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BBC Crowdsources 3G Coverage Map

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the but-how-does-qwghlm-stack-up? dept.

Networking 64

judgecorp writes "The BBC is asking Android users to install an app which will upload information about 3G and 2G coverage, in order to build up a map showing where Britain has signal. The company behind the app, Epitiro, previously worked with the regulator Ofcom to measure 3G speed, and apparently found that O2 is slightly faster."

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First (-1, Offtopic)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809066)

Post

If this was in the US... (2)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809068)

I'd say that your location tracking data would be monetised and on-sold. I'm not convinced that even the BBC could be trusted tracking my every move while this app is installed.

Re:If this was in the US... (4, Insightful)

Spad (470073) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809120)

If they tried to do anything untoward with the data they collected, without your explicit permission, the ICO would likely hit them with rather substantial fines (I believe the current cap is £500,000 per infringement), so I wouldn't be too concerned about it. Especially when you consider that the same could be said for *any* application that has access to GPS on your phone.

Re:If this was in the US... (2, Insightful)

giorgist (1208992) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809156)

Also note that a 168 year old newspaper was just shut down for doing something naughty

Re:If this was in the US... (2)

zebs (105927) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809180)

Hacking a dead girls voicemail and giving false hope to here parents isn't quite the same as someone tracking you walking past the local porn shop

Re:If this was in the US... (4, Insightful)

digitig (1056110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809230)

Hacking a dead girls voicemail, deleting potential evidence from the mailbox and giving false hope to here parents isn't quite the same as someone tracking you walking past the local porn shop

FTFY. It was even worse than you suggested, not to mention the alleged police bribery.

The trouble is, Rebekah Brooks indicated that The Sun would be moving to 7-day working before the shit hit the fan, so it's quite possible that they were going to close the News of the World anyway and the closure has nothing to do with the wrongdoing, it was just a convenient scrap to throw to the attack dogs.

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809370)

By shut down don't you mean they were simply renamed something new with more or less the same staff?

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

Heed00 (1473203) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809728)

What makes you think that? They never pursued BT when it wiretapped tens of thousands of it's customers internet connections for precisely the purpose of tracking (Phorm) in order to monetize the customer's clickstream data. See https://nodpi.org/ [nodpi.org] for the full extent of the ICO's inaction. To this day, no one has ever been prosecuted over that breach -- and it now seems clear why -- there was endemic apathy towards privacy from all levels of government, police and the CPS. And we now see why with the News of The World scandal -- the people we trusted to protect us from such breaches were benefiting too greatly from invasions of privacy to ever actually do anything to stop them or prosecute offenders.

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36810828)

Ahhh, if only we had this kind of quality regulation in the US.

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36815516)

If they tried to do anything untoward with the data they collected, without your explicit permission, the ICO would likely hit them with rather substantial fines (I believe the current cap is £500,000 per infringement), so I wouldn't be too concerned about it. Especially when you consider that the same could be said for *any* application that has access to GPS on your phone.

but THIS app comes from the *government* .. See a difference here??? When Facebook is now seen as a gov spy tool, this becomes a very suspicious situation, indeed.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809152)

I'm not convinced that even the BBC could be trusted tracking my every move while this app is installed.

BBC? BBC declines [bbc.co.uk] to take any responsibility for the application or data collection, pointing the finger to Epitiro. And on the epitiro site, I couldn't find any more specific info. In my opinion, the best way for epitiro credibility would be to release the app in open source - (but I guess it won't happen).

Excepts, so that you can't say you weren't warned:

2. You acknowledge that whilst this is a BBC Survey, the App belongs to a third party which is not in anyway connected to the BBC. The BBC does not endorse the App in anyway whatsoever.
...
4. We do not warrant that the functions contained in the App will be error-free, that defects will be corrected by Epitiro as the provider of the App or that any software within the App will be free of bugs and viruses.
...
7. We understand from Epitiro that they will not publish any personal information or collate any personal information from your use of the App. However, the underlying data will remain the property of Epitiro who may create their own map/site afterwards.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809386)

As a matter of curiosity, why do people assume that open source helps anything (regarding a situation like this)? Sure they could release the software as open source, but 99% of people wouldn't be compiling the source onto their phone which means if they wanted to do anything untrustworthy they could just put it in the precompiled binary.

Re:If this was in the US... (2)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809408)

As a matter of curiosity, why do people assume that open source helps anything (regarding a situation like this)?

Because someone (and only one would be needed) may have the curiosity to compile the source and raise hell if the binary after the compilation doesn't match the binary available for download?
Sure, not fool-proof, but seeing the source and being able to compile tends to raise the trust level.

Re:If this was in the US... (2)

Alranor (472986) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809450)

Except that this is, by its very nature, a tracking app, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in it.

