Japanese Docomo makes its smartphone covertly trackable

Pierluigi Paganini May 19, 2016

The Japanese Mobile carrier NTT Docomo announced that its mobile devices will allow authorities to covertly track the locations of the users.

The Japanese Mobile carrier NTT Docomo announced that five of its new smartphone models will allow authorities to track the locations without users being aware of it.

Today, users are alerted when the GPS locator is activated remotely, even if it is turned on by the mobile carrier.

The Docomo spokesman explained that the tracking feature will be used by the Japanese authorities in crime investigation, the company hasn’t denied to have already supported law enforcement in the past for the same reason.

“If requested, we provided positional information using the GPS systems on phones to emergency services such as the police, ambulance services and the Japan Coast Guard, in line with proper guidelines,” the spokesman told The Japan Times.

Docomo new smartphones

Another significant change in the surveillance activity arrived in June 2015, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications starting from this date, carriers are no more obliged to obtain the permission of users before providing location data to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The change stimulated the Docomo to provide new smartphone models that covertly track the users.

Docomo also disclosed the models that will implement this new feature, they are all Android models, and specifically the Xperia X Performance, the Galaxy S7 Edge, the Aquos Zeta, the Arrows SV and the Disney Mobile.

According to the mobile carrier, a version of trackable Galaxy S7 Edge will be available in stores from Thursday, the remaining models will go on the market in June.

Of course, also other smartphones will be upgraded by the Docomo in order to implement the new tracker feature, but at the time I’m writing there is no news about a possible deadline for the updates.

The news is raising heated discussion in the country, some experts consider the new feature disturbing. Many privacy advocates consider illegal for carriers to provide user locations without informing it.

“This is an extreme invasion of privacy. It’s nothing like acknowledging merely which country you’re in,” the lawyer Tsutomu Shimizu told the Japan Times. “Positional information is highly private because it reveals people’s movements. However, I understand that investigative authorities would need such information in certain situations, so there should be a law passed to help public understanding.”

“It is a common practice and belief internationally that personal information should not be distributed to external organizations,” he said.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Docomo, surveillance)


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