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Your tires sold you out, man!
August 11, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Traffic cameras aren't required to track your driving. Researchers from Rutgers and USC have determined that low-pressure sensors in car tires can be passively read, tracking a vehicle's route.
posted by boo_radley (62 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not required, but much cheaper and able to process a larger volume.
posted by procrastination at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2010


Yet another Big Brother tracking device. I'd prefer to see it as one more step for using VMT for transportation funding, but that would probably be a bigger headache.
posted by kendrak at 9:59 AM on August 11, 2010


While this is very interesting (I didn't know these systems even existed, let alone were mandatory and wireless) your framing is a little over-done:
Xu said that while it is possible to track someone by their tire IDs, the feasibility of doing so would be quite low. "Someone would have to invest money at putting receivers at different locations," she said. Also multiple tire manufacturers have different types of sensors, requiring different receivers. Each receiver in this test cost US$1,500.
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


How many cars have tires with low-pressure sensors? Isn't this a luxury or premium feature found on higher-end models?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 AM on August 11, 2010


Ah, looks like they are now mandatory on new cars. Never mind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:05 AM on August 11, 2010


How many cars have tires with low-pressure sensors? Isn't this a luxury or premium feature found on higher-end models?

They've been required on all new cars sold in the United States since 2008.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:06 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, I was going to say that my recent economy rental car had these.
posted by zippy at 10:07 AM on August 11, 2010


This has some fantastic DOSing potential:

1) Get RFID of nearby tires.
2) Fuzz all kinds of random inputs into the nearby ECUs
3) Watch to see if you have "confounded the control unit so badly that it could no longer operate properly, even after rebooting, and had to be replaced by the dealer."
posted by adipocere at 10:07 AM on August 11, 2010


But a'course, if you already have one of those E-ZPass thingies, you already have an RFID chip in your car that can be tracked, right? It's significant that the tire sensors can't just be removed by the driver, though.
posted by XMLicious at 10:08 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"They've been required on all new cars sold in the United States since 2008."

Why? Fuel economy? Is it really worth the cost?

"Who cares if we're doing something, as long as it looks like we're doing something! I mean, think of the children!" Good article.
posted by Eideteker at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2010


If you actually had read the article, you'd know why they are required.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2010


Eideteker: My understanding is that it has more to do with safety - the sensors don't show a warning when the tires are just below the optimum pressure, but when they are at a dangerously low pressure.
posted by alaijmw at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2010


From article in 2005 about the possibility of the sensors becoming mandatory
Acting to prevent tire failures linked to deadly rollovers of sport-utility vehicles, federal regulators will issue a final rule this week requiring all new passenger cars and trucks to have individual tire-pressure- monitoring sensors by the 2008 model year, Wednesday's Wall Street Journal reported.

Tiny microchip sensors attached to each wheel will signal if any tire falls 25% below the recommended inflation pressure and trigger a dashboard warning light. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated the cost per vehicle to manufacturers at about $70.
posted by Babblesort at 10:21 AM on August 11, 2010


Yet another reason to ride a bike. Or just drive a car without these sensors. Or walk. Or take the bus. A moped, maybe, one of those that get like 50 mpgs. Oh well.
posted by elder18 at 10:21 AM on August 11, 2010


You do realize we're already doing this (tracking cars) using Bluetooth, right?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2010


See, if you can't tell that your tire pressure is dangerously low, you shouldn't be driving. But, you know, heaven forbid we reduce the size of the automotive market in this country (even though 1. Americans no longer primarily buy American cars 2. American car companies are no longer the juggernauts they once were, either financially or as a major employer) from "everyone" to "only those competent enough to operate a machine safely. As someone said recently in a comment on an article explaining that the majority of the Toyota recall events were really driver error, "As a motorcyclist, I understand that not everyone should be riding a motorcycle. Maybe it's time we realize not everyone should be driving a car."

