Unmasking Using Accelerometer Signatures

You are commuting to work by bus. While sitting on the bus, you open your favorite social app. Even though it is your favorite app, you don’t trust it enough to share your location with it. At the next stop, a passenger gets on the bus. The passenger sits on the bus and opens the same social app. But the passenger shares their precise location with the app. Now, if this social app is reading accelerometer data on your phone as well as the passenger’s phone, the app can easily figure out that both phones experience the same vibration pattern. Indeed, both phones are going to record the same vibrations, e.g. when the bus takes off, stops, and swerves left or right. The app now knows that you and the passenger are together in the same environment, hence same location. Don’t be surprised if you receive a recommendation from the app to add this passenger as a friend.


A coordinated attack could take this even further. Each bus could be equipped with a phone running an app that (1) is recording the accelerometer data and (2) is recording the bus line and location. This data could be combined with an accelerometer signature recorded in a widely used app like Instagram.

In the case of a popular cause like the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s easy to imagine public support.

Further reading: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3309074.3309076

Were blogs ever more than Adsense?

Baldur Bjarnason argues that old-school blogs were always extractive and exploitive:

The blogging economy was filled with bad practices all around. People today don’t appreciate just how rampant these practices were. Most of us didn’t notice because we were in our tiny corner, all reading the same few popular bloggers (an early version of the modern ‘influencer’). But outside of that corner, blogs were done for Google and paid for by Google. After a few years of buying into the hype, advertisers started to push back.

Baldur Bjarnason

This way of thinking about it all is new to me. I can’t dismiss it offhand.

I have always thought of the fall of blogs as being caused by user experience. Centralized social networks have both distribution and better tooling. If I want my writing to be read, I use Twitter. This blog is more like an open journal.

Let Your Blog be Your DeLorean

Before social media giants, there were social bloggers connecting at the scale of Dunbar’s number. Literally, everybody knew everybody, at least in the Internet sense: if you didn’t know them you didn’t connect to them.

It wasn’t just relationships that were decentralized, though, it was also tooling. You used a blogging tool to write and a feed reader to read. It was a lot more work than the social media giants.

To like a post, for example, you would need to either reblog it or create an account and enter a comment – both manual operations that took 100x as long as an in-place Like, Retweet, or Reply button.

That was never necessary. It could always have been the case that blogging tools included the full stack of functionality. It can still be the case now. Back to the future.

An unexpected resonance

My post of 2021/09/15 circled back to 2020/11/09, expectedly.

Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig.

Marcus Aurelius, around 170 AD

More than anything we are maintaining a mortuary here at the fish counter keeping all our skinned dead friends looking glam for the customer. We retrieve their corpses from the back, and then begin coaxing some semblance of “fresh” or “life” out of them.

The Secret Life of Groceries, published in 2020

Blogs should have three parts

  1. A list of other blogs that a blogger might recommend by providing links to them (usually in a sidebar list), also known as a blogroll.

2. A writing and publishing system, like WordPress or Jekyll. The blogroll is in a sidebar on the home page and in all posts.

3. A personal aggregator and feed reader, like Google Reader. Uses the blogroll. Posts can be reblogged with commentary or replied to in a standalone post.

Farhad Manjoo on Face Computing

The big problem with Google Glass was not technical but social. Despite the company’s best efforts to make Glass cool, the people who first got the device tended to be of a certain type — overconfident, entitled, rich tech guys. Soon they earned a derisive nickname — “glassholes” — and at that point the device was done for.

A lot has changed since Glass’s release. Cameras and mobile processors are smaller and more powerful; now Glass-like tech can be built into spectacles without much sacrifice in style. There is also far less social opprobrium attached to wearable tech; earbuds and smart watches are not just for rich nerds

Farhad Manjoo in the NYT

Awaken; return to yourself. Now, no longer asleep, knowing they were only dreams, clear-headed again, treat everything around you as a dream.

Marcus Aurelius

That line above is from The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (the version I was reading was “A New Translation“). I was awake at 3 AM and reading at the kitchen table, as usual, and it hit me like a lightning bolt.

As I understand it he’s saying that we are fools in a web of self-deception, something that he riffs on a lot. Here’s another fragment on the same theme:

Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig.

It wasn’t only the thought that struck me, but also the tweet-like shortness, without twitter.

Gaze Control

Imagine investing tens of billions in head-mounted computing like Oculus and seeing no better use case than social networking. Enter Facebook+RayBans:

“We’re passionate about exploring devices that can give people better ways to connect with those closest to them. Wearables have the potential to do that. With EssilorLuxottica we have an equally ambitious partner who’ll lend their expertise and world-class brand catalogue to the first truly fashionable smart glasses,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of the Reality Labs division, said in a statement.

Controlling your mouse by looking at your screen is more far-reaching and orders of magnitude cheaper. precisiongazemouse.org is all that.

Using your gaze as an input device enables all applications where the user’s hands and voice are unavailable.

I’m particularly inspired by musical performance, where the hands and even feet are committed to controlling an instrument and the voice is singing. Guitar pedal boards are a huge distraction.

Public speaking has similar constraints, but probably better budgets. Removing hand controllers from teleprompters would make the speaker more natural and authentic, less like an infomercial.

Not that eyeballs are the only viable approach. There’s more than one way to do it, and brain-computer interfaces are just around the bend. “This mind-controlled concept car lets you switch radio stations just by thinking about it“.

Using your mind to pick a show to watch to turn off your mind

…but gaze detection is both massively simpler and cheaper. It is the simplest thing that could possibly work.

However, even though I do not believe in the known use cases for Facebook’s new smart glasses, I believe the fashion side is a breakthrough, and I believe in fashion. People care a lot about how they look.

It’s not just Mr Fashion Nightmare himself. Pretty much all of us prefer to be Joey in sunglasses:

Over Joey with scary naked eyes:

Human factors are real. I have seen people wearing an big-ol’ Oculus in a cafe and the appearance is unacceptable. They might as well be wearing a strap-on potbelly. Human factors are arguably the only factors that matter. The Ray-Ban Stories video is entirely about human stuff, not tech.

Fashion isn’t easy to pull off. There’s a reason so many people wear Ramones t-shirts and so few wear Facebook t-shirts. If you’re advanced enough, you can pull off a Doja Cat.

I genuinely admire her

Zuckerberg is a Terminator robot, but he is not dumb. Solving the issue of looking snazzy is a meaningful advance.