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#53 In The Desert


Strangers keep coming to Mike and Christina’s house looking for their stolen cell phones. Nobody knows why. We travel to Atlanta to find out what’s going on, in our thorniest Super Tech Support yet.

Be sure to check out Kashmir Hill's story on Fusion

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode is brought to you by better for him a new podcast from eighty people. In each episode Francesca Ramsay talks to visionaries in business leaders about mistakes. They ve made how they work their way through them and came out better for it. Listen on Spotify. Wherever you get your pot casts This week's episode is ready by male champ. The easiest it is an email newsletter, speaking newsletters you should sign for thereby on these latter. Mervyn are in turn, is the new boss of it. I think he's going pretty great job. I agree great endorsement. Thank you sign ever male job and send your own newsletter. Now male Jim Sand, better email. from gimlet is required. I'm here vote and this week super tax authorities,
it? Is your verse? I'm hearing super export. Here's outworks someone on the Euro as a problem and a matter how big or small it is we fix it while outfit concept because he's gonna commuters. This week we pursue the thorniest computer, but we ve ever tackled. We learned about it my friend Kashmir. My name is Kashmir. Hell. I am the editor of Fusion's real future she's, a veteran tech reporter Alex Archer in the studio our southern occasionally meet. My microphone to cough, like a madman, could ever worse called the world now under. The second Kashmir, told us the story about this couple in Georgia, he's engineer she's a journalist, but they do so. Ignore mall. You know twentysomethings, who have this weird tat mystery in their lives. Here's how it started. They just moving this house in Atlanta settling in and then a group of strangers knock on the door.
Family came to the house and they were looking for a law smartphone than I thought it was just here there are like. Oh, you know your your phone. I hear and families have all our find my phone apps as it is here, the blue dot dot tells you IRAN is. It was right on the couples house, but the phone wasn't there. It was just some kind of Fluke but then the next month it happened again. A group of friends came again Saying there find my phone up said that their phone was in this house and kept happening, and so now this has been going on for a year. People keep coming, knocking on their door, asking where their phones are? Kashmir interviewed the couple he wrote a story about it and she if for someone on the internet, to read that story and just announced the definitive solution to the problem and a bunch of people tried, but nobody seemed to be able to figure it out
Last week we decided to do what we always do in situations like this unleash Alex on the problem. We decide we send Alex down, he found out what was going on and fix it, except out is called actually out worse. He got extremely sack and two. Instead, we had to send the junior varsity team me one two, three, four, five, six, seven so the couple they live on, this quiet, Tele, Street apartheid, say business here thinks is MIKE and Christina everyone here. Christine as a music journalist MIKE used to be one, that's how they met their houses very tidy. Its in places where it just like smells clean, and he felt he should take her shoes off inside were sitting in the kitchen table and we're just maybe like five feet away from the big window that works out onto the streets in what were you thinking with the first I'm having
Were the questions your asking yourself when that first family wishes on your front porch, what's going on, I think my first reaction was just. I wonder if someone in neighborhoods doing some shady stealing from or whatever, and has just accidentally pointing to hear you. I definitely didn't have any idea. That would turn into a thing this thing has really taken over their lives. Dozens of people strangers have showed up at their door in last year. Often late at night like this most recent I'm gonna happen. Make was asleep on the couch, so I had fallen asleep on the couch watching STAR Trek Voyager as Christina will tell you. I fall asleep to STAR Trek. The Red from Tee Angie to do space nine and avoid her anyway. So I ve we want a couch, woke up immediately and dingaan daunting dung and ding counting on the door. I go to open the door, we like to three dude standing up on the little stoop and then another dude behind them who had like his hands in his jacket, like which I was like Michael,
the guy might have a gun, its refrain and kept hearing in Atlanta. Everybody has a gun here and there not being paranoid enjoy. More people die from gunshots thing, car crashes and a open the door. You know just immediately. They started yelling at my face. Where is where is he? Where is he? Where is he a friends Where is he? Where is he they Worley, For a person yeah yeah there, disappeared and they were using find my phone to try to track down. Christine as in the bedroom, but she hears this conversation and she comes running out. Microsoft ended I turn on the porch light. I saw how young they were in the first thought that crossed my mind was like okay, so they're trying to find a missing person, the rigging the fuck out. So I guess I had a very quickly just gonna put myself in their shoes like: If there are coming here looking for somebody, who's missing, and maybe they ve been trying to search for this person for awhile. Maybe they felt like they had a lead. How? How would I feel she kept com? Should too the posted note in Japan, and she asked them a bunch of questions and hopes that somehow these guys may actually provide a clue? Okay, this is it.
What's your name, what your phone number, if you remember what using what kind of phone you were looking for, and this strange line of questions actually diffuse decision. Because these dudes found it so weird that the alleged kidnapped was asking them about their cellphone provider that they just calm down the situation, explained and they went home, but it felt like a close call and MIKE is very worried about what will happen next time. You know: there's always that fear that likes an unreasonable person is gonna show up. Everybody owns again. Somebody with a gun might show up lake. It stresses me out just to think about it. Have they ll in their house to try and find a like trove of cellphones that be crazy and yes, I sweat the house talked about I'm looking for at receiver and antenna us a box full of you know: stolen cellphones, hidden somewhere. Anything anything he showed me worries lacked through here. I threw Christine Office our bedroom and then there's the basement downstairs, which got your house is a modern, recently renovated house, nothing about it.
That there is some secret room behind a bookcase, but makers liked anyway, he's pride off air conditioner events trying to find some secret stash phones. He hasn't found anything. It seems clear that whatever is sending people to their house is not like an actual cache of phones bearing Baseman, so MIKE is gone on the internet and he's gone all these message. Boards and he's pose this question to experts and cobbled together this other theory that he's now kind of obsessed with So you're someone has a bunch of different methods to find out where you are on a map. But one of them is just as simple as pinging nearby cell phone towers and then triangulating a position based on how far away the towers are on this map. If you consider to be like MIKE from a map of his neighborhood- and he showed me some of those pretty weird their home- like surrounded by and how their extremely close by there's one here, that's where the t Mobile Tower is like White Lake,
relax away from you, the great there there's a sprint cellphone town in this area and then there's another one. Half a mile to the South West by the police station here of literally does dry out a triangle. Mia our own little Bermuda triangle, make things it's possible that somehow The fact that this house is in the middle of these three cellphone towers, that is growing up everybody's maps. That is what is sending everybody to his house too. Of course, he's called the three different companies who only sell They try to see if you can get them to come out and fix it like T Mobile, he reached out to them. So when I got in touch with them, they said although these towers are all run by contractors. So we don't handle questions about this. You need to reach out to the contractor running this self.
And our and that you- and I was some generic email address- that aim on three times and nobody got back to me even if MIKE's right about this Bermuda triangle theory, he still screwed, because none of these found come here to talk to him and act. Nobody wants larger about, I tried to get in touch with eighty anti who makes our wireless router. They said you know, gotta talk to the F c c about that reached out to the FCC. They said, no, you need to get in touch with carriers and the device manufacturers everywhere. We ve got government entity, corporate you no business. Local law enforcement everywhere we've gone. It's just been a lot of shrugs, a lot of that's, not our problem. You got to go to somebody else. Nobody wants to take ownership for this problem. Maybe this is just like a simplistic solution, but if they thought about just moving, that's exactly what I said to them that if you were me I would just move, but they can't they live in this house because they can afford to they. Ve been price out of were after neighbourhood and they landed here. They can afford it.
