a physical security key. This removes the need for users to rely on the traditional username-password combination, which has long been susceptible to phishing, credential stuffing attacks, keylogger malware or simply being forgotten…

Passkeys, on the other hand, are made of two parts: one part is left on the app or website’s server, and the other is stored on your device, which allows you to prove that you are the legitimate owner of the account. This also makes it near-impossible for hackers to remotely access your account, given that physical access to a user’s device is needed, even in the event of a server breach.

And Google is up front about its aims:

On Tuesday, the company took a step closer toward killing off the password with the announcement that it’s making passkeys the default authentication method for all Google Account holders.

Yet another tax on my time in having to opt out, which you can be sure Google will not make easy.


1 I am a big fan of Justine Haupt’s 4G dumpphone project and if you can be a smartphone refusnik, it would give you a phone that should be viable for years, even a decade.

2 Not that the spook state is interested in me, but I would assume devices have backdoors and the GPS would be one of prime importance. A Faraday bag would solve the problem but I am not confident in those either. You can test their ability to bar phone signals, but how do you verify their GPS blocking, which uses different frequencies?

Readers may argue that cell phone triangulation can identify user location, but I’ve regarded that argument as intended to desensitize consumers to GPS tracking. GPS can locate you to +/- five meters. Even in a dense city, cell tower triangulation is more like +/- a city block, at the very best +/- 50 meters. However, your phone also provides information that can be used to locate you besides GPS and triangulation, such as Bluetooth and WiFi network interaction (needless to say, I keep Bluetooth off unless making specific use of it).

3 The barometer does have a vent on the left of the phone. If I were sure that the slot I see is indeed that, I wonder if a dab of school glue would render it useless.

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  1. .Tom

    The location service on my phone is nearly always turned off so that 3rd party apps don’t get easy access to my lat and long. But the cellular and Wi-Fi networks know where my phone is. They have to to route packets to it and I think the phone’s OS can work with that too. I carry the phone for it’s wireless network capabilities so it’s unavoidable. If the phone makers are now bragging about spying on us with barometric sensors, they’re just rubbing it in or getting a conference boondoggle for a paper or something.

  2. NN Cassandra

    For majority of people, who use “password1234” for every account, passkey systems are improvement. As for new fingerprints, here the biometrics are used to unlock keys stored locally on the phone, so if someone steels your phone and your fingerprints, you disallow authentication from that phone.

    1. britzkieg

      If indeed a “majority of people” (link?) use password 1234 for every account then indeed a majority of people are beyond stupid. As for disallowing aunthentication from “that” phone… oops, too late…

      1. NN Cassandra

        I would think it’s common knowledge that people continue to use weak passwords. It’s why other people keep inventing such things.

        You can disable the phone via Google/Apple account. If I was going to critique this scheme, it would be over this tie up of your phones/pcs into one account. But people seem to be OK with, even demand it.

  3. .Tom

    For a FIDO2 WebAuthn login on our web apps without using Google’s Passkey implementation, I’ve been looking at BitWarden’s version. which I believe can be hosted on your own domain. I think this kind of auth probably is an improvement for users in terms of security and convenience. The trick Google plays is to host good tech on their servers. Fetching it from there allows tracking. It’s very convenient for developers. Things like reCAPTCHA, Google Analytics, and the code CDN for things like jQuery are usually revealing you to Google.

    I use a browser add on called uMatrix to keep an eye on this stuff and by default block it.

    An example that really annoys me is that my hospital provides a patient portal web site. It was built many years ago and is useful for looking at lab results, notes and emailing with providers. It used to be 100% on the hospital’s domain but when it was updated a few years ago, resources hosted on both Amazon and Google appeared on the front page so I can’t even log in now without announcing to those guys what I’m doing.

    1. Bsn

      Simple, use a land line and only “call” for appointments and other communication with the doc. Why use “their portal”? Don’t play the game. Never had a cell phone but still have a doctor…… for now anyway. Of course, if most people start using a “portal” (that the hospital and their corporate owners control) then you are stuck with no choice. Maintain your choices or they will be lost.

      1. Nevermore

        correct but at least here in SoCal you have to fill up everything on line before you see a doc. there is no way to escape it, unless you decide to go rogue and live in the wild, in which case you might still be put in a health institution for being insane.

