As marketers, data as brokers and tech giants continually expand their access to people’s data and movements across the web, tools like VPNs or cookie blockers can seem increasingly weak and futile. Short of going completely off the network forever, there are few options for the average person to significantly resist online tracking. Even after proposing a technical solution last year for how telcos could stop automatically collecting user locations, researchers Barath Raghavan and Paul Schmitt knew it would be difficult to convince telecoms to implement the change. So they decided to be the carrier they wanted to see in the world.
The result is a new company, dubbed Invisv, that offers mobile data designed to separate users from specific IDs so the company can’t access or track customers’ metadata, location information or mobile browsing. Launching today in beta for Android, the company’s Pretty Good Phone Privacy, or PGPP, service will replace the mechanism carriers normally use to turn cell tower log data into a wealth of movement information. users. And it will also offer a Relay service that disassociates a user’s IP address from their web browsing.
“If you can decouple a user’s identity from how they log into a network, that’s a general-purpose hammer that can solve a lot of privacy issues,” says Raghavan, a professor at the University of Southern California. “Privacy should be the default and it’s not currently, so we’re working on it. There’s a growing appetite as people worry about their phones leaking to telecom companies and of technology.
PGPP’s ability to hide your phone’s identity from cell towers comes from a revelation about why cell towers collect unique identifiers known as IMSI numbers, which can be tracked by both telecommunications and other entities that deploy devices known as IMSI sensors, often referred to as stringrays, which mimic a cell tower for surveillance purposes. Raghavan and Schmitt realized that basically the only reason carriers need to track IMSI numbers before allowing devices to connect to cell towers for service is so they can perform billing checks and confirm that a given SIM card and device is paid for with their carrier. . By acting as the carrier itself, Invisv can implement its PGPP technology which simply generates a “yes” or “no” as to whether a device needs to be repaired.
With the PGPP “Mobile Pro” plan, which costs $90 per month, users get unlimited mobile data in the United States and, at launch, unlimited international data in most European Union countries. Users also receive 30 random IMSI number changes per month, and changes can occur automatically (essentially one per day) or on demand whenever the customer wishes. The system is designed to be blinded so that neither INVISV nor the cell towers you connect will know which IMSI yours is at any given time. There’s also a $40-per-month “Mobile Core” plan that offers eight IMSI number changes per month and 9GB of high-speed data per month.
Both of these plans also include PGPP’s Relay service. Similar to Apple’s iCloud Private Passthrough, PGPP Passthrough is a method of keeping everyone, from your ISP or carrier to the websites you visit, from knowing both who you are and what that you watch online at the same time. These relays send your browsing data through two-way stations that allow you to browse the web as usual while protecting your information from the world. When you browse a website, your IP address is visible to the first relay – in this case, Invisv – but the information about the page you’re trying to load is encrypted. Then the second relay generates and connects an alternate IP address at your request, at which point it is able to decrypt and display the website you are trying to load. The Fastly Content Delivery Network is working with Invisv to provide this second relay. Fastly is also one of the third-party providers for iCloud Private Relay.