I'm not saying that on your driving test, you should be asked to guess the pressure of all four tires on a car you're driving within 5, 1, or .5 psi. But the reason it's "unsafe" is that the handling changes. If you can't detect these handling changes, you are not safe to drive anymore than someone who has been drinking is.
posted by Eideteker at 10:25 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoops, dropped a ". NERD RAGE = PEDANTRY FAIL

Let this be a lesson to us all.
posted by Eideteker at 10:27 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, this is like #6,284 on my list of things to worry about. FYI I may be going to the grocery store later in case anyone feels like stalking me.
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You do realize we're already doing this (tracking cars) using Bluetooth, right?

Bluetooth has had some mixed results. How do you filter out all the different Bluetooth devices to discern which ones should be collected? How do you handle a bus or a car with 4 people and 5 devices?

This issue of collecting traffic data is interesting and one that engineers and policy makers are grappling with. Privacy concerns are real. The potential data is valuable and robust. The implications are unknown.
posted by kendrak at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2010


DU: "If you actually had read the article, you'd know why they are required."

Wait, we're supposed to take the time to read the article before we spout off about things we know nothing about?
posted by octothorpe at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010


You are driving around with a big, unique ID on the back of your car, and in many states, the front.

It is trivial for them to simply read that ID via camera. Why bother with short ranged RFID?

Indeed, they'd be far better off tracking off of cellphones.
posted by eriko at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


As technology advances, privacy diminishes inexorably. If the pressure sensors in your tires are your biggest privacy concern on the road, that means you have already ditched or shielded the E-Z Pass, deactivated your cell phone, disguised your license plates in a way that won't get you pulled over, hidden your face, and are carrying lots of cash.

It's an arms race that only the most paranoid, savvy, and motivated people can stay ahead of. And it only takes a minor screw up to get caught.

Big Brother is inevitable, I'm afraid.
posted by callmejay at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if you had your tires stapled with studs? What if you passed a powerful magnet around your tires? What if your tires rolled off in opposite directions because their lugs were loose? What if Big Brother's head explodes trying to keep track of hundreds of millions of spying tires? So many tires, so many questions.
posted by drogien at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2010


The fact that the tags are basically RFID kinda blew my mind. I knew they were radio sensors, but I always figured they were something different because they monitored the tire pressure. But of course it makes sense to use off the shelf stuff.

And too, the possibility of stunning/ rendering inoperable a control module with faked information was surprising. But then again, from a systems design standpoint it makes sense (sorta): You're reading data from a physical sensor, therefore any data you receive must be "in bounds", so why would you bother doing bounds checking? If this system is interconnected with others, might it be possible to construct data that would (for example) trigger a car's proximity alarm or airbags?

The most interesting tidbit for me was right at the end: Would you be willing to pay to harden your vehicle against this kind of attack vector?
posted by boo_radley at 10:54 AM on August 11, 2010


Yet another Big Brother tracking device. I'd prefer to see it as one more step for using VMT for transportation funding, but that would probably be a bigger headache.

Um, not even remotely the case.

I work in ITS (intelligent transport systems) so I hear about technologies like this all the time. If there was one message I could spread far and wide it is this:

Transportation and traffic agencies do not give one squat about individual drivers. Never have, never will. There is not the slightest interest in seeing which way Bob goes and which way Martha goes, and whether they're wearing pants or listening to Slayer on the radio. It just doesn't matter.

What matters is the overall picture: travel times, delay, congestion, level of service. And to get that picture you need at least hundreds of cars, if not thousands, because one car alone cannot be expected to always act rationally.

Whether it's something off a tire pressure sensor, or the magnetic signature of the frame of your car...none of these things can be isolated down to, "Oh, that's kendrak's car there. I thought I recognized that pressure sensor! Let's see where he goes. After all we've got absolutely nothing better to do than track down and spy on one guy."

Aside from the fact that you can't expect perfect privacy on a public roadway (it's related, but not the point I'm trying to make here), your individual actions as a driver are about as interesting and unique as a droplet in a gallon of water.
posted by contessa at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


See, if you can't tell that your tire pressure is dangerously low, you shouldn't be driving.

Well, it's not hard if you have a warning light.

I took a friends car to get an oil change, and after I rolled out a warning light came on. It was pretty annoying, because we didn't have much time. Turned out it was just the pressure warning light.