      2. Duke of Prunes

        Going through this with my mom. She’s 90, lives in a fairly rural area and her local hospital is beginning down the path of “portal first” and even “portal only” for some capabilities. She calls, but is getting more frustrated with the pushback she has been getting as she has great difficulty navigating an iPhone and their portal. Long wait times on the phone and reaching people who don’t know how to help, and just say “use the portal”.

        I guess I should be happy she has a rural hospital.

      3. .Tom

        What suggests to you that my choice to use or not use that web site is threatened?

        I was drawing attention to the resources loaded from 3rd party domains that permit those domains to track my browsing activity. I think this is often just a convenience for web developers who don’t want the trouble of handling these things on their own servers. For example, this web page tries to load scripts from,,,, and But the requests my browser makes to get these resources allow these domains and/or their business partners to identify me. Afaik the case against Google Passkey is in this category.

  4. MartyH

    Cell tower location can not be avoided. It is baked into the system. It is generally not available in real time to web apps but available commercially. See 2,000 Mules for the results.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes it can be. It’s called turning your phone off. My phone is off nearly all the time.

      And in US courts, cell tower location has been ruled to not be not accurate enough to use as evidence of the alleged’s perp’s location.

      1. GDmofo

        You would need a Faraday pouch/bag to truly hide. It would be trivially easy for your phone to send/receive a tower ping while “off” – so nice that we can’t replace/take out batteries on our phones our selves anymore. You would need to either remove the battery or completely block the signal to truly, safely, be “off”.

        Also, a few years ago, Iran (Lebanon?) basically wiped out Isreali spy network in their country. How? They used the state owned telecom company to look for phone SSIDs that only turned on at certain times and only called certain numbers. It wasnt hard to figure out who was reporting info after that.

        So you might be even MORE suspicious only turning your phone on when you need, not having it turned on and on you at all times like a “normal person” nowadays.

      2. Michaelmas

        It can be turned on remotely and they can monitor conversations within range of the microphone.

        I’m on the move now, but I’ll try to dig up citations/documentation when I get a chance.

    2. t

      Another exciting hack – not having your phone with you!

      (Doesn’t help me – I use trackers on dogs so….)

      1. Rolf

        More and more, this is what I’ve taken to doing — just leaving it at home. Most of the time I can get by without one. And as virtually all my computer accounts are tied to 2FA on the phone, not carrying it around avoids losing the damn thing.

      2. Piotr Berman

        Trackers on dogs? Animals domesticated 50,000 years ago need trackers to live with humans?

        I had two experiences with “trackers”. In the nearby forest, there are many paths for walk and de-facto it is an area to let dogs run near their owners (formally, they should be on the leash, but the presence of law enforcement seems scant. Some owners of particularly lively dogs put bells on them, I guess they do not have an issue of a puppy running away and then hiding absolutely still…

        Another experience was with a pair of dogs in a forest next to hunting cabin. Very lively creatures. I noticed boxes on their collars so I assume that it was “electronic fence”. But quickly they emerged on the forest road we planned to use and more-or-less chased us away. Clearly, hunting dogs, not harmless pooches. So we turned back and one of the dogs followed us, behaving like a best friend. It had some funny gait, not used to a leisurely pace. That ended when there was a group of deer in a forest clearing and the dog started to chase them at full speed.

        IMHO, people should keep at least visual contact with their canines.

  5. Anon

    I recall seeing a futurist’s ‘map’ of social/technological development, a decade ago… and “the end of privacy” was one prominent entry… I didn’t understand what they meant, but it seems that our newfound abilities are destined to alter our ideals, and perhaps what it means to be human.

    Have a gander: “trends and technology timeline: 2010+”

    Interested to hear peoples’ takes.

  6. lambert strether

    Hopefully a secondary market in replacement retinas develops before all the retinal biometric data is hacked, which it will be (and don’t tell me it won’t be. Digital = hackable).

    1. ambrit

      The “hacking” of retina patterns through the use of physical eyes is a plot point in at least two sci-fi films I can think of: “Minority Report” and “Bladerunner.”
      We are approaching the point where Terran humans are literally divided up into “silos.” Some of us will have to opt out of the “security state” totally, while the rest of us navigate ever shifting methods of “coping.”
      No precogs needed. I can see where the primary function of Artificial Intelligence in society will be in the detection of ‘pre-crimes.’ Naturally, such ‘pre-crimes’ will be mutable and under the ‘benign’ control of The State.
      Dystopia LLC is here. Resistance is futile. You will be owned and be happy. (The whippings will continue because we enjoy whipping you.)

