Do not track

“Home is where the wifi connects automatically”.
The question remains to be asked, how does it know to connect automatically? Well, of course, the computer saves a list of network names (or other identifiers) and their passwords, and tries to connect when it sees one it recognizes. I bet the passwords are saved in plaintext, too, but you should know better than to use the same one for your wifi and for your bank.

Anyway, Ubuntu is no exception. This is a laptop, and I don’t have a GPS that records my coordinates at all time, so it’s still interesting to see that if you know enough about me and obtain access to my computer, you can track my position with fair accuracy. Here is a list of networks I’ve connected to, by default sorted by date.

wifi_networks

Take a look at the connections. Can you reconstruct a map of where I’ve been as a function of time? Try to do so now.

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All done?

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I think the average user can, after a bit of thinking and googling, make at least some sense out of the somewhat-cryptic names. Certainly he will arrive at some route of the form: Technion -> Boston/MIT, with a stop in Europe. Here, let’s do it together. Start from the past:

ISRAEL-RAILWAYS – well, that’s easy. I sometimes take the train to the Technion, so no biggy there. Just two months ago I still had classes!
TechPublic, eewifi – TechPublic is, of course, the Technion’s campus-wide public wifi. eewifi is the same, for the department of electrical engineering. So a month ago I was certainly on campus.
caXXXyy – these are a bit a tricky, and require prior knowledge. “Canada” is the name of the dorms I live in. Specifically, ca94305 is my own apartment wifi. So after having connected to the public Technion wifi for the last time, I was at my dorms. But I haven’t been there for the past 29 days. It must be summer vacation.
Bezeq-n_6202 – my house wifi. Ok, you had no chance of guessing that :). But wait! Last time used, 27 days ago? Oh my, where have you been all this time?
Swisscom – that’s a Swiss communication company. How did that happen? Indeed, on my way to Boston I had a connection in Münich. Not quite Swiss, but close enough.
Loganwifi – Logan is Boston’s airport. I’ve been here for 26 days!
percher – stayed at a friend’s for a while. That might take a bit of digging. Seeing as it was used 22 days ago, and I arrived 26 days ago, one can conclude that I’ve stayed there for 4 days.
HMS public – unfortunately, not Her Majesty’s Ship, but Harvard Medical School. Went there for a visit.
MIT – ‘nough said. I spend most of my time here.
StataCenter – if it weren’t enough that you know at which institution I spend most of my time, you now also know the exact building. Oh well; as seen in a previous post, my wikipedia editing IP gives about that much information anyway.

How do you that I spend most of my time connected to the last two networks? Since it’s unlikely that I’ve been without internet access all this time (what with the blog posts and wikipedia edits and all), the fact that there are no networks in between MIT and StataCenter, and, say, the Percher / HMS ones, indicates that I’ve repeatedly connected to them, thus refreshing their status and putting them at the top of the recently used.

By the way, the Stata Center is a really cool place.

For me this isn’t confidential information – here, I’m posting it online. But I suppose that for those of us who wish to remain anonymous, for whatever reasons, wifi connection history is just one more problem to worry about. And seeing that my own connection history had entries from over a year ago, it stays with you for quite a while.

(footnote: I have intentionally omitted a network from the list, of the place I’m currently staying; I do not know if the owner would appreciate having the network name put here. This does not change the above analysis)

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