IPv6 and location based tracking
I remember hearing a lecture circa 1995-6 about Ipv6 and how the Internet world will come to an end if we don’t adopt it soon. The crisis was a dwindling allocation of IP’s (the early Internet version of a carbon footprint). The fear was that “In 10 years, every man on the planet will have between 10 to 20 IP addresses on him”. But when I heard that, I didn’t really think about the poor IP forests that are taken down every year to accommodate the greedy globalization economy, I thought of privacy.
The end of that discussion is now clear: shortly after I heard the lecture Network Address Translation (NAT) became popular, and IP allocation was no longer a problem. Not only that, but IPv6 went from a “must have” to “we’ll get around to it some day” and is still in the process of being rolled out (slowly) to this day. But the privacy issue still remains.
If every person has an IP (or more than one IP, although that seems less likely nowadays) then we know everything about him. Unlike the virtual world, where we no longer can connect a person with an IP address without correlating half a dozen logs, in the physical world an IP will likely be more like a phone number – something unique and personal.
I thought about this when I read about a Nokia experiment where people transmitted their location to a Nokia center to enable traffic monitoring. Nokia says data is sent anonymously, and I believe them; but even if not, every Nokia device has a private (NAT’ed) address changed almost randomly by DHCP. So tracking again requires long and tedious log correlation and privacy is difficult to compromise.
What, then, will happen with IPv6? If DHCP and NAT increase privacy, is IPv6 a threat? Not an imminent threat, of course, but it is definitely ‘creeping’ in, and some day if there are enough addresses and NAT is not necessary, perhaps every blackberry in the world will have a unique IP address that will be with it forever. That’s a scary thought – if you comment in this blog post using your real name, I can take this information with me and give it to a friend of mine that works in Nokia who will tell me where you are right now. Think about the scene in “Jay and Silent Bob” where they go and beat up the people who posted bad comments about their movie; it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier to do…