A few weeks ago I wrote about steganography — the hiding of information inside other stuff, usually referring these days to hiding data inside photographs (FEER column here, WSJ.com here; both subscription only).
One usage I missed was in trying to track down paedophiles. So instead of bad guys hiding their bad stuff inside other files, police appear to be able to use a similar technology to trace the bad guys. Australia’s Sunday Telegraph (subscription only) reports on how the country’s high-tech police squad is “using evolving new technology to catch criminals, such as special ‘signatures’ on digital photographs that can tell investigators where and when an image was taken.” Already, the paper says, “one of these signatures has helped police to find one abused young Australian girl whose photographs had been posted on the Internet.”
The paper doesn’t go into further detail, but I assume the use of steganography in this case would involve embedding something into a digital photograph which might then be able to ‘phone home’ in some way. Or does anyone have any better ideas?
The Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) campaign is part of Operation Auxin, which has already “resulted in the arrest of more than 200 people”, the paper says.
Something I’ve long dreamt of: An intelligent luggage tag.
Here’s a concept for a Bluetooth luggage tag that lights up when it’s in range of your Bluetooth gadget, helping you to identify it on the carousel. The Bluebird tag would contain additional information, so should it go astray the luggage could be returned to you. You could have separate tags for each item. (Found on blueserker.)
Now I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, not least because the Bluebird design looks so good. But others may have been here first: Samonsite unveiled a Bluetooth suitcase two years back which supposedly contains information for tracking and identifying luggae. Admittedly since then not much has happened: It’s not even clear whether the cases were ever sold. Three years ago Red-M said it was teaming up with Denmark’s BlueTags to use Bluetooth to help manage and track luggage and to help find it when necessary. I can’t find any subsequent mention of this, although BlueTags are now being used to track children at a Danish zoo, which is pretty much the same thing.
I like the Bluebird idea, but I’m not sure it would work. As soon as more than one person at the carousel has these devices, they become less useful, unless there’s some way of uniquely identifying each piece of luggage. Otherwise all you’ve got are lots of bits of flashing luggage going around the carousel. (One way around this would be for your PDA to tell you how far away your luggage is on the conveyor. But somehow that seems to have crossed some sort of nerd acceptability line.)
The other thing is that every Bluetooth device transmits a signal (unlike RFID, for example, which has a passive and an active element. The RFID tag doesn’t transmit, it only receives; it’s the scanner that transmits). So would lots of bits of Bluetooth luggage in the airplane hold be beaming confusing signals that interfere with the navigation system?
To me the biggest headache that could use a technology like this is reassuring the passenger. Using RFID or some similar technology on luggage would allow both the airline to check it has all its luggage aboard, but also the cabin crew to confirm for the passenger that their luggage is safely stowed. Airlines could even allow passengers to check for themselves, perhaps via the inflight display (key in their luggage number via a touchscreen, activating an RFID scanner in the hold to look for the item.)
Indeed, Delta Airlines this month said they were doing something like that. On July 1 it said it would use RFID to track luggage through its U.S. network. And Hong Kong’s airport last month said it was going to use RFID to track luggage going through the airport. But I can’t see airlines allowing passengers to do the monitoring, for the simple reason that if the scanner doesn’t find the luggage — either because it’s not aboard or the technology doesn’t work properly — you’re going to have a lot of very unhappy passengers insisting the plane turn around and go back to the gate. Things could get ugly.
infoSync World reports of new software that allows camera phone users to take a picture of a barcode and then, say, retrieve information about the product: whether it’s cheaper elsewhere, dietary information, or downloading music samples from a poster advertising a new album.
The product, ScanZoom, is made by US-based software company Scanbuy. The article points out that a similar technology is already available in Japan, where phones can recognize e-mail addresses, web site URLs and telephone numbers through their embedded cameras.