The neighbourhood is basically just them and then like a lot of older folks whose kids moved out and never came back plus if they did try to move the need likely have to disclose this insane. Our houses hunted by technology story potential buyer I mean I wouldn't by the house. I would either so there definitely stuck here. Leaving is not an option. So we talk for, while areas where those conversations where I kept suggesting things like to try. This did you try this and they tried other things and I felt useless to finally at three p m with no solution and say we decide take a break. I want to go yes, I said Peter, I thought about the house which balanced I'm talking about this problem. There was literally visible like something was beaming from somewhere and landing in the wrong place. Is you so intangible? So I drove back to their house and I part the car
I started wonder about the black itself was missing. Something was answer somewhere in these houses, so I got out of the car and I started walking around and here's what I thought. Two slash three of the block was just houses like MIKE and Christine is nice, one or two story: family homes, small well kept yards, but in every. Maybe fourth house wishes utterly destroyed and abandoned lake missing roof, missing, steer walls, copper stripped out, and then you text, sea, like a nice house, was really cute lawn ornaments next house for closure papers now to the wall barely two neighborhoods return to happen at the same time. So, for example, the house three doors down from making Christine US citizens the house like traders There are stone steps up from the curb and I walked up. The and immediately I was like me hi in this big overgrown yard for animals, and then I get to the front door interracial spend kicked in
the windows or boarded up there's like some shoes bag that is filled with what I think is just theses and then there's a middling went into the house. Whoever had been there had moved like it didn't seem like summits, let there last night but yeah if there is not really a great reason for was weird because, as in the house, a super crept out and asylum, the front room I was in, and then there was this middle room where a lot of a florist it looks really unsafe. They want to go in there. There's a lot of holes in the floor. Has the mill room there's this shut door God? This is like a horror story, wanted to like I want- is he was behind the door and I didn't want open the door because I should like here horse or music in my head, but the other thing was his Patria room that we just be like teeming with like gleaming, new cell phones, and I bet
There is obviously the answer right. You just went into the room in his answer. I am not going through honesty, scared. For. I know it is for this event, but that still not the answer to this problem now, but hey on, because these are valuator after the break as it will have to listen, It's a this absurd of reply always brought you buy, audible, dotcom, audible dogma. Right over a hundred eighty thousand audio programmes from the leading audio, both publishers, audible, offering our users of free thirty day trial membership. Now one book you can check out is US conductors by Sean Michaels. I was fourteen years old, one of my teachers at the gymnasium introduced the class to Geisler glass, cylinders back tubes and ready yet, but he writes
the only music by actually like to read, which is called said, the gramophone. It's really good. I feel good music, I is just good writing again- are really listen to a wide diversity, music, but I'll read him writing about music irony. And the reason I one here the book is cause it's fiction. If you music right, interesting. I bet he's even better when he gets to just make up a story, so you want you got that book ice conductors or any other book go to audible, dot com such replied start your. Retrial today, transport for a pile and get a free thirty, eight trial, audible, dot com, Slash reply: this episode of reply, all is pretty by Casper Casper makes actively engineer mattresses. A fraction of the price Casper combines two technology, latex foam and memory phone to make it so you can have a good night's sleep, Peter we're talking about sleeping and dreaming, I love hearing people's dreams and it turns out Peter is not such a fan. There's like art movies, like there's no story now, those are found a watch general. Moonshine under new. I hate it because it
they got dream of yours, dream. You ever had a dream probably once a week about either fighting zombies, or I can't escape someone I'm running and I'm not moving support here. I think, should happen. Since you are hearing about other people's dream, so much people should he mail you their dreams. You should read all their dreams and you can come back and say with most interesting dream. Somebody you dont know had you treat every single one of them only got nothing. Would make me happier send your dreams to reply all dreams at gimblet media dot com? I am so into this idea and if you sleep and dream: better. Try Casper, you can try sleep gonna, Casper four hundred days with free delivery and painless returns, get fifty two Toward any mattress purchase by visiting casper dot com, slash reply and using the premises, reply a check out terms and conditions apply. So after enduring spoiling the neighbourhood. I go back and I mean making procedure
Africa exploring the neighbourhood. I go back and I mean making Christina for dinner at six p m rather kitchen. Creating take out case ideas from Havana and then there's a knock at the door. David David, minor moved. So David. Is this guy he's a cyber security experts and just that we he'd tweeted, Christina and heated seriously? I might really be able to solve your problem. I own the right cure and Alex. I was a David looks exactly like you like you, like you, just more monsieur and with better posture, certainly with good posture, so I'm a short formless Goldman and he's a tall muscular. This guy is your best qualities, and now he has one so he's like on all sorts of. Basically we describing. Is an Arnold Schwarzenegger, a tall, muscular guy, who has all of my call.
