Mobile Tracking: “Users should decide themselves”


The swiss Company DFRC is a specialist for geospatial data mining. Smart Cities Consulting (SCC) talked to Chief Technology Officer, Erel Rosenberg about it’s technology LBASense and the issue of privacy.

(c) DFRC
Scanning patterns and behavior (c) DFRC

SCC: What are the most important fields of application for LBASense? Rosenberg: Our technology is based on mobile phone detections. This is the connection between all the things we are doing. Our main market is Smart Cities. SCC: What are you doing there? Rosenberg: In first line it’s about transportation. Transportation departments of municipalities want to know how many people are using transports, how and where they are going. This is something we have in multiple places like in Liverpool or in Skellefteå, Sweden. The second field is tourism. Our clients want to know which tourists are going where. This is because tourists from different regions are going for different attractions and places. The very common question is: “Where are the Russians going?” because they are considered to be rich. SCC: What does LBASense analyze regarding shops and businesses? Rosenberg: We monitor affective campaigning. For example, we have a business partner in Switzerland, who is doing car advertising campaigns. They want to know how many people actually see the advertisement. We can give them randomized data about how many people were in sight of a car when it was driving by.

(c) DFRC
A GSM Sensor by LBASense (c) DFRC

How does the technology of LBASense work?

LBASense is based on a network of own sensors which are able to track mobile phone signals in a certain area. Mobile phones “communicate” permanently with their operator. These signals are intercepted, randomized and analyzed. This way it is possible to see which way a mobile phone resp. a person took in a certain area. SCC: You also have projects on water. What are you doing there? Rosenberg: We had two projects in Greece. One for save and rescue, which was about finding people in thick smoke. If, for example a fire broke out on a boat. We have a small drone which is equipped with our detector and which accurately detects mobile phones on sea. The other project was about detecting small boats which can not be detected by radar or other means of monitoring. This could be used to track smugglers or human smugglers. SCC: When it comes to tracking mobile signals, privacy is an important issue. What is LBASense doing to protect people’s privacy? Rosenberg: We are targeting signaling data, meaning we cannot identify you. In mobile networks there a many types of transitions, wether you make a call or a data-call. But we are not targeting any of those transmissions which contain information of your activity, meaning your calls, sms and so on. The only thing we are looking at is the signaling data. This data we anonymize completely. There is no way to come back to you. Even with the original data we cannot tell who you are or what your phone number is. This is something only a operator can do.

(c) DFRC
One day in a shopping area in Singapore (c) DFRC

“Show us your phone!”

We programmed an app though, which gives users the option to disclose their identity. At the moment this is used as an “Access-Control-System”. You log in with your phone before entering a certain facility. This technology is used by IMA, a company in Czech Republic since about one year. SCC: On your website you are also promoting this app for hospitals. If there should be an epidemic, mobile phone data could be used to reconstruct contacts of infected persons in a hospital. How is that working with protecting privacy? Rosenberg: All the data is still anonymous. The only way to make the data non anonymous is when someone will be requested: “Show us your phone!” And then we will open a service which will tell: “OK, this phone has really been to our system”. So identification is not coming from our system but from the persons there. If a person has to enter a hospital, he will have to disclose his identity or, if he is injured, someone needs to know to what he was exposed. The decision “yes or no” is not so simple if a person is injured and cannot speak. If he is entering the hospital, is it allowed that someone takes his mobile and checks if the person was exposed to something dangerous? This is up to the hospital team or the ministry of health or whoever is responsible to respond to this kind of question. SCC: Apples new iPhone came along with a software that enables randomized search of WLAN-Networks, meaning a software which should make it harder to track a mobile phone (which didn’t work as expected – editor’s note). What do you think about privatization trends in mobile phone industry? Rosenberg: I think Apple wanted to promote more privacy to make sure that people are not using technology on an Android phone. In the end, we don’t know if it is going to come or not. Still, the basic problem is: You also need to communicate. If you make privacy protections to high, you may come to the point where nobody can talk. We know for sure, that every time there is a next generation of cellular communication, we need to build new sensors. So we have sensors for GSM, UMTS, LTE which are not the same.


What is GSM, UMTS and LTE?

GSM, UMTS und LTE are communication standards for mobile communication. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) was the first standard of the so called second generation of communication standards. UMTS is the standard of the third and LTE of the fifth generation.  SCC: Do you want to enter the mobile advertisement market? Rosenberg: We are hardly there because of privacy issues. I cannot send you advertisement without knowing who you are. This is the problem. Our goal is to provide the same kind of analytics that people have online today, in offline places. So we are not trying to enter the mobile advertising market, even though it is a hug market. SCC: What are your further plans for LBASense? Rosenberg: For now, we are in a phase of increasing our marketing. We plan specifically to go to Asia. We already have a system in Singapore. Hopefully in January we will have another system in Thailand. We plan to go there because it is a huge place and people there are looking for new technology. This is a great opportunity for us. From the technical point of view we plan to improve accuracy. From wireless to cellular. And, of course, we will look out for changes in the environment. Changes of IOS and fifth generation of cellulars will be introduced one day.   Erel Rosenberg is Chief Technology Officer at the swiss company  DFRC. Before that he worked 20 years as Director and CEO at Correlation Systems, which is focused on geospatial data mining. Rosenberg has a Master in Computer Science.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *