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Is Big Brother Watching Nike+iPod Sport Kit Users?

By Jennifer LeClaire MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 4, 2006 11:06 AM PT

In research findings reminiscent of George Orwell's classic "1984," a University of Washington report on Thursday revealed that Big Brother could find a way to track iPod users.

Is Big Brother Watching Nike+iPod Sport Kit Users?

The report raises privacy concerns about the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, a US$29 wireless system that allows Nike+ footwear to communicate with an iPod nano, according to Scott Saponas, who led the research. The kit includes an in-shoe sensor and a receiver that attaches to the iPod.

When the Nike+ footwear connects to an iPod nano via the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, information on time, distance, calories burned and pace is stored on the iPod and displayed on its screen; real-time audible feedback also is provided through the iPod's headphones.

However, it may also be used as a tracking device for stalkers, according to the research.

Snooping on Sneakers

"As part of our research, we built a number of surveillance tools that malicious individuals could use to track Nike+iPod Sport Kit owners," the university researchers wrote in their online report.

The students' tools could track Nike+iPod Sport Kit owners as they worked out, as well as when they were just casually walking around town, a parking lot, or a college campus.

The tracked individuals don't even need to have their iPods with them -- the built-in sensor transmits information with a unique signature that could be detected up to 60 feet away.

Can of Worms

"Our research also shows that there exist simple cryptographic techniques that the Nike+iPod Sport Kit designers could have used to improve the privacy-preserving properties of the Nike+iPod kit," the researchers continued.

Neither Apple nor Nike could immediately be reached for comment.

Although Apple and Nike did not intend the devices to be used maliciously, the researchers' work suggests the need for a broad public discussion about and further research on the privacy issues surrounding personal wireless gadgets.

Discussing Wireless Privacy

Branding gurus called the Nike+iPod kit a stroke of genius when Apple and Nike unveiled the partnership last May. "It seems that whenever a new technology emerges, there is always an enterprising tech guru out there who is able and willing to manipulate it," Tim Deal, senior analyst with Pike & Fischer, told MacNewsWorld.

Stalkers are not going to actively manipulate this technology and use it to commit their crimes, claimed Deal, but he agrees that the research results should spark further discussion.

"Privacy and ease-of-use and convenience are overlapping, which will increase our need to address them and create opportunity for enterprising companies to help address privacy concerns," Deal concluded.

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