AIS Vessel tracking / Apps - Privacy issues


#1

Hi all.

John has done a pretty good job with the gTrax and i know you guys out here also have put in a lot of inputs into rolling out the product.

What I was wondering was, if none of you guys grappled with the morality of putting up AIS information on the net. I mean forget the acts of stupidity that people might commit due to using these things in a wrong manner. But putting all that data out there can actually put seamen in physical danger as well. What if the Seamen don’t want this info on the net?

I understand that a bunch of landlubbers might think it cool to put such stuff online, but you all are from the sea and at least someone should have had some concerns.

What if tomorrow I come into a US port with a ship called “Allah Laden”? Whats stopping a bunch of college kids with iphones to meet me in the channel on a boat and firebombing the ship? And what’s stopping people from starting this service for the Somalian coast as well?

I have put up a blog post here with my concerns to avoid spamming the whole thing here too.

Cheers,
Velu


#2

[QUOTE=velu;25538]What if the Seamen don’t want this info on the net?[/QUOTE]

To those seamen I’d say “Call your congressman, you’re wasting my time”.

The problem is the data is already out there and on dozens of websites. I have mixed feelings about whether it should be out there but broadcasting unsecured data over VHF frequency was a decision the IMO made and we all have to live with. If we want it changed then, call your IMO delegate but remember that, to make that change thousands of ships will need new AIS units with VHF scramblers… and I just don’t see shipping companies being willing to spend that kind of money… they would much rather spend the cash on ransom payments.


#3

Ofcourse the data is already out there and there are also other iPhone apps out there, but putting another app out is just like dropping a few guns out on the street saying that there are already guns out there.

I was reading on another site (I think it was Pongo or some such sailing site) where John explained that he is paying these people with the AIS antaennae for the live feeds. This is directly supporting such practices. At the end of the day, we mariners need to make a call if such websites and apps can hurt ourselves.

In the same post John clarified that profit definitely wasn’t the motive. All I’m saying is that we better be very sure what that motive is before we put more such things out. Shooting ourselves in the foot is a whole another thing then being shot by the enemy.

Well I won’t be able to contribute on this forum for a while now as I’m off till the next week to Mexico. But then if you’ve been tracking me, you all probably already knew that.

Cheers,
Velu


#4

One of my favorite things to do since I bought gTrax is to take a peek at my iPhone when I’m just about to roll out of my rack to go on watch. It helps me visualize what’s around me before I even get to the pilothouse. (Disclaimer: I always take it with a grain of salt. Just because it is on the screen doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll see it out the window). Don’t take away my ability to see AIS targets in the comfort of my cabin or living room on my iPhone.

In the US AIS is public domain data. Anyone with an AIS receiver has the right to access that data and feed it to the web. Until there is an encryption scheme in place for AIS, I’ll work to defend that right if it comes down to a fight.

Regarding your concern for the “Allah Laden”, you are wise to be worried. The firebombing flotillas of college-age radicals have become a huge problem for Mideastern ships calling on US Ports. We see it happening all the time.

The Master always has the authority to choose to turn off his/her ship’s AIS, but had better have a very good defensible reason for doing so. I can’t imagine that in a TSS there would be any valid reason, but in an area of pirates I believe it is common.

Saying that adding an app to view AIS data is like adding more guns to the street is simplistic and silly. The information is out there, just like guns are out there, and in the US both AIS data and guns are readily available. What one does or does not do with that information or hardware is one’s decision to make. There are always consequences that follow bad decisions. But taking away everyone’s access to information because you’re afraid it will be misused is a frightening prospect.

The price of security is liberty, and I’ve seen enough of my freedoms stripped away in the last ten years, thank you very much.


#5

Ditto.

Quite a common practice. Just remember to turn it back on before checking in with port control. They like to be able to “see” you.


#6

Yes I agree the guns and even the customs search argument is too simplistic. My aim with this post was to atleast put forward a voice of caution and hope that there is atleast some thought about where we are going before we fall over the edge.

Firebombing of “Allah Laden” might not happen in the US. Can you rule out the same for “M.V Jesus H Christ” in the middle east. Also if the Somalian spare a little from their million dollar ransoms to offer John half a mill for setting up a similar system on their coast. Will he take it?

So now I see another onus falling on the masters head. Now I have to be aware enough and prudent enough to take a call about if I am right in transmitting my AIS signals in some part of the world or not. That is simply fabulous.

The gun debate is a tough one to go into, but atleast there is a debate going on there. If we seamen don’t voice concern about information regarding us, who will?

But all the same, thanks for taking the time for the feedback.

Also 5 years back there wasn’t even an AIS. So technically you are fretting over a liberty you didn’t even know you had.

