This house in Atlanta is attracting angry mobile phone users who think their lost phones are here. (credit: Fusion)
It’s a network data mystery that needs to be solved, and fast. For the past year, Atlanta couple Christina Lee and Michael Saba have fielded visits from angry strangers—and sometimes police officers—who insist that lost phones are in the couple’s house. Sometimes the situation escalates into more than accusations. One time police forced Lee and Saba to stand for an hour outside their home, while they looked for a lost teenage girl whose phone they had tracked to the house.
Over at Fusion, Kashmir Hill reports on this unusual problem that currently has no solution. The lost phones are associated with a variety of carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Boost Mobile. And there are no agencies, including the FCC, who are responsible for dealing with this kind of issue. So Lee and Saba are stuck receiving pissed off visitors at all hours of the day and night. They’ve registered their Wi-Fi router’s MAC address with Skyhook, a company that provides geolocation data for apps, but that hasn’t helped. Filing a complaint with local police hasn’t fixed the situation either.
Without more information on the phones and the location apps they used, it’s hard to say for sure what might be causing this. Security analyst Ken Weston told Fusion that it sounded like a problem with cell tower triangulation. That’s what caused a similar problem for a Las Vegas man last year, whose home was mistakenly identified by Sprint as the location for several lost phones. In the report, iPhone forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski suggested it might be a flaw in Wi-Fi map data. It’s possible that most carriers are licensing the same Wi-Fi maps for geolocation, “and could have had bad data in the database, either someone using the same MAC address at a different location or just bad GPS data.”
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