Feb 20, 2015 · 1 minute

Researchers have found another tool that could be exploited to snoop on consumers: batteries.

A new report claims that the rate at which a smartphone drains its battery could let hackers, advertisers, and others determine its general location through machine learning techniques.

By default, Android provides information about the battery to every application installed on a device, which means this method of location-tracking could affect many millions of people. (The research was only conducted on a Nexus 4, an older device with limited marketshare.)

The researchers were able to use this information to guess at which cell tower a device was connected to at any given time. From there, they could guess at the device's route with varying degrees of accuracy depending on how exact they wanted to be, among other outside factors.

Don't expect this snooping method to become too popular in the near future. It requires data about the battery drain caused by connecting to various cell towers to function; if no one has measured this and provided it to the wannabe snoopers, the battery data isn't all that useful.

Still, the research does show that even something as seemingly-innocuous as battery data can be used to undermine someone's privacy. And the difficulty associated with exploiting the data doesn't mean this threat should be ignored. As the researchers conclude in their report:

We believe that with more data our approach can be further improved and be used to obtain even more information on the phone’s location. We therefore conclude by suggesting several possible defenses. More generally, our work suggests that more security modeling needs to be done before giving 3rd party applications direct access to sensors.
In the modern era, there is no such thing as innocent data. Consumers must be afforded some control over who has access to data about their devices. It doesn't matter if it's battery data, or location information, or access to a device's storage. All of it can be used in harmful ways.

[Image via kevincollins123]