Cheers,
Velu


#7

[QUOTE=velu;25582]
I was reading on another site (I think it was Pongo or some such sailing site) where John explained that he is paying these people with the AIS antaennae for the live feeds. This is directly supporting such practices. At the end of the day, we mariners need to make a call if such websites and apps can hurt ourselves.

In the same post John clarified that profit definitely wasn’t the motive. All I’m saying is that we better be very sure what that motive is before we put more such things out. Shooting ourselves in the foot is a whole another thing then being shot by the enemy.
[/QUOTE]

Yes we have a partnership agreement with good folks at MIS Development to access their pay-for-access AIS data streams.

I don’t believe I said that profit wasn’t a motive, as it certainly is, but I may have said it’s not my primary motive. It’s the same with gCaptain… would I be motivated to invest the number of hours I have put into this site without a dream that someday it might help me pay off my mortgage… probably not. But would I have spent the number of hours I have put into this site if I didn’t think it played some part in improving our industry… definitely not.

As for the motive, it’s clear and simple. It’s a tool that I knew I would use myself, so it was clear others on this site would also enjoy using.

But this debate isn’t new. I caught considerably more flack after a forum member posted details on how the Maersk Alabama defeated the pirates. Many people emailed me saying that pirates have internet access and I was divulging secrets that could get mariners killed. In my defense, I did edit the post to omit sensitive info, but I did not pull it. The reason being that every mariner could use the information to defeat the next attack. Either way, it turned out to be a mute point because 2-weeks later CNN obtained the same details (independently) and published them everywhere.

A guiding principal of gCpatain is, that by giving mariners tools which enable communication, cooperation and give access to information, they will use them to the betterment of our entire industry. You can either buy into this principal, or not, but you’ll run into difficulty in getting me to change my mind.


#8

There are always conspiracy theorists out there for something…


#9

A few years back some folks thought it would be a good idea to fly a couple of commercial airliners into the World Trade Center. Yet today, you can still track commercial flights real time, all over the world.

You can go online right now, and listen to real-time radio frequencies covering police, fire, public safety all over the US and world.

There are websites that allow you to track freight and passenger trains, and listen to the radio signals real-time.

Hell, you can even buy a GPS unit to track you kids at Best Buy. GPS tracking of your children!! (okay this one I don’t agree with, but to make a point)…

You have to face it, we now live in the information age. Having an app on your iphone or being able to track ships on a website does not add any threat to the safety of the maritime community because the AIS information is broadcast through the air…there for the taking. And, as mentioned before- if you are traveling through pirate infested waters, you can simply shut off your AIS.

While it is true that bad things could be done with that information, you can’t go around all day worring about those things. If you worry about being attacked because some one is trackng you on an iPhone, then the terrorists have won! HAVE THEY WON?? Are you TERROR-fied of being tracked on AIS? Give me a break!

Sure, a small group of extrimists hell bent on killing some infidels could fly a plane into the side of a cruise ship and hurt some people. But lets face it, the odds are better that you will get hit by lightning twice, win the lottery and die in an auto accident before that happens.


#10

Please don’t beet me down as I am only a wife to one of you guys this is my first post. I’ve lurked around here for along time just to see whats new and always keeping up on things for my DH.

I can see two sides to the AIS or other forms of the general public tracking your vessels.
Side 1- No I dont think that just anyone should be able to track your location for safety reasons. My husband is a Captain that hulls oil and in times past moved rigs. I get weired out thinking that just anyone can see the location where he is and cause some great danger to the one I love.

Side 2- As a wife I have used such apps to get a general idea of where he is when he is on long trips. For the most part when he is out for an extended amount of time he tries to call at least once a week to give me a general idea of his location even if its from the sat phone. If I go for longer periods I get worried and check an AIS app to see if I can find him. Most of the time I cant find him either because the ship name isn’t showing up and I have to search by call sign or he is out of the AIS reporting range. I’m not big on him going to places like Columbia, Cuba, or Africa just because of all the horror stories I have heard. Even a few weeks ago when he was coming threw the Cuba area he didn’t show up on the AIS that the apps allow you to locate.
A company that he use to work for used Seawave. When he went to Africa which was great because I could see that he had not gone into port when he was 12 days past his eta. He had giving me the log in information as he was going to be gone for 4 months. My kids and I made a huge map on the wall so that we could see his location everyday. The local government had boarded and kept them offshore until things settled down and were allowed in port.

IMO I do not think that apps like this should be available without some identification. As a someone that fells justified in knowing where one particular boat is I fell justified in locating a vessel and would give whatever information necessary in order to use such an application.