Nike+iPod Sport Kit raises privacy fears

Researchers from the University of Washington claim that joggers who make use the iPod Sport kit ($29) are putting their privacy at risk. The research was carried out by T. Scott Saponas, Jonathan Lester, Carl Hartung, and Tadayoshi Kohno of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington and centers around the Nike+iPod Sport Kit from Apple.

Researchers from the University of Washington claim that joggers who make use the iPod Sport kit ($29) are putting their privacy at risk.  The research was carried out by T. Scott Saponas, Jonathan Lester, Carl Hartung, and Tadayoshi Kohno of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington and centers around the Nike+iPod Sport Kit from Apple.

This isn't a huge "the sky is going to fall down" privacy risk The sports accessory for the iPod consists of two components - a sensor that is placed onto the sole of a Nike+ shoe and a receiver that plugs into the bottom on the iPod Nano.  The sensor in the shoe detects steps taken while walking, running or jogging and sends this information to the receiver.

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Nike+iPod Sport Kit
So where's the privacy issue?  The issue surrounds the fact that the transmitter uses a wireless signal to send information to the receiver.  On its own that's not too bad, but the messages sent from the transmitter contain an unencrypted unique identifier specific to the transmitter which can be detected from 60 feet away, whether you want to be found or not (as long as you are moving).  Because the signal from the transmitter isn't encrypted hooking up Nike+iPod receiver to a PC, gumstix computer or an iPod running Linux can allow unencrypted unique identifiers to be logged.  This could allow specific individuals making use of an Nike+iPod Sports kit to the to be tracked.

Now this isn't a huge "the sky is going to fall down" privacy risk - in fact, I think that leveraging a Nike+iPod Sports kit to do evil has some pretty big drawbacks (these include range, the fact that it doesn't transmit information about where the wearer is and the fact that the user has control over turning it off).  But I think the possibility that this device could be used for evil might come as a surprise to many who bought it.  As users of technology we need to be aware of the possible privacy risks associated with the gear we use and recognize that product manufacturers might not have considered our privacy in their designs.

Read more about the research carried out here.

What are your thoughts on the privacy implications of modern technology?  Is this something that you consider before buying something or does it not worry you?  Do you think that manufacturers need to place more emphasis on the user's privacy?