We are entering unchartered territory when it comes to surveillance because of information broadcast from our smartphones even when they're off. Right now, it's the NSA collecting this data, but as computing power gets ever cheaper, it could be your local police or even the store you just entered.
How to reprogram NFC tags from a smartphone
One of the big stories of the next decade or so will be what’s being called “The Internet Of Things,” tomorrow's world where machine-to-machine and machine-to-person communications out number person-to-person interactions. It's one where radios in every device let us know where they are and how they’re operating, giving us real-time access to information that used to be impossible to get – and where it was accessible, it was always after the fact.
M2M can be complex. It’s all about adding smarts to our environment, with sensors and wireless networks. It how oil companies can monitor tankers as they crawl across the empty spaces of Utah and Nevada, how parcel companies can track time (and temperature) sensitive emergency medical deliveries. With M2M modules we can extend the reach of our sensors relatively cheaply.
At CES we met one company that was mixing M2M and basic sensors to produce a low cost baggage tracking system. Hardware modules were used to detect cellular signals, get cell tower ID, and then transmit them to a server – and the results finally texted to you as the location of your luggage. If you're in London, and your luggage is in Shanghai you'll know before the airline, and you'll also know when it's on its way back to you. It’s relatively simple hardware like this, built using standard modules, that’s an example of how code and hardware go together - hardware hacking turned into a product.
But most of the hardware we have isn’t smart – and doesn’t need to be that smart. But as it stands, no smarts at all make it impossible to make a desk or a wall, or even a powered-down phone, part of our new smart world. That’s starting to change, as technologies built into the latest generation of mobile devices are giving us a new our relationship with world around us. The key to this new world is NFC, Near Field Communications.
NFC is perhaps best known as the technology behind the tap and pay systems that are starting to roll out using NFC tags in credit cards and phones as a way of quickly paying for low-value items.
But that’s not the only use for NFC – and low cost NFC tags that can be programmed from a mobile phone are a way of adding the very minimum of smarts to a dumb object. With NFC, items can contain commands that drive apps, share information, or direct you to an appropriate web page.
I recently rented a car that had a QR code in the driver’s side window. When scanned, the code would send me to a web site where I’d find a manual and hints and tips about the car. Unfortunately, in the handful of weeks the car had been in use, the QR code had faded and was now unusable. If the car had had a NFC tag instead, I’d have been able to tap, accept a prompt, and be taken straight to the relevant web page. If the site hosting the page changed in the meantime, an engineer would be able to quickly update the information stored on a car as they came back for post-rental inspection.
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