Anyway, it would pretty easy to jam. You just build some transmitter that broadcasts hundreds of RFID (and bluetooth) signatures and constantly rotates them. Your true tire pressure sensors work fine (or you can jam them if you want).
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2010


contessa: "the magnetic signature of the frame of your car"

wait, what?
posted by boo_radley at 11:15 AM on August 11, 2010



See, if you can't tell that your tire pressure is dangerously low, you shouldn't be driving.


Some cars, like mine, have runflat tires. With these tires it can be very difficult during undemanding driving to tell if the tire pressure is low, because they're designed to keep driving as if they have pressure.

(On the bright side though, when being chased by baddies you can drive over tire shredders and keep going, while the baddies end up driving on their rims :-))
posted by -harlequin- at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2010


Transportation and traffic agencies do not give one squat about individual drivers. Never have, never will.
This kind of argument really irritates me. Just because they don't care doesn't mean they won't hand their data over to someone who does, especially with all the bulk data-mining the NSA is trying to do. The fact they don't care doesn't mean they won't store the data simply because it's less work then purging it all.

Anyway, it's pretty obvious that there are tons of different ways to track cars on the road if people are interested. But in general the "You have nothing to worry about because no one cares" argument isn't very good. You see it coming up with things besides surveillance. For example, in the Net Neutrality thread, you had people claiming that ISPs "don't care" about trying to make extra money off a non-neutral network. In a thread about companies tracking credit card purchases you had people claiming that the companies "don't care" -- despite the fact that companies had actually purchase information and purchase location information to make credit decisions.

If people don't care about doing something, then why give them the power to do it and trust their laziness to keep people safe?

I'm not saying there's some huge risk here, but that argument is just annoying.
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


See, if you can't tell that your tire pressure is dangerously low, you shouldn't be driving.

Well, it's miles from the norm, but if you've got run-flat tires, you really do need TPMS to know if your tires are low.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2010


(Oops.)
posted by uncleozzy at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2010


It is trivial for them to simply read that ID via camera. Why bother with short ranged RFID?

OMG! I just realized something that raised goosebumps on my neck!

My license plate could, in theory, be used to track my movements by means of cameras positioned at various points along roadways. Damn you, big brother, with your watchful eye!
posted by saulgoodman at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2010


contessa: "Transportation and traffic agencies do not give one squat about individual drivers. Never have, never will. There is not the slightest interest in seeing which way Bob goes and which way Martha goes, and whether they're wearing pants or listening to Slayer on the radio. It just doesn't matter."

This is spot on and bears repeating.

I'm a transportation librarian working on traffic data collection and management issues, and it's somewhat understandable, but extremely frustrating how some technologies and data collection methods are held back by paranoia about Big Brother. My initial comment was a really bad attempt at sarcasm.

Anyhow, I happily would let agencies track my vehicle if it would help improve network performance. I just don't know if the public (or many agency administrators) are ready for that. That's not to say people shouldn't be concerned about their privacy, but that I think they have a belief that things are more organized and coordinated than they really are.
posted by kendrak at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"But the reason it's 'unsafe' is that the handling changes. If you can't detect these handling changes, you are not safe to drive anymore than someone who has been drinking is."

A lot of those handling changes are masked by either crappy handling in the first place (IE: Ford Explorer) or active suspension systems and stability control. And it's pretty easy to run a dangerously under inflated tire on the rear of most cars and not notice while driving if you aren't driving aggressively. Especially if both sides are the same.

In one way cars are too reliable these days. Practically no one does a check of fluids and pressures on even a weekly basis anymore; something that was just part of owning a car 40 years ago. Many people don't even know how to check oil level and tire pressure; yet that is something I do every fill up and before any kind of serious trip. Hard won habits from the old days and driving truck.
posted by Mitheral at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know so little that sometimes I fill the tires with oil before a long trip.

(j/k, you're right Mitheral.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2010


There could be any number of RFIDs in your car right now. If you have a mass transit card in your wallet, or an ID for work, that's probably an RFID. If you have a CD or DVD jewel case, there's probably an RFID under the disc holder. If you bought a book at the bookstore there's probably one in there, and if you checked a book out from the library there's almost certainly one in there. Even some grocery packaging has RFIDs. Hell, my cats have RFIDs in them. Hidden yet remotely trackable items are everywhere.
posted by rlk at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2010


contessa: "the magnetic signature of the frame of your car"

wait, what?


