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The Eye Of Smartphone Sauron

Kyrill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, had some startling words in a TV interview today: [1]

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that humans’ dependence on modern technology will result in the coming of the Antichrist.

In an interview with Russian state media, Patriarch Kirill explained he does not entirely oppose gadgets, but warned against “falling into slavery” to smartphones.

Patriarch Kirill said that the collection of user data including “location, interests and fears” will make it possible for humans to be controlled by external forces.

“Control from a single point is a harbinger of the coming of the Antichrist,” Kirill told  [2]the state-run Rossia-1 TV network on Orthodox Christmas Monday.

Ha ha! That kooky old technophobic bishop! Oh, wait: [3]

Nervously, I gave a bounty hunter a phone number. He had offered to geolocate a phone for me, using a shady, overlooked service intended not for the cops, but for private individuals and businesses. Armed with just the number and a few hundred dollars, he said he could find the current location of most phones in the United States.

The bounty hunter sent the number to his own contact, who would track the phone. The contact responded with a screenshot of Google Maps, containing a blue circle indicating the phone’s current location, approximate to a few hundred metres.


More specifically, the screenshot showed a location in a particular neighborhood—just a couple of blocks from where the target was. The hunter had found the phone (the target gave their consent to Motherboard to be tracked via their T-Mobile phone.)

The bounty hunter did this all without deploying a hacking tool or having any previous knowledge of the phone’s whereabouts. Instead, the tracking tool relies on real-time location data sold to bounty hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, a Motherboard investigation has found. These surveillance capabilities are sometimes sold through word-of-mouth networks.

Whereas it’s common knowledge that law enforcement agencies can track phones with a warrant to service providers, IMSI catchers, or until recently via other companies that sell location data such as one called Securus [4], at least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company’s products and company documents obtained by Motherboard. Compounding that already highly questionable business practice, this spying capability is also being resold to others on the black market who are not licensed by the company to use it, including me, seemingly without Microbilt’s knowledge.

Motherboard’s investigation shows just how exposed mobile networks and the data they generate are, leaving them open to surveillance by ordinary citizens, stalkers, and criminals, and comes as media and policy makers are paying more attention than ever to how location and other sensitive data is collected and sold [5]. The investigation also shows that a wide variety of companies can access cell phone location data, and that the information trickles down from cell phone providers to a wide array of smaller players, who don’t necessarily have the correct safeguards in place to protect that data.

Read the whole thing.  [3]


The reader who sent that story to me said:

As someone who works in this industry (not for any of the companies named) my educated take is holy sh*t.

You don’t have to buy into Patriarch Kyrill’s conviction about the devil incarnate to come to recognize that his belief, even if you think it’s mythical, tells an important truth about technology, surveillance, and control.

58 Comments (Open | Close)

58 Comments To "The Eye Of Smartphone Sauron"

#1 Comment By charles cosimano On January 9, 2019 @ 10:53 pm

You laugh all you want Brendan, but that crown is lined with tinfoil.

#2 Comment By Ms On January 10, 2019 @ 7:11 am

I was also taught (as a RC) to make the sign of the cross with thumb, first and second fingers joined, to remind myself of the Three Persons, Two Natures. Still do.

#3 Comment By Like What It Is On January 10, 2019 @ 10:18 am

<i<"how exposed mobile networks and the data they generate are, leaving them open to surveillance by ordinary citizens, stalkers, and criminals, and comes as media and policy makers are paying more attention than ever to how location and other sensitive data is collected and sold. "

Yes, tech solutions are needed, but we also need really harsh laws for both corporations and individual privacy violators. It’s as bad or worse (and sometimes in support of) drug dealing, pedophilia, identify theft, burglary, robbery, espionage, blackmail, peeping Tom behavior, and any number of other felonies. Kids need to be taught how to protect themselves from the predators and identity rapists in school, and laws are needed to scare hell out of potential violators and permanently ruin the lives of actual violators.

The bigger the violator, the harder they should fall. With the great power of technology comes great responsibility. We must deal with it as we do with nuclear and biological threats – it has the potential to be even more comprehensively dangerous.

Local paper ran a story about a predator who used one of these services to find the wife and child he had beaten nearly to death. They had fled to what they thought was a safe, secret location.

#4 Comment By Xenie On January 10, 2019 @ 1:00 pm

You all know your “flip phones” can be tracked too, right? Just checking, since people seem to think there is some virtue in slight obsolescence.

#5 Comment By Joseph M On January 10, 2019 @ 1:00 pm

One should also be aware of how much error is included in these various tracking services.


One of the results of our over confidence in outr technology is a lack of perspective on what it can actually tell us. Confusing often precision for accuracy.

#6 Comment By Linda Roberts On January 10, 2019 @ 2:56 pm

Just turning off your flip ‘phone doesn’t render it non-traceable. I think you’d need to remove the sim card and battery.

#7 Comment By Gary M On January 12, 2019 @ 2:22 pm

Most freeway and highway overpasses now have license plate readers that record your license number when you drive by it. The data is stored by government agencies and freely given to any law enforcement agency that wants it without a warrant. Every bill dispensed by an ATM is tracked into and out of the bank by serial number. Only coins are not tracked, so you could always get some rolls of dollar coins if you want your purchases not to leave a trail.

The idea that no individual is going to track you is accurate, that’s what algorithms are for. They are getting more sophisticated every day. No human creates your credit score, computers do it based on your trackable purchases. Algorithms are written by humans and have a lot of built in biases based on the programmers.

While we may be embedded in a surveillance society there is no reason to make it easier for the NSA or other nefarious actors to use our movements, contacts, search, or purchasing history against us. Lobby your congress persons to build some privacy protections into laws with serious enforcement teeth.

#8 Comment By Josep On January 14, 2019 @ 10:57 pm


One the other hand. It’s said that the Russians are trying to develop their own Internet so they can cut off the WWW and its pernicious foreign influences. If so, perhaps the Patriarch’s vision will come true; in which case the Antichrist will be Vladimir Putin.

Did you check the verity of such a statement? I really hope it’s a rumor/hoax. If the Russian government were to ever do that (i.e. cutting off the WWW), then I’d lose hope for Putin’s Russia, especially when certain Russian companies rely on the WWW.