Opening the source might tell you what data the app collects, but it's not going to tell you what the company that collects it is actually going to do with it.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809526)

Except that this is, by its very nature, a tracking app, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in it.

Of course is a tracking application.

Except that it is meant to track the signal strength to location and nothing else - if so, what do you think the company can do with it other than a coverage map?

Now, IF I could make sure that indeed is tracking only signal/location, I might decide that this is worth participating. One can only hope that a good map of coverage is going to help on medium term... after all I donated (CPU x years) to search for extraterrestrial life (low probability and inconsequential for me), why not keeping my phone powered and the app running for a few weeks?

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

dredwerker (757816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809606)

Except that this is, by its very nature, a tracking app, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in it.

Of course is a tracking application.

Except that it is meant to track the signal strength to location and nothing else - if so, what do you think the company can do with it other than a coverage map?

Now, IF I could make sure that indeed is tracking only signal/location, I might decide that this is worth participating. One can only hope that a good map of coverage is going to help on medium term... after all I donated (CPU x years) to search for extraterrestrial life (low probability and inconsequential for me), why not keeping my phone powered and the app running for a few weeks?

Good point. I was with the posters on its what they do with the collected data until you pointed out that they should not be tracking anything else. +1(well done - the new category) if I had mod points :)

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809732)

With the same compiler and with the same settings and the same versions of static libs and the...

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809926)

And the same private encryption keys... oh wait.

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36810060)

Sure, not fool-proof, but seeing the source and being able to compile tends to raise the trust level.

And is this a good thing or a bad thing? It's a good thing if somebody actually does what you describe, but if some measure of trust is being awarded on an assumption of a possibility not actually occurring, it could be harmful.

Put another way, if the choices are "closed source, unable to verify anything and untrusted" versus "open source, possibility of verification and trusted on the assumption that somebody, somewhere cares more than I do" I'm not sure the latter is an improvement. Sometimes the best way to hide something is in plain sight, and that's particularly true if you have people convinced that nobody would be foolish enough to hide it there.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36810408)

Sure, not fool-proof, but seeing the source and being able to compile tends to raise the trust level.

And is this a good thing or a bad thing? It's a good thing if somebody actually does what you describe, but if some measure of trust is being awarded on an assumption of a possibility not actually occurring, it could be harmful.

Ok. Let's put it this way: if they'd release the app in open-source, I'm going to verify if it can be trusted and I may take the decision if I want to join - maybe bring some friends along. Without open-source, they lost at least a participant; so the question is: with closed-source, what did they gain instead?

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809516)

Open source? Seriously?

They tell you the app tracks your every move already. What is important is what they are doing with the data. An open soure app will not change anything.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809548)

Open source? Seriously?

They tell you the app tracks your every move already

TFA

[The app] uses virtually no data to operate and shares no personal data, Epitiro marketing manager Iain Wood assured eWEEK Europe.

The app only measures the presence or absence of signal, not its strength, and not the throughput achieved over it – but there could be evidence of places where the network is overloaded, if phones frequently fall back on 2G signal.

If one can be sure that shares no personal data, one might decide to join the crowd. Now, the only little question is: how can one be sure?

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

Atzanteol (99067) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809990)

The android permissions will tell you whether the app has access to personal data or not.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

r0ball (1848426) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809206)

FTFA:

[The app] is only available on Android phones because of the timelag and difficulty in getting apps into app stores for the iPhone and BlackBerry

When the map exists, could the information be fed into an app on the phone which would help users find coverage, eWEEK Europe asked Wood [the app developer's marketing manager]. “We hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “We work on the measurement side.”

"eWEEK Europe requested an interview with the app's mastermind, the illusive Mr S. Jobs, but he declined to be interviewed citing health reasons."

Re:If this was in the US... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809330)

android has pretty easy apis as well for it, with access to them without sucking anyones balls, with neighbouring cells info and easy location information too. however, who gets the position - cellid data? bbc? that's pretty useful for some folk(there's commercial solutions for it and few open source based too, over the years). on j2me though, even on the models where you can get cellid and position you can't usually get signal quality data, which on android you can(though i'd wager that not all models do it right..).
 
  finnish telcos have been provideing coarse coverage maps pretty much since forever though, when 3g was rolled out you could check beforehand if a city had it or not.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809954)

We have those, too. It's just they bare little relationship to reality.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

sifi (170630) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809448)

Sort of yes and no; from the Terms And Conditions:

7. We understand from Epitiro that they will not publish any personal information or collate any personal information from your use of the App. However, the underlying data will remain the property of Epitiro who may create their own map/site afterwards.

Re:If this was in the US... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809562)

I'd say that your location tracking data would be monetised and on-sold. I'm not convinced that even the BBC could be trusted tracking my every move

True dat, but on the other hand, keep in mind that your cell phone ALREADY allows at least your cell phone company to track your every move.

