Study Reveals Apple and Starlink Users' Locations Easily Trackable, Sparking Privacy Concerns

Researchers from the University of Maryland conducted research showing how the location of Apple and Starlink users can be tracked easily. This is an alarming situation that creates a privacy threat worldwide, particularly in areas where wars and oppressions are ongoing (such as in Palestine/Gaza). Starlink has a Wi-Fi-based positioning system (WPS) that uses Wi-Fi signals to determine the location of the device you are using. It utilizes nearby Wi-Fi access points and signal strengths to determine the locations.

Apple collects the location of their users to provide their devices with a Wi-Fi-Based Positioning System, an alternative to the Global Positioning System (GPS). For the research, researchers performed an attack using data from Apple to collect a snapshot of Wi-Fi Basic Service Set Identifiers (BSSID) geolocations. As a result, they could easily monitor the Wi-Fi access points of Apple users anywhere in the world. The researchers also mentioned that the attack method they used can be executed by anyone with basic technical knowledge. After researching for a year, the team determined the location of about two billion BSSIDs worldwide.
As a result of this study, researchers were also able to identify the location of several travel routers, which pose a significant threat to people who do not want to be tracked. War zones were particularly exposed to this tracking. Researchers found nearly 3,722 Starlink terminals based in military zones in Ukraine. They also discovered that the Apple devices they tracked never even used WPS. All of them just needed to be within Wi-Fi range to expose their location publicly and get tracked.

Maryland research reveals Starlink, Apple location tracking vulnerability, posing global privacy risks even in war zones.

The team of researchers informed Google and Apple about their findings, as both companies use their own WPS. They also discussed their concerns with GL.iNet and SpaceX. In response, Apple announced in March 2024 that users can now opt out of having their wireless access points' locations collected by Apple. To prevent Google from indexing your location, simply add "_nomap" to the name of your Wi-Fi access points (SSID).

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