When you look like a chicken, not many people think you might be spying on them. I’ve been seeing some pretty strange behaviour from humans lately. Lots of running around, looking at little screens and crying “Got one!”
The game Pokémon Go uses some pretty sophisticated technology to direct people to a particular location using the GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment built into their phones. The game communicates with remote computers (servers) to determine what Pokémon are found at each location and can even use the phone’s camera to create augmented reality, giving the illusion that the imaginary creature is actually there, waiting to be captured.
GPS systems were first created for use by the military. As the technology improved it became available for commercial aviation and eventually consumer devices like car navigation systems and cell phones.
As personal GPS systems became more popular, a new kind of high-tech treasure hunt developed called geocaching. Players follow GPS coordinates and try to locate a small container "cache" containing messages, souvenirs to exchange or even coordinates to other geocaches.
Long before GPS was available, spies made use of a similar system known as a "dead drop". Often when a spy was working in secret it was dangerous for them to meet with other agents in case they should be caught and sent to jail (or worse). In order to send messages back and forth, spies would arrange a series of locations where they would hide messages and signals to let the other person know there was a message waiting for them. The signal could be something as simple as a chalk mark on a particular wall which would let their partner know to look for the message in the dead drop. Once they had retrieved the message, they would wipe off the chalk mark to let the spy who sent the message know that it had been retrieved.
Spies would often use multiple dead drops with different signals for each in case one dead drop became unusable. If you planned to hide a message behind a building and the building got torn down, you could lose the ability to communicate with each other. Using this method, spies have been able to communicate with each other for years, sometimes without ever knowing who the person sending the message was.
A Berlin artist named Baram Artholl created a modern version of the dead drop by encouraging people to embed small flash drives in public walls and share files of information with passing strangers.
So, the next time you see someone looking down at their phone they might be looking for Pikachu the Pokémon or maybe they are on their way to deliver their own secret message.
Until next time...keep your head down and don’t get spotted.
Did you miss recent transmissions? Read on to learn "How To Hide A Secret Message In Your Pants", or "How To Remember Your Passwords".