Sensorly (2)

karit (681682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809134)

Umm Sensorly already does this http://sensorly.com/ [sensorly.com] and is for whole world

Re:Sensorly (1)

Xemu (50595) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809262)

In Sweden "Bredbandskollen" [bredbandskollen.se] from PTS has done this for years.

Re:Sensorly (1)

richy freeway (623503) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809358)

Before I read your comment, I had no idea that such a site existed. Turns out it's basically useless in my area as not enough people are submitting data.

So it's all very well that they're already doing it, but if no one knows about it, it's useless.

The BBC will probably be going on about this a lot. I've already heard about it on one of their radio stations, it was on the news on one of their TV stations this morning and now it's on Slashdot.

I expect we'll get a LOT more useful data from this in a week than Sensorly has managed in the whole time they've been running. (I have no idea how long that is)

OpenSignalMaps (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809162)

http://opensignalmaps.com does this too, android client included.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809196)

Yeah, but the BBC will take an idea, publicize it, and take credit for it. That's what they did with iPlayer, the super-amazing first-of-a-kind Flash video player, invented by the BBC years after YouTube was launched.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (2)

Spad (470073) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809226)

I think that's a little disingenuous; the iPlayer was pretty much single-handedly responsible for bringing streaming of broadcast TV to the UK. Whether the technology was revolutionary or not, it was still pioneering in context and has been massively successful.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809996)

They could have accomplished the same thing with a web interface and distributing their content in any number of standard formats working on any media player. The only thing that made the iPlayer successful is that a big media company decided to actually start streaming media.

This would be like calling MeeGo the most successful tablet PC because the NY Times decided to send one for free to all its subscribers so that they could move to online distribution. This isn't something winning out in the market - it is simply the case of some executives in an entrenched industry picking something.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

mccalli (323026) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809254)

Yeah, but the BBC will take an idea, publicize it, and take credit for it. That's what they did with iPlayer, the super-amazing first-of-a-kind Flash video player, invented by the BBC years after YouTube was launched."

Don't forget it started out as a p2p fat client-only app and that streaming was only available to Windows users as it was all based on Windows Media 10. The fact it was originally overseen by the ex-UK head of MS's media division was entirely co-incidental.

Cheers,
Ian

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809768)

The iPlayer however bad it was originally, and however bad it is now, basically works and is used a lot ... this meant that all the other UK stations had to follow, and they all did (with a flurry of publicity about how their service was better than the BBC's ) but before the BBC did this the only thing they had done was a pay-per-view service with massive restrictions, all the players now are free and have mostly free content ...

Note this is nothing like YouTube, there is no user uploaded content it is all broadcast TV programmes - mostly from the last week ...

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

rapiddescent (572442) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809402)

opensignalmaps is also a worldwide operation. Sounds like a better proposition. The good news is that TFA does credit opensignalmaps in the comments. It would be very nice if the publicly funded BBC donated the data to opensignalmaps.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

speculatrix (678524) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809416)

have opensignalmaps actually released the data yet?

last time I looked there were promised to that effect, but nothing actually done about it.

Re:OpenSignalMaps (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 3 years ago | (#36810944)

It doesn't seem like the BBC will either though.

OpenCellID.org and openBmap.org (1)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809806)

Two truly open initiatives offering back the crowdsourced data to everyone (it doesn't seem to be the case with OpenSignalMaps): OpenCellID.org [opencellid.org] and openBmap.org [openbmap.org] .

Re:OpenSignalMaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36814814)

http://opensignalmaps.com does this too, android client included.

Even better: cellmapper.net
Gives you actual info about cells/towers and signal and runs on BB/Android/WinMo. The others just give you some vague info about signal at best.

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openBmap (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809224)

openBmap are already doing a similar thing, and cellhunter.

This should be mandatory! (1)

wesleyjconnor (1955870) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809256)

Australia needs this like nothing else.
If this were mandatory by the government, giving people a realistic view of what the network coverage was like, not just whichever telco's optimistic personal view. This would be a huge boon to the customer.
Without mentioning names but its a foreign company and rhymes with poptus has DREADFUL signal in major centres, ive had my android phone back and forth with them for 2 months, because they are convinced its my phone thats dropping calls, not their network.

Battery drain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809276)

Had it on my Nexus S since last night and it's accounted for 61% of battery use! Great idea but not sure I'll be running it for long.

Re:Battery drain (1)

IceFreak2000 (564869) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809682)

Yeah, it's definately a battery drain as it uses GPS at regular intervals to work out where you are; however, I'm going to keep running it as long as I can as there's an outside chance that this data might be able to convince certain operators (*cough* Vodafone *cough*) that their coverage in my area is not as wonderful as they claim it is.