        1. ambrit

          Such will be applicable if the Organs of State Security use “reality” as their benchmark.
          If the “we create our own reality” is the rule, then whatever the AI throws up will be declared to be the “Official Reality.”
          At that point, the entire ‘game’ will revert to brute force versus destructive guile.
          Homeland Security had better ‘up its game.’ They only think they have encountered “domestic terrorism” so far.

      1. digi_owl

        While not a plot point, there is also a glorious scene in Demolition Man of a “brute force” unlocking of a retina scan door lock.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Me too, but I haven’t seen it in action. Has anyone here actually bought one of these who could comment on how well they work?

      I recently had to travel cross country by myself for the first time in many years. I have never owned any cellphone, but for this trip I repurposed an old iphone of my daughter’s and got a number for it, just so I’d have some way to touch base in case of any delays with flights now that there are no payphones to be found anywhere. I really hated that thing – within minutes of getting the number turned on I started getting scammy texts and calls, and to do anything with it apparently you need to download an app from their appstore, even just to get a browser other than safari that doesn’t require apps – and it’s been sitting on the counter ever since I got back from the trip. I’ve told the few people to whom I gave my number to email me or call the landline if they want to reach me since I won’t be using that damn phone any more. I look forward to taking a sledgehammer to it, especially if I can get a good dumb replacement, so any reports on Justine’s phone’s capabilities would be much appreciated. What I’d like to know is what texts you are able to send with it and how that works. I don’t have $400 to spend testing something that might not be ideal….

      1. RockTaster

        I ordered a kit months ago to assemble for my preteen daughter. Justine hit some production roadblocks, but I believe its coming this month. If you needed one complete and assembled, sounds like delivery on those is mid 2024

    2. playon

      According to the post on that site, the phone does not currently work with any US carriers. I love the idea though.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If I had been on a day schedule in New York, I would have paid a dog walker a couple of times a week to walk my phone with the dogs he got from my building.

  7. Sue inSoCal

    Yves, I sure liked that little dial phone, too. A barometer??? Holy sh!t. I have turned off every possible location do-dad on my old iOS phone now running on an external battery. Soon this old phone won’t be updated, and I hate the thought of buying a new one. I load few apps, have all data on the phone, not the cloud (but who knows?) and turned off “find my phone” which was pinging my location constantly. I’d appreciate any advice from everyone and everyone who is knowledgeable about this stuff. Heaven knows, I’m not. I have a feeling a burner’s the way to go and use these only when necessary. Unless burner phones are outlawed…(eye roll), but I’m not kidding about that. Iirc, there was a dustup re VPNs…

    1. ddt

      They’re outlawed here in Greece. Used to be able to go to a kiosk or corner store and get a sim card. Not anymore. They get all your data now even for non-contract phone sim/number you load every time you run out of call time or data.

  8. Carolinian

    Passkeys, on the other hand, are made of two parts: one part is left on the app or website’s server

    In other words you have to be online to turn on your phone. Some of us on the other hand make a cult out of being offline as much as possible on the theory that computers were never invented in order to force you to be on the internet.

    In my town some downtown businesses said that from now on they would only validate parking in their private lots if customers scanned a QR sign and had an app that would then go on the internet and record when they parked. If you don’t like it use the city parking garage a couple of blocks away.

    As for barometers, I believe these are only included on premium phones and GPS devices since considered an advanced feature (to give accurate altitude and some weather information–GPS isn’t always accurate about altitude). If my non premium Android smartphone has one I think I would know it.

    Bottom line: of course smartphones are spy bots. Fight the power!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, that is not correct re barometers. They are on all iPhones starting with the iPhone 6. This 2020 dissertation says most mid-range and high end phones have barometers. It has to be even more true since then:

      This lists pretty current phones with barometers. A VERY long list:

      1. Carolinian

        Think my smartphone, which I only use at home, would be considered low end since it cost less than $100. Still, it works well. I use very few apps other than the open source Osmand mapping app which I love and was a big reason for getting this or any smartphone. I get that all iPhones have one or you wouldn’t have written the above.

        As for Android, my attitude is that if it works it works. For me low end is as good as mid or high end.

