Your Car’s Location Available for $10 Online (and eschatology: gold, finding phones when they’re off)

No reason to panic just yet… the database is pretty spotty. Chances are it only has a photo of your car parked in your driveway a few months ago… rather than a full on plot of your regular movements.

Still, even that can be pretty scary. It used to be a PI needed to know a dodgy cop in order to get your home address from your license plate… now there’s a good chance they can find out where you live and work — even of those addresses appear in no database connected with your name.

For those with money, the Steve Jobs “perpetual lease plate-less car” is becoming an increasingly attractive option. Until, of course, it gets too popular with the proletariat and TBTB close the loophole.

Fortunately, bikes aren’t vulnerable to ANPR. Maybe they’ll add facial recognition….

Eschatology: The price of gold is doing some really, really interesting things.

Specifically, the premium you pay on physical gold (versus “paper” certificates of gold ownership) has SHOT THROUGH THE ROOF in the last few days, starting July 17.[1] The increase was preceded by a barely-perceptable climb over the previous month.

This follows on a steady increase in “backwardation” over the last several months.[2] Roughly, this is an indicator that investors (as a group) are increasingly skeptical they’ll be able to buy “real” gold — at any price — in the future.

Under “normal” market conditions, backwardation does happen at one, narrowly defined point on a regular basis. We’ve come to that point, but — instead of fulfilling the “normal” — the backwardation actually /reversed/ as the gold price went up.[3]

[3] (free reg required, throwaway emails encouraged)

Finding phones when they’re off: Turns out the NSA can find your cell phone even when it’s powered off. It’s unclear to me whether this means “when you pushed the power button and it looks off” or whether this means “when the phone has no battery in it.” There have been rumors of the latter circling for years. 71_story_2.html

““With a massive database of one BILLION vehicle sightings and the addition of up to 50 million new sightings each month, Vehicle Sightings provide valuable information for both locating subjects and investigating the historical whereabouts of both individuals and vehicles,” advertises TLO, a data broker that caters to lawyers, private investigators, law enforcement and insurance firms, among others.

The service charges $10 per category of each license plate look up, divided into current, recent and historical. Cars are photographed or filmed and then matched with license plate recognition software. Initially I imagined a database that knew almost as much as a GPS locator: that you drove out of state three weekends ago, stopped off at the pharmacy on the way, spent the afternoon at a baseball game, then had dinner at a specific restaurant.

In reality, the feature is quite far from the all-knowing eye in the sky, although it can still reveal intimate clues. I searched for my own car, as well that those of two relatives with their permission. Of five cars that I looked up, three cars turned up nothing, but I found data on the other two.

One car had a single sighting: it was parked on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at 12:40 in the morning last December. The report included a picture of the car and license plate. A link showed exactly where the car was on Google GOOG -0.74% Maps. For another car, the search turned up data from August last year which showed it parked in Austin, Texas, a few minutes after noon. The lot was in front of a building of doctors’ offices, potentially revealing intimate information about that person’s activity that day.

Simple math suggests it may be a while before such license plate recognition systems can regularly spot specific vehicles. TLO advertises it has a billion vehicle sightings, but according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are more than a quarter of billion registered vehicles in the country. That means TLO would hold an average of four sightings per vehicle.”

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