Dutch consumer foundation is doing the same thing (4, Interesting)

dingen (958134) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809294)

I wonder if this has something to do with what the Consumentenbond (very large & influential Dutch consumer foundation) is doing on their website slechtedekking.nl [slechtedekking.nl] (translates as "badcoverage.nl"). They've recently launched exactly the same thing as the BBC: an Android app which tracks cellular reception for both telephone (signal strength) and data (ping and bandwith) and lets you automatically or manually upload the data to the website.

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Re:Dutch consumer foundation is doing the same thi (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809670)

I suppose a link to the BBC article, and its many comments, is too much to ask?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13874818 [bbc.co.uk]

Re:Dutch consumer foundation is doing the same thi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36810566)

...and there's a Swedish approximation also; it's all about the bandwidth though (started out as a consumer broadband tester): Bredbandskollen [bredbandskollen.se]
Their smartphone apps are pretty neat and they present the data in a nice heat map [bredbandskollen.se] .

vodafone were there already (2)

speculatrix (678524) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809480)

http://vodafoneuksignal.com/ [vodafoneuksignal.com]

Re:vodafone were there already (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36809946)

Not quite, the point of this exercise is to provide an unbiased survey. We can't trust the networks to be honest about their signal coverage because they have a conflict of interest. Furthermore it measures all carriers by the same criteria so that they can be compared against one another.

Re:vodafone were there already (1)

Simon Brooke (45012) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814156)

If you trust Vodafone (or any other commercial provider) to create an accurate and reliable map, I have this very valuable bridge in London I'd like to sell you.

Re:vodafone were there already (1)

speculatrix (678524) | more than 3 years ago | (#36821028)

let me fix that for you:
If you trust Vodafone (or any other commercial provider) to create an accurate and reliable map that they publish

the carriers use topo maps to predict coverage, and they also have signal surveyors (which have to stick to roads and paths), so its actually quite hard for them to have accurate maps anyway. Add some marketing people with their spin, some dodgy signal strength calculations by one of the mobile phone vendors, and it's no wonder noone trusts them at all!

We have had it for quite some time in Sweden (3, Informative)

sfalc (822450) | more than 3 years ago | (#36809610)

The internet registrar that manges the Swedish top lever domain, .se, has done a similar thing for a couple of years now. Crowd sourced using an app for iPhone/iPad as well as Android.
They have a cool map where you can see mobile coverage and connection speed in Sweden. Intrestingly enough it also covers a large part of Europe, probably swedes on holiday.
http://www.bredbandskollen.se/mobile.php [bredbandskollen.se]

Nice idea, but the app sucks... (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 3 years ago | (#36810936)

It's a good idea, and the BBC's publicity might give it enough mass to actually be useful. Unfortunately the app is pretty pathetic. Here are the major flaws:

* It uses GPS permanently! Seriously, it runs in the background with GPS on all the time.
* As far as I can tell, the only thing it records is the connectivity method (GPRS, UTMS, HSDPA, etc.) It doesn't seem to record latency, throughput, or packet loss.
* It doesn't tell you what data it has recorded! The only thing the app adds to you as a user is the percentage of time spent on 3G compared to 2G. Since I am on 3, that is always 100%. I mean come on, it should at least show you a map of your signal strength history.
* Apparently it thinks wifi is 3G! In fairness this could be due to a long-standing bug in Android where the connection type query fails for certain wifi networks.
* It doesn't seem like any of the raw data will be available in a useful form for third parties. Opensignalmaps have at least promised an API.

Re:Nice idea, but the app sucks... (1)

Simon Brooke (45012) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814206)

As of now, it is running on my phone and the GPS is on for a few seconds every ten minutes. However, I'm not persuaded that it's detecting 3G accurately because it says I've had 0% 3G coverage today but in fact I'm posting this through my phone using USB tethering.

This kind of idea is ooold... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36811020)

Ever heard of sensorly? It's quite good!
http://www.sensorly.com/Map/GSM/Great-Britain/Orange/gsm-23433

Drains the Battery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36811146)

I uninstalled this after a few days, it sucks the juice...

Require something from them too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813454)

If they don't provide the data for download for free, don't take part!

Otherwise you can calculate your rate for, say, 50 e/h and bill them for it.

BBC takes great care of user data (1)

MarkH (8415) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813726)

As an ex-employee with no direct experience of this project but experience of this culture they will take great care of this data.

But mistakes are possible so any security flaws etc make sure they know quickly to correct.

If they haven't already they are probably more than happy to provide info on exactly what data points they are recording

O2 faster but also very expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36843414)

Just to counterbalance the "information" that O2 might be slightly faster, according to this article http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/368383/40gb-of-data-that-costs-the-same-as-a-house it looks like it is also an extraordinarily expensive ISP (for the record, the magazine has calculated that it would cost £240,000 to transfer 40GB of data when doing non-european roaming).

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