There's a product of flush mounted pavement level sensors that can read the magnetic signature of the vehicles going over them. Every car has a unique signature, even those of the same make/model/year. There is software that takes in all these thousands of different signatures and overlays & compares them at different waypoints down a roadway. Some will get thrown out if they leave the system. Then using that signature x10000 cars over a set period you can extrapolate the travel time over, say, a 5 mile long road.

Just because they don't care doesn't mean they won't hand their data over to someone who does, especially with all the bulk data-mining the NSA is trying to do.

I guess what you're missing (or what I didn't really spell out in any great detail) is that it's potentially variable and not fixed to one vehicle, much less one identity. For example in the magnetic signature example -- all you'd need to do is throw a couple golf clubs in the trunk and presto, you've altered the magnetic signature. Likewise with the tire pressure sensor. As your tire pressure changes, so would that "unique" attribute. It's not as though you could take a reading off a random vehicle and know anything about it other than the reading you got. If you can think of a way where I as a user of such a technology would be able to know private information about the driver of the vehicle off a sine wave I got from a detector, please enlighten me. Again -- not that I would be that interested from a professional point of view, since I need to worry about tens of thousands of vehicles functioning as a group, not tens of thousands of individuals whose lives are simply not that compelling to me.
posted by contessa at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2010


"Well, it's not hard if you have a warning light."

Unless you're being spoofed.

"Well, it's miles from the norm, but if you've got run-flat tires, you really do need TPMS to know if your tires are low."

Are run-flat tires unsafe to drive on when "flat"? I understood that they handled pretty much like regular tires, but that they wouldn't last nearly as long (I think you get a couple of hundred miles out of run-flats, similar to the max you're supposed to get out of a spare/donut). Though I agree, in this case, you'd want a sensor to let you know the tire needs replacing.

"A lot of those handling changes are masked by either crappy handling in the first place (IE: Ford Explorer)"

...which should never have been let on the road in the first place, but go on.

"...or active suspension systems and stability control."

So, computers to fix the problems brought on by computers?

"it's pretty easy to run a dangerously under inflated tire on the rear of most cars and not notice while driving if you aren't driving aggressively."

Well, there's your problem. SALISBURY STEAK

I'm only half-joking. Most of the motorcyclists I know will do a little shakedown before hitting the main roads, even if it's just swerving gently side to side to warm the tires up. You *know* if something's wrong. It's like a different vehicle when the pressure's off. You need to do the same with a car. How can you know where your limits are if you don't push them?

"yet that is something I do every fill up and before any kind of serious trip."

I'm being totally serious when I say Thank you.

But hey, I have a lot of wild ideas about driving. Like that license renewals should come with retesting, tiered licensing, and outlawing automatics (with a medical exception for the handicapped). One advantage of manual transmission (can't call it standard, since it's not anymore) is that if you go to brake and hit the accelerator, it doesn't matter because you've also hit the clutch pedal (see the above Toyota driver error issue).
posted by Eideteker at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2010


But contessa - I'm unfamiliar with this technology but I would think that the tire sensors would need to broadcast unique IDs so that each wheel can be separately identified and so that there isn't any conflict with the sensors in nearby cars. Do you know if, when new sensors are installed, do they have to be calibrated or registered somehow with the receiver in the car?

(Oops, should have read the article... Yeah, "...researchers had found that each sensor has a unique 32-bit ID and that communication between the tag and the control unit was unencrypted...")
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 AM on August 11, 2010


I mean there that I should have read the article.
posted by XMLicious at 12:00 PM on August 11, 2010


"But the reason it's 'unsafe' is that the handling changes. If you can't detect these handling changes, you are not safe to drive anymore than someone who has been drinking is."

You must be one hell of a driver to be able to detect the changes in handling when the spare tire has become underinflated.
posted by digsrus at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2010


Eideteker - I've had a Jetta for 4 years with relatively low profile tires and am not sure I totally agree that its easy to discern if the tire pressure is low. Even by looking carefully at the tires and comparing to the others, if the car is parked I cannot see that they're low until about 20psi - and they should be at 35.