And I am the Danny to veto in this equation. Yet guide. This is horrible. Yeah it is anyway? He immediately to sweep through the den into the kitchen and as he's walking and using that he's pretty sure result whole thing in the time it took no walked from the car to the house. So he starts point on all these gadgets. You know you have your backpack with your computer in it. He said to me Oh my god, it really is like me so way. What is this place translucent fox around this circle report looking thing Is this offered fine radio? And what's this, this is a spectrum analyzer, so we now all huddled around the kitchen table the case it has been clear to the couch and David has seven different devices lay down plus his laptop and right off the bat. He has a couple theories superpowers up, one of these devices, this little gray box with a lion. They start scanning Christina MIKE and me we're transfixed, but also a little bit confused and so to explain
even opened his laptop any showed us this graph. It looks like one hurry monitors the hospital like it's a line. Scribbling has a few very big spikes on it. You see how speaking seventh earlier yeah! It's like a lion graph, yeah, that's gonna, be Verizon, something varieties and really close this peak over there, that's a local, rising self and how this peak over here- that's local eighteen, t, sovereign power David trying to make sure that there's nothing broadcasting your by that shouldn't, be I somehow he knows which by actually belongs to who and he asked me if I have an Iphone and then I need a dial. This phone number stars zero, zero one? Three, one pound, and now it says one pound, one, two, three four five one, two three four or five star pound star, whoa it didn't go to. If I went to feel tat, yeah, there's a secret menu. What he s come on. Yes,
there is some James Bond shit and I was like: are there other secret menus news like this tendency, Romania's as like will likewise iq and understanding I will tell you, nation about the tower that you're. So this many the David having bring up on my phone, it showed him. Information about the local eighty Anti cellphone tower that my phone connected to and he could look at that information could sailing in this. Per eighty anti is mostly broadcasting this frequency and all along heart. He knew where each cell phone company was supposed to be eighteen cheese at three hundred hers checks out Verizon's at six hundred hurts checks out. There's a radio station. Ok, that's supposed to be there! You want to make sure that everything made sense that there weren't any rogue signals that none showing up that's not supposed to be there and may God is anything showing up It must be there yes
there's something weird here at nine. Seventy, nine and I've never seen that before this is right here. So there's this spike and it's a big spike air frequency worth nothing is allowed. We wait like how big are we talking bigger than the other ones like the size of a cell phone, our my god, this is getting so it's gonna get even better. So David says that this road signal, despite this, can actually be the FBI. Daphne I has a device cotta stingray that basically impersonate. Cell phone towers. They used to spy on people's phones, but because GPS uses cellphone hours to locate people the singer have the side effects of basically confused in everybody's blue dots? If you had the FBI outside faking, it you're, What's up Ngos? Oh hey, I'm! Actually! Here you look at you, but I know we're close in why warmer when he was to the tower, so you will give me bogus information,
So that was like one possibility. You drive up in there just gang of an outsider, peaceable of remember something so despite looks really suspicious, but data, is it just to be sure he wants a double check using a different scanner, so checks, new year's others does really weird going on in the things got has evolved positive. It is obviously no value in front. Now what he has another theory? Don't worry so now, shows us another sort of map on his computer out you when you're. Can a wifi network on your laptop You get a list of all the other wifi networks around you yeah, so data can access the full list. If you imagine a mile radius around your apartment every single wifi network. That broadcasting is like a staggering amount. David can see that, and so he brings. This website called wiggle done that and he showed us like, for instance, where he lives. Just is typical Atlanta neighbourhood
it? Is nuts cities arrive, I'd, never sound hell. This is where I live ages. It looks take a million senses scrawled and have each other, like you can't just at all. Mass I'd never it's like, I knew it, intellectually bay, never thought about the fact that make everything that's wireless, a tiny little zigzag waves and we can see in the air and they're all around us and all through us made me feel insane honestly like well, I was sitting in a room where all this invisible stuff was be made visible and I realized tat. I had no idea how secure any of it was stipulated in the matrix. Now Here's was really crazy, so David is only one two three funds up having once you right away, one basic so he shows up he's going. When many do you have I'm not you, but he is you, but he superior zone and he's the socks. He had three funds on embryos, more funds, it sucks that it sucks it? This guy exists. I think how did you even learn? All this stuff, like what is a major and he's like our I tell myself- I was interested in it- keep going.
Ok, so he pulls up this absence of ice and let him like, enhance and show just a wifi devices on a very tight radius around the house like just about their block. He can see potentially anything- that is broadcasting wirelessly, so like the neighbors wireless routers, but also stuff in making procedures house like my apple watched, could show up or if they like a nest like a smart thermostat or an internet tv that would show up any delay, in range that is sending out beams of internet can show up. It is like one two, three, four, five, six, seven nine ten eleