Is the Reliance on GPS Shrinking Our Brains?

“Neuroscientists can now see that brain behavior changes when people rely on turn-by-turn directions,” says science writer M.R. O’Connor, citing a study of personal GPS devices co-authored by Kent-based cognitive neuroscience researcher Amir-Homayoun Javadi:

What isn’t known is the effect of GPS use on hippocampal function when employed daily over long periods of time. Javadi said the conclusions he draws from recent studies is that “when people use tools such as GPS, they tend to engage less with navigation. Therefore, brain area responsible for navigation is less used, and consequently their brain areas involved in navigation tend to shrink.”

How people navigate naturally changes with age. Navigation aptitude appears to peak around age 19, and after that, most people slowly stop using spatial memory strategies to find their way, relying on habit instead. But neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot has found that using spatial-memory strategies for navigation correlates with increased gray matter in the hippocampus at any age. She thinks that interventions focused on improving spatial memory by exercising the hippocampus — paying attention to the spatial relationships of places in our environment — might help offset age-related cognitive impairments or even neurodegenerative diseases. “If we are paying attention to our environment, we are stimulating our hippocampus, and a bigger hippocampus seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease,” Bohbot told me in an email.

Hacker Can Monitor Cars And Kill Their Engines After Breaking Into GPS Tracking Apps

A hacker broke into thousands of accounts belonging to users of two GPS tracker apps, giving him the ability to monitor the locations of tens of thousands of vehicles and even turn off the engines for some of them while they were in motion. The hacker, who goes by the name L&M, told Motherboard he hacked into more than 7,000 iTrack accounts and more than 20,000 ProTrack accounts, two apps that companies use monitor and manage fleets of vehicles through GPS tracking devices. The hacker was able to track vehicles in a handful of countries around the world, including South Africa, Morocco, India, and the Philippines. On some cars, the software has the capability of remotely turning off the engines of vehicles that are stopped or are traveling 12 miles per hour or slower, according to the manufacturer of certain GPS tracking devices.

By reverse engineering ProTrack and iTrack’s Android apps, L&M said he realized that all customers are given a default password of 123456 when they sign up. At that point, the hacker said he brute-forced ‘millions of usernames’ via the apps’ API. Then, he said he wrote a script to attempt to login using those usernames and the default password. This allowed him to automatically break into thousands of accounts that were using the default password and extract data from them.

Chinese companies using GPS tracking device smartwatches to monitor, alert street cleaners

Street cleaners in parts of China are reportedly being forced to wear GPS-tracking smartwatches so employers can monitor how hard they work, sparking public outrage and concern over increasing mass surveillance across the country.

If the smartwatch detects a worker standing still for over 20 minutes, it sounds an alarm. “Add oil, add oil [work harder, work harder!],” the wristbands’ alarm says, several cleaners from the eastern city of Nanjing told Jiangsu Television earlier this month.

The smartwatch not only tracks the cleaners’ locations but also reports their activity back to the company’s control room, where a big screen displays their locations as a cluster of red dots on a map.

“It knows everything,” an anonymous cleaner told a reporter in the Jiangsu Television report. “Supervisors will come if we don’t move after hearing the alarm.”

Following backlash, the company said it removed the alarm function from the smartwatch, but reports maintain the employees are still being required to wear the device so their location can be tracked.

The Chinese Government is already in the process of building a Social Credit System aimed at monitoring the behaviour of its 1.4 billion citizens with the help an extensive network of CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology.

Senior researcher for Human Rights Watch China Maya Wang said the use of surveillance technology by the Government was sending private companies a message that it was “okay to [monitor] people”.