I'm my car for about 100km a day and obviously can tell while driving if one hits 20psi but I have to use a tire gauge - at every fillup - to make sure they're correct. It seems like overkill but I'm always in brand new communities and get a lot of flats from staples and roofing nails.

Will never buy a car with low profile tires again.
posted by jeffmik at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2010


XMLicious - no problem. I get where people are saying "Well see! That's a unique ID, so yes you could pin it down to one car, and if you can do that, you can isolate it to at least one actual human." And yes, that's true, if you had, say, a master list of all tire pressure sensors in existence cross referenced to the list of people who own the cars with them which I imagine would be a mighty long list. But the systems that use the IDs as input data are only concerned with having the unique IDs themselves as discrete identifiers of a "hit". The users of the systems literally know no more than that. And if we're talking a 32-bit number...well that's a big number. And that means there are potentially lots of them. ITS systems use the IDs, run their algorithm, report the solutions, throw out that batch of IDs and start over again. It's in absolutely nobody's interest (or budget) to save years and years worth of thousands or millions of data on tracking IDs, if the users of the system only need the answer to the algorithm itself, not the massive amount of input data.

So let's say NSA has organized a mass spying effort on the citizenry. And let's say somehow, individual transportation authorities, who typically all do things a little differently, and whose methods and goals can literally differ from city boundary to city boundary, and whose technologies range from mechanical 1950's era technology to shit that just came out of a lab yesterday, decided to capture and collect far more data than they would ever need to use for their specific applications just so NSA could sneak in the back door and data mine it to find out whether someone went to Target last Thursday. I think you give your government waaaaay too much credit ;) It's not that well organized and it's not that uniform in the first place.
posted by contessa at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


contessa, it's really great to get insider info from you. Thanks.
posted by boo_radley at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2010


XMLicious wrote: "But a'course, if you already have one of those E-ZPass thingies, you already have an RFID chip in your car that can be tracked, right? It's significant that the tire sensors can't just be removed by the driver, though."

My ETC tag beeps when it's read. Unfortunately, the Turnpike Authority has decided, in their infinite wisdom, to go to the RFID tags that are literally stickers that go on your windshield and can't ever be removed without breaking them. Since they have no battery, there is no beep. Sucks for those of us with more cars than tags. Or people who only rent cars.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah contessa, thanks for all the insight you're providing.

I'm thinking along the lines of what Google is able to collect from IP addresses. They're able to infer quite alot of things based on data where each individual bit of tracking information isn't so important. Then they (or someone else who is a business partner / hacker / who bought the data from them if they ever decide to archive and sell it) only need to match those unique IDs up with a name once. If data storage costs continue to plummet longer-term archiving of data becomes more and more feasible with each passing year.

It also occurs to me that it might not be the government doing it, it could be a company doing the data mining like with Google or Facebook. Heck, it could be Google themselves, putting these receivers in their Street View cars.
posted by XMLicious at 12:52 PM on August 11, 2010


Hmmm, you also might be able to do something with a combination of RFID into and other information like license plate, the magnetic signature you talk about, and isn't there a way that car radios can be read remotely for some information like what frequency it's tuned to? I think there was a post about that last one some time in the last couple of years.
posted by XMLicious at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2010


er, "RFID info"
posted by XMLicious at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010


eriko wrote: "It is trivial for them to simply read that ID via camera. Why bother with short ranged RFID? "

The state is now putting RFID tags on our license plates. You'd think that, being Oklahoma, there would be a big uproar about this, but you'd be wrong. It's silly since they already have tag reading cameras, but I guess they want to spend some money.

contessa, do you really not see how easy it would be to find out what TPMS sensors were associated with what vehicle either using a combination of a camera and a reader at the roadside or simply popping round to your target's house and reading the things while the car is parked in the driveway? If your agency is logging the tag ID, it's not a stretch to see how that could be used to reconstruct someone's travel habits, should some other agency decide they'd like to know that.
posted by wierdo at 1:02 PM on August 11, 2010


contessa, do you really not see how easy it would be to find out what TPMS sensors were associated with what vehicle either using a combination of a camera and a reader at the roadside or simply popping round to your target's house and reading the things while the car is parked in the driveway? If your agency is logging the tag ID, it's not a stretch to see how that could be used to reconstruct someone's travel habits, should some other agency decide they'd like to know that.

The ease with which this could be done assumes that a lot of variables are in operation:

1) That for all possible routes, there were detectors logging the sensor IDs. All possible routes. In a city of any size capable of affording such systems, this is a nontrivial problem.

2) That from system to system, the same data is tracked with the same accuracy. To put that into perspective: the next county up from ours can't even agree with us on what type of locks to put on exterior cabinets, let alone the finer points of one ITS module. It might be the 21st century but at the local level, the only constant is that nobody agrees on anything.

3) That the agencies across the board would have to have a reason for keeping data at that granular of a level beyond "storage is cheap." If Acme Sensor Company has software that runs its algorithm every 5 minutes, I need a compelling reason why I'd need more than say 1 hours worth of tag data to be stored at any given time, even if terabyte hard disks were 1 cent apiece.

4) That anybody with shady interests would be able to gain real time access and scrape the data without anyone being the wiser and decide it is meaningful data for all outcomes of what they are looking at it for in the first place. This is the only variable that's vaguely possible, given how NSA can monitor communications systems (that being their specialty after all). But I'd add this caveat: If that is the length NSA (or similar high level intelligence gathering agency) was going to go to to monitor the movements of a small number of people, they're already on your ass. At that point it would just be adding to the pile of behavioral evidence they're tracking. They could just as easily follow you around in a black sedan at that point.

5) Last but not least, it assumes that all people of interest travel in private cars with the capability of being uniquely tracked. All it would take is for word to get around that this was one good way to spy on John Q Anonymous and guess what -- he'd be taking the bus or biking everywhere. So much for that plan.
posted by contessa at 1:37 PM on August 11, 2010


I'm not saying we're there yet, I'm just saying it's not far off. As I mentioned earlier, they're already talking about putting RFID tags on our license plates here. It wouldn't be much of a stretch at all to stick readers on the traffic lights. We already do similar things with preemption gear.

And it certainly doesn't require all people of interest travel in private cars. I doubt behavior would change much anyway, since most people (including myself) are perfectly happy to carry their cell phones around despite the ease with which one can be tracked.

It's just one more thing, ya know?

Also, it seems unlikely that in the longer term, your databases won't get used for criminal investigations and abused for personal gain. It's too much cheaper than other methods of surveillance. Unless there's some incredibly strict data retention policies involved, anyway. It's just what happens.
posted by wierdo at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2010


Here's the post on that radio frequency snooping thing I was trying to remember, much older than I thought - the post is from 2002 and I found separate mentions of the manufacturer going back at least to 1998.

The manufacturer / service provider's name is MobilTrak. It looks like they're still around but it seems like there's something wrong with their web site? It looks as though during the last decade they have deployed their sensing devices at auto dealerships via agreements with dealers and they're selling the collected data for radio station marketing purposes.

But get this - I found fragmentary notes that mention something about reading a car's mileage ?!? That sounds a bit fishy, though, and there are a few hits for MobilTrak on wacko conspiracy theorist web sites.

There is (was?) a competitor called Navigauge that collected marketing info on radio stations with an active transmitting device that study subjects allowed to be installed in their cars so maybe MobilTrak was doing the same thing.

-

contessa, it seems to me as though none of the counterarguments apply to Google today except maybe the bit about the distribution of sensors. Google doesn't strictly have a compelling reason to keep any particular bit of data for a long time but they do (for what is it, twelve or eighteen months or something?), Google doesn't just track a small number of people, and what Google does is public knowledge and there are methods of preventing yourself from being tracked but most people don't seek out those methods and go to the trouble of using them. (I, by the way, am a web software engineer so Google stuff is part of my professional domain.)

As far as distribution of sensors - even if they aren't set up today and standardized it seems like a possibility to me in the not-too-distant future. As RFID becomes more and more ubiquitous there may be public, generic RFID receivers that aren't specifically designed for it but could read these tire sensors. Perhaps at the entryways of stores to detect shoplifting - so that part or all of the parking lot of most stores would be at least partly covered. As a parallel that would be the equivalent of the little snippet of tracking code that appears on every web site that is displaying Google Ads.

