The debate over the government's use of technology that may infringe on privacy is about to be blown out of the water.
Gizmodo has published a report from an anonymous contributor alleging that the government plans on implementing laser-based molecular scanners as soon as 2013. These scanners have the ability to detect even trace amounts of substances.
"From specks of gunpowder to your adrenaline levels to a sugar-sized grain of cannabis to what you had for breakfast," said the report.
The Picosecond Programmable Laser scanners — developed by Genia Photonics and In-Q-Tel — have a reach of 50 meters (164 feet). The machine fires a laser in picoseconds (trillionths of a second), detecting the tiniest traces of substances in an instant, according to the report.
Even more disconcerting is how portable the scanner is. Because it's comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit, it may be easily transported for use in many environments — not just airports.
Gizmodo points out that this could mean the government would be able to implement the technology anywhere.
Commenters on The Stranger's post about the report have speculated about the authenticity of the science.
"While the core technology is exciting and probably real, there are likely to be huge engineering hurdles — like cost-effective manufacturing, and processing power — that will take decades to overcome before anything like this goes to market or gets installed in airports," said a commenter by the name of balderdash.
"I'm usually all about privacy from government intrusion, but for some reason this doesn't bother me at all," said a commenter by the name of MR M, "It just seems like a far more efficient way of doing what is already being done with most of the hassle removed."
How do you feel about the prospect of these scanners being implemented in an airport near you? Has the government gone too far?
Girls Around Me
Despite its name, the controversial <a href="http://girlsaround.me/" target="_hplink">Girls Around Me iPhone app</a> let the user find girls or guys near his or her location. The app used publicly available photos from Facebook and location check-ins from Foursquare, letting the app-user check out the faces of nearby strangers, who didn't now their data was being used in this way. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/03/31/tracking-women-now-theres-not-an-app-for-that/" target="_hplink">According to the Wall Street Journal</a>, after stalking concerns were raised by sites like <a href="http://www.cultofmac.com/157641/this-creepy-app-isnt-just-stalking-women-without-their-knowledge-its-a-wake-up-call-about-facebook-privacy/" target="_hplink">Cult of Mac</a>, Foursquare cut off access to the app so locations would no longer be available to be paired with Facebook photos. The app's creators then <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-na-nn-girls-around-me-20120404,0,5284353.story" target="_hplink">pulled Girls Around Me from the App Store</a>.
Available for both the <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/catch-your-cheating-spouse!/id433654335?ls=1&mt=8" target="_hplink">iPhone</a> and <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bustedbooks.spyapp" target="_hplink">Android phones</a> for just $1.99,<a href="http://www.bustedbooks.com/cs/index.html" target="_hplink"> Bustedbooks.com's</a> <a href="http://" target="_hplink">Spy Guide app</a> gives users step-by-step directions on how to spy on text messages, email accounts, computers, cell phone records and more. It's more of an instruction manual than anything, but it's the perfect app to use if you suspect your lover is cheating. Way easier than talking it out, eh? (Yikes.)
Stealth SMS Parental Control
Sure, there are parents out there who are genuinely concerned about their child's well-being, but those who invest $4.02 in this app might possibly be crossing a line. According to the Google Play description of <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.mobilemonkeys.shadow.stealthsms&feature=more_from_developer#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEwMiwibmV0Lm1vYmlsZW1vbmtleXMuc2hhZG93LnN0ZWFsdGhzbXMiXQ.." target="_hplink">Stealth SMS Parental Control</a>, developed by Mobile Monkeys, this app will send all of a child's incoming and outgoing text messages directly to his or her parent's phone. All a parent has to do is sneakily install the app on the phone of his or her child. To be fair, the developers <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.mobilemonkeys.shadow.stealthsms&feature=more_from_developer#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEwMiwibmV0Lm1vYmlsZW1vbmtleXMuc2hhZG93LnN0ZWFsdGhzbXMiXQ.." target="_hplink">advise parents</a> thus: "Before you take any drastic measures and have your children grounded, spend a little time investigating in what is really going on."
At first glance, this Security Cam app, <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/security-cam/id300220373?mt=8" target="_hplink">developed by <a href="http://www.crowdedroad.com/" target="_hplink">Crowded Road</a> and <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/security-cam/id300220373?mt=8" target="_hplink">available for $9.99</a> through the App Store, seems like it could be a useful tool for security-conscious iPhone users. However, if you read what the app allows an iPhone to do, you'll realize the creepy implications. First off, the app enables your iPhone to take pictures at a specific frequency and have it start snapping when motion or a certain audio level is detected; the pictures can be exported later. Furthermore, the iPhone can be put in "Stealth Mode" so its display turns off even when the app is active. If you ever see a random iPhone lying around, be wary: It could be spying on you.
<a href="http://www.beenverified.com/iphone" target="_hplink">Available for both iPhone and Android</a> for free, Background Check was developed by public record search service <a href="http://www.beenverified.com/" target="_hplink">BeenVerified</a>. The app lets users perform one free background check every month (if you want to run more than one in a month, you'll have to pay) and allows them to access criminal records, social networking information, property records, and more of whomever they want. [via <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/296196/the-creepiest-apps-and-sites/4" target="_hplink">PCMag</a>]
Yes, you read that right. The Butt Analyzer app is <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=stu.app.ba&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwyLDEsInN0dS5hcHAuYmEiXQ.." target="_hplink">available for free</a> on Google Play, and, let's you calculate the attractiveness of whichever derriere you choose -- including your own! -- on a scale of 1 to 10. All you have to do is snap a picture of said derriere. The developer, <a href="http://www.yausoft.com/" target="_hplink">YauSoft</a>, adds in: "It supports both men's and women's butts." Good to know. [via <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/Android/comments/rqpsf/worstcreepiest_app_youve_ever_seen/" target="_hplink">Reddit</a>]
While this isn't a mobile phone app, the desktop app <a href="http://ilektrojohn.github.com/creepy/" target="_hplink">Creepy</a> just couldn't be skipped. Developed by <a href="https://github.com/ilektrojohn" target="_hplink">Ioannis Kakavas</a>, Creepy is a chilling take on location-based social discovery apps like Highlight. But while those who sign up for Highlight select certain information to broadcast, Creepy pulls together all public information about one person that is available online and plots it on a map when possible. <a href="http://diveintoinfosec.wordpress.com/" target="_hplink">According to Kakavas</a>, one of his goals in creating the app was to raise awareness about one's privacy. "References in mainstream media (TV, newspapers, radio) and of course blogs/twitter gave the project enough exposure to send the message across," <a href="http://diveintoinfosec.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/creepy-0-2-or-your-set-was-cool-but-now-its-creepy-too/" target="_hplink">Kakavas wrote in a March 29 blog post</a>. "I have no metrics, but I think it was a good scare for social network fanatics and a wake up call for people to take their locational privacy a little more seriously. Or at least just a good step towards it. Or at least that's what I want to believe."