  9. Bob Tetrault

    Fifty years of Electronic Engineering have shown me that Faraday bags work at all frequencies, essentially from DC to daylight. The question of blocking cell signals but not GPS is closed. Faraday’s are pure broad spectrum physics, no loopholes.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I am sure that claim is correct with respect to the sort of Faraday bag created in labs. My question is the bags marketed as Faraday bags at retail, like the many listed at Amazon. How can I ascertain that a bag sold as a Faraday bag is the real deal, as opposed to substandard?

        1. VT Farm Wife

          I hardly ever use my TracFone since we’ve got no cell service anywhere near our farm, but I do carry it in the car when traveling in case I run into auto problems somewhere and need to call for help – hasn’t happened yet, thank goodness. I have been putting my phone in a small Faraday bag and then into a larger Faraday bag just to be sure it can’t be tracked. I guess this makes me a little obsessive. Probably would be more of a pain for folks who use their phones a lot.

      1. Glen

        This is a legitimate concern, but it is testable too. I’ll see if I can find some links. Assuming the basic material is good, the properties of the “seal” are important.

        1. Glen

          Testing Phone-Sized Faraday Bags

          How to Make Your Own Faraday Cage

          What Is a Faraday Bag, and Should You Use One?

          There seems to be quite a bit of work going into this, and if you read the links there are a fair number of easy test methods suggested, and it turns out one of the vendors for Faraday bags even makes an app to test them.

  10. LY

    GPS frequency bands are in similar bands used by mobile phones. So if a cover blocks cellular signals, it should block GPS. GPS uses bands from about 1100 MHz to 1600 MHz. LTE uses bands from 500 MHz to 2200 MHz; 5G extends this to 6 GHz.

    I always knew smartphones can be inertial navigation devices (INS), using the gyroscope, accelerometers, etc. Those sensors were on the dual-use technology lists, and are now everywhere as they can be mass produced cheaply as MEMs. The sensors are everywhere from air-bag sensors to step counters to video game controllers. What is news to me is that smartphones don’t restrict access to these sensors. In contrast, for location based services, there are policies and software restrictions for notification and for opting in.

    The main weakness for location tracking is that it only gives relative position. It doesn’t know the starting point, and it also needs to correct for drift, as errors will accumulate over time. An aircraft, drone, or missile may use satellite navigation and radio beacons as additional input. For smartphone tracking, it can similarly use Bluetooth as a beacon or use Wifi access point maps.

    1. digi_owl

      Completely aside, but that infamous Tomahawk cruise missile use radar ground scans to correct its location. Meaning that at some point a US plane has flown over the area, and mapped its height data using radar. And then later the missile compare its scan to that to verify its location.

      Apparently this lead to a bit of an issue during the first gulf war, as the Iraqi desert was too flat. So they had to detour via the Iranian mountains to hit Baghdad.

  11. Alex Cox

    A question – why do you write that WordPerfect in 1994 was a better word processor than (say) the current version of LibreOffice?

    1. Late Introvert

      I’m going to venture a guess. Way less hardware needed, less bloated yet more powerful, and faster. Not to mention runs on simple chips that can easily be duplicated.

      I worked in Web Dev in the late 90’s – early 00’s, so I’m just trying to pay back for the damage I helped along. One of my jobs was inserting DoubleClick ad tracking code on web pages! It was the beginning of the downfall of the World Wide Web.

    2. digi_owl

      I think the “reveal codes” feature is still held up as the gold standard to this day, allowing very detailed control over page layout etc.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I have so missed that feature…

        For the last decade and half I’ve done most of my writing in either text editor or copy-pasted it trough a text editor so as to not have any codes in my text until it’s time to do the layout.

        Something as simple as Markdown has enough features for 99.5% of any text ever published.

  12. J.

    Turning off wifi is also a good idea if you don’t want to be geolocated. Google maps wifi access points. There are also 3rd parties like Target that keep track of who connects to the store wifi and try to link this data to other data.

    I gave up on Android when Play Services wanted to listen to my mic. No thanks.

    1. Carolinian

      You can disable Play Services in the Apps settings although the phone will complain about it noisily unless you turn off audio notifications. You can’t remove Play Services or any of the apps that were pre installed unless you root the phone which isn’t easy these days.

      On Android you can turn off internet access altogether however this may not stop Google from tracking you unless you go to airplane mode and turn off the cell and therefore phone calls too. And maybe not even then.

