Plane-Tracking Phone App Raises Security Worries


Even the early critics of ADS-B, who warned that broadcasting the position, type and altitude of individual aircraft might help terrorists target specific aircraft, probably didn’t envision pointing a cellphone at an aircraft in flight and getting all those details. But a British software company has released a $3 iPhone/iPad and Android application called Plane Finder AR that matches the real-time ADS-B signals of passing aircraft with a database built by ADS-B-equipped planespotters and displays the ID of the plane, altitude and destination. The “AR” stands for “Augmented Reality” and it’s the feature that has furrowed the brows of British lawmakers. Pointing the phone’s camera at the aircraft will superimpose the aircraft’s bearing and range on the screen.

Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Mercer, a former chairman of the government’s counter-terrorism committee, told the Daily Mail that the app and any like it should be banned. “Anything that makes it easier for our enemies to find targets is madness,” he said. “The Government must look at outlawing the marketing of such equipment.” The software developers, Pinkfroot, said the non-hobby applications were considered and they dumbed the system down a little. “It is only real-time to an extent – it is about 30 seconds behind. If someone really wants to do that [shoot down a jet] they could buy their own ADS-B or radar,” said Pinkfroot director Lee Armstrong.