For example you wouldn't have expected it years ago but surveillance cameras are so omnipresent over in the UK now that some companies are developing software that can automatically track a person walking around a city as they move in and out of the view of each camera, in realtime. (I saw that software being demonstrated on a television documentary and I could probably track it down for you if you wanted a cite or were curious about it.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2010


If you actually had read the article, you'd know why they are required. posted by DU

Digital Underwear must be new around here.
posted by Twang at 3:53 PM on August 11, 2010


just so NSA could sneak in the back door and data mine it to find out whether someone went to Target last Thursday. I think you give your government waaaaay too much credit ;) It's not that well organized...

The gov. wasn't that accurate at tracking people until it liked the INSLAW software so well that it stole it from the people who enhanced it either.

Just because "They can't/won't do it today" doesn't mean they won't tomorrow. Many of us remember when wiretapping required a court order. There have been many new technologies created in recent years that enable location-tracking ... including (without discussion) in mobile phones that can't be turned off.

I can still remember the first time I paid for an Amtrak ticket with a check and the gent went in the back room to be sure I had enough money in my account to cover it. That was decades before *I* could do that.
posted by Twang at 4:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I appreciate that traffic engineers have zero reason to track individual cars, and I don't think this air pressure tech is the best way to do it, but...

Isn't the counter-terrorism pitch obvious? "BLAR BLAR We need the ability to track evil doers before they nuke our children BLAR BLAR" Similarly, I can see it used for tracking sex offenders or other "high risk" individuals.

Not to mention the value of the marketing data: 58% of motorists in Arizona stop to fill up before they visit McDonalds, versus only 16% of motorists in Oregon. Therefore, if you're in Arizona, build your gas station near a McDonalds...

I'd be very surprised if this isn't already happening.
posted by LordSludge at 4:39 PM on August 11, 2010


I don't think it's easy to tell just by looking or by how the car handles when your tires are low. I just bought a new car with those sensors. The light went on. I checked the pressure. The tires were slightly low. I put more air in. I never noticed any difference in handling or in how they look.

I like to think I'm not completely stupid. I could be wrong though.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:31 PM on August 11, 2010


True story:

Reading this story reminded me that the Missus was complaining that the tire pressor light went on yet again for no apparent reason. So I wanted to see if there were other people whining about the same thing. Then I scrolled by a particular comment and a lightbulb went off.

So I went downstairs and checked all four tires on the Missus' car.

All above 30 psi.

Double checked the spec on the door.

30psi.

Popped the trunk and felt the (full size) spare. Hard as a rock.

Pulled it out, checked the pressure.

About 24.

Thanks Metafilter.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Contessa, really off base question: those flush mounted magnetic signature sensors, are they visible on the roadway? I keep seeing what look like 3 or 4 inch wide metal "H" shapes (Or something like that) embedded in the roadway on highways and arterial roads in the Pittsburgh area. We have Google traffic pretty far out from the city.
posted by UrbanEye at 8:00 AM on August 12, 2010


UrbanEye: the specific product I mentioned would be somewhat visible, except that they're tiny relative to the lane they're in, so you'd have to be driving really slow and looking down at the pavement (inadvisable!) to notice them.
posted by contessa at 8:42 AM on August 12, 2010


Yeah, they turned out to be really inefficient reflectors. I've never seen them reflect a damn thing.

I can't find anything on the road, when stuck in traffic, that appears periodically and can't be explained by something else. I'm really curious as to how Pittsburgh is getting such detailed speed measurements on their major roads. Can't see solar panels on barren stretches of road, can't see round tar patches covering sensors, can't see saw cuts for inductive loops.

I'm spending way too much time pondering this.
posted by UrbanEye at 12:39 PM on August 12, 2010


Ok, well, anybody who is worried about their tires invading their privacy won't be happy about this. One of the ways Google traffic gets their info is using mobile phone GPS data to track average speed.
posted by UrbanEye at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if you opt in.
posted by wierdo at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2010


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