      But just a tidbit: I mentioned my Osmand mapping app and if Location is turned on but GPS turned off this app will still know–via Android on the phone–where I am and sometimes within 100 ft (may be a much larger circle depending on the weather and reception). They do this via the beacons from my neighbors’ wifi routers. Streetview has tracked and recorded practically the entire country.

  13. Michael Mck

    Sorry Yves, but I suspect the spook state is interested in you. You run a successful media platform they do not control…
    If you are not pissed off and depressed you are not paying attention.
    If you are not on several lists you are not doing enough.

  14. Antagonist Muscles

    for instance, peak word processing was WordPerfect circa 1994

    There are more extreme software luddites who still use the even older Wordstar. Alternatively, one can use the newer open source wordtsar. While I barely remember Wordstar or WordPerfect, I can sympathize with old school users. I use Emacs with Pandoc so I can focus on writing and get all the keyboard shorts I want. Emacs is the most customizable software in history, and it allows customization of keyboard shortcuts, a great feature unavailable in nearly all software. Unlike abandonware WordStar, Emacs has been in development for over thirty years, and its unflashy interface would be right at home for luddites who dislike spying software. So, get off my lawn, you crazy kids! And keep your eavesdropping phone out of my face!

    Writing in a GUI word processor comes with distractions to the writer. Writing directly in a browser is often cramped, like right here in this WordPress blog. As for the subject of this article, writing on a smartphone is horrible. The precious screen real estate is cut in half to allow a virtual keyboard. Then the writer, who purportedly has ten fingers, must use two thumbs to type something, and he must frequently focus his vision up and down from the virtual keyboard to the screen where the text appears. Editing commands like highlighting text and pasting it somewhere else is a nightmare. Things get even dicier when one hurts his neck texting on a phone for long periods.

  15. Paul Harvey 0swald

    I’ll admit I know very little about these things. Am I missing something? People lose fingers and eyes – it’s not unheard of: accidents, illness, surgery. And what about incapacitation? Or how about plain old Power of Attorney for Financial, which I was for my father shortly before and after his passing. (Fortunately for me he had a small notebook that he wrote his login credentials in. I was able to shut down his digital presence, for all intents and purposes, completely. That notebook made it easy… er that it would have been other wise. I tell my siblings that if you love your children, put those login credentials down on paper and let them know where to find them. If you don’t love your children, this is how they will find out.) How do you login to the bank (not as popular then, but now is unavoidable) without his finger? It’s in the ground!

    1. SecurityFriend

      Any device that has a biometric unlock, usually has a pin or password as a backup. If you have an iphone and lose the one finger you setup for TouchID, you are assuredly not locked out of the device.

      One should not weaken their security (passwords in a notebook their kids have) in order to resolve this situation. Nor does assigning power of attorney solve it.

      Some vendors, including awesome password manager BitWarden, have solutions for these situations. BitWarden allows creation of a ‘dead mans switch’ that if not poked, will share password access with chosen people. Apple allows for setting an ‘account recovery contact’ who can help unlock your account if you are incapacitated.

      Banks also, afaik, will work with death certificates and estate lawyers to handle account issues.

        1. SecurityFriend

          The internet was invented without security in mind. All internet security is really ‘bolted on’ the barebones of the original protocols. So ‘more tech to fix internet tech that is insecure’ is just the story of the internet. And also other parts of tech.

          Not sure why this would be bad though! You are welcome to your online banking, bill pay, health insurance stuff with HTTP and no encryption.

          Or live offline if you can.

  16. ChrisPacific

    The simplest way to confirm that GPS is off is probably to monitor battery consumption. Phones tracking your location via GPS drain considerably more power than when it’s off. (Unless manufacturers come up with a way to do it that uses negligible power).

    Android can also track your location via Wifi networks (you can turn this on or off as well). It does this by inferring a physical location for a particular Wifi network using the GPS data from connected devices (that have it enabled). It will then assume anybody connected to that Wifi network is in the inferred physical location. If you move house and connect your Wifi router there, sometimes your phone will show you at the location where you used to live for a while, until it updates with new GPS data. I would assume Apple devices are doing this as well.

  17. SecurityFriend

    I work as a Security Engineer and am commenting to counter some FUD in this article. First a misunderstanding of how biometric authentication is done on modern phones and second, why it is good to use for passkeys.

    First, when a user of an iPhone sets up TouchID, the thumbprint data is used to create a hash and then the hash value only is stored in the phone’s secure enclave. The hash data, which cannot ever be used to recreate the original thumbprint data, is never event transmitted to Apple. The same works for FaceID. (I cannot speak for all Android vendors, but Samsung and the other big players operate in the same way.)

    Second, passkeys are a strong form of MFA. The site looks for the passkey (something you have) and then your biometrics or a pin (something you are or know) to ‘unlock’ or release that passkey to the site for authentication. A biometric in this case is stronger than a pin, because the pin can be guessed or observed.

    Of course someone could always put a gun to your head and make you put a thumb on the phone, but physical violence is not in most people’s threat model.

    Google pushing this as a default is a benefit to most users who may not select for passkeys, being used to passwords. Passwords are an old, bad way of doing things and not up to modern security standards or needs.

    1. chris

      So what happens when someone steals your phone? Or maybe you lose your phone? What happens if you work in construction or manufacturing and your fingerprints degrade over time? Or if that happens anyway as people age (which it does!)? And what about the weak cameras installed on the phones for the purposes of the fingerprint recording? They’re pretty easy to fool and they are a pain to deal with when they don’t recognize your print.

      But I would be OK with your points IF and ONLY IF our society had not decided that we needed a smartphone to do everything. I needed it to sign up for my IRS account. I need it to get emergency warnings. I need it to make emergency phone calls. I need it to access my social security account. I need it to get prescription updates. My insurance company would like me to use it to track my activity and then send the data to them. So, no. Just no. It is not acceptable that Google and Apple and Samsung get to collect this data and control it. I don’t trust these companies. I don’t trust this system. I don’t trust my government for forcing me to use this system. But most importantly, I do not trust Google or the others to do anything for my benefit. I know I’m getting screwed by these changes. I know I’ll find out how I’m getting screwed sooner or later.

      Your entire profession is needed because we’ve ceded privacy and control. I realize my options to push back against that are limited. But don’t ask me to like it and don’t act like this is something us plebes should accept because our betters are telling us it’s better.

      1. Alex V

        Regarding degraded fingerprints – you just create a new hash on the phone, using your new fingerprint. The fingerprint is valid because it was created on a device you have control over.

        1. Oh

          How do you lock the phone to create a new hash if your phone is locked? If your degraded fingerprint doesn’t work and you can remember you password (alternate) it seems to me that you’re up the creek without a paddle.

      2. SecurityFriend

        A percept that you are being ‘screwed’ by passkeys is extremely misguided. In all of your first situations, a user can just use a pin. In no situation are biometrics here required. The point in the original post was that Google recommends them as the security benefit vs a 6 digit pin is not disputable.

        I get tech paranoia. Or fear of a cell phone tracking you. But most of these things are not in the average persons threat model and even so, are a more imagined threat than real. The Govt is not going to spoil a 0 day hacking your device. More likely they are going to buy cell site location data from Verizon or ATnT and avoid a warrant with the third party doctrine.

        It makes sense to be upset about tech where its really intrusive. But in this case, of passkeys and phone biometric authentication, its really not the big tinfoil hat deal its made out to be.

      1. SecurityFriend

        You can log into your phone with the internet goes down. Really not sure at all what this has to do with the discussion of passkeys or biometrics.

        The ad hominem ‘tech bro’ attack is useful though, for sure.

  18. chris

    If people who use Android phones are interested, here’s an article telling you how to use a developer mode to turn off the sensors. When I have a confidential or sensitive situation, I leave my tablet and phone and all similar devices out of the room.

    1. BCD

      Great advice Chris. Next level paranoia…

      GrapheneOS ( running on Google Pixel, made for privacy and security. Requires significant effort to install and use. Offers improved defense against Pegasus NSO group type spyware known to be used against journalists. Incudes the ability to control which apps have permissions to access sensors for more granular control.

      Diclaimer: GrapheneOS is an open source project based on open source Android. At the mercy of the devs maintaining it. They’re an active dedicated community. Nonzero probability spooks are involved like Tor, although privacy is critical for them so probably better than an iphone.

      1. Oh

        Compared to other Android phones, Google’s pixel has clear instructions on how to unlock and assists unlocking. It’s also easier to root the phone and install open source OS. But I’ve always wondered why Google would make it eaier than say, Samsung or other popular makes. AFAIK Google does not make much money from selling these phones. My suspicion they must have a backdoor to the phone no matter what other OS is installed.

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