by CIO Staff

Report: Nike+iPod Sport Kit Could Be Employed to Track Users

Dec 04, 20063 mins

A report published online Thursday and authored by a number of University of Washington (UW) representatives suggests that the popular Nike+iPod Sport Kit, a device used to track athletic metrics such as calories burned and miles traveled for runners, could be employed for invasive purposes—including to track its users, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer online reports.

Scott Saponas, a 25-year-old doctoral student at UW and the head author of the report, said Apple Computer and Nike’s product may violate its users’ privacy by enabling outsiders to keep tabs on them, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

Nike+iPod Sport Kit and Nike Shoe
Nike+iPod Sport Kit

Saponas and his team, which included a number of additional students and a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering, said they were not trying to single out the Nike+iPod Sport Kit in their research; rather, they wanted to raise awareness of such devices and their potential to be exploited because “as more and more of these gadgets come out, they need to be evaluated as to whether privacy had been considered in their design,” the Post-Intelligencer reports.

The Nike+iPod product is made up of a small wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) transmitter that can be fastened to a running shoe and an equally tiny receiver that connects to an iPod nano. Both components are about half the size of a traditional matchbook, and the transmitter tracks metrics like distance traveled and time spent running and then sends them to the receiver for display on the iPod’s screen.

The device was initially released in August with a price tag of about $30, and Saponas—a runner—rushed right out to purchase it, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

The idea to test its privacy protections arose when Saponas was brainstorming for a project for a computer security class last fall, the Post-Intelligencer reports.

The device works by sending running metrics with a unique signature from the transmitter to a receiver within 60 feet, according to the Post-Intelligencer. Saponas and his colleagues built a number of mechanisms—none of which cost more than $250—to locate Sport Kit transmitters and track them, the Post-Intelligencer reports.

One experiment included using small “gumstix” computers to locate Sport Kit transmitters, according to the Post-Intelligencer. Such miniature computers could be hidden in specific areas where Nike+iPod Sport Kit users are known to travel in order to keep track of their whereabouts, the Post-Intelligencer reports.

As part of their experiment, the researchers envisioned a situation in which a disgruntled ex-boyfriend set up homemade receivers in areas that his ex-girlfriend—a Sport Kit user—frequented to keep tabs on her location, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

Though Saponas did note the device features an on/off switch, he said Nike’s marketing of the product doesn’t mention that its transmitter can be tracked by additional sensors, or suggest reasons why an individual would want to employ the shutoff switch, the Post-Intelligencer reports.

Saponas and the UW team sent off their findings to both Nike and Apple, and they posted the research on a UW computer science department-affiliated website.

“This particular product is not necessarily going to endanger an individual, but as more and more products come out, it’s going to be easier and easier to do things that the consumer does not know when they buy them,” Saponas said, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

Related Link:

  • Nike, Apple Release Nike+iPod Sport Kit

  • Nike, Apple Team Up for iPod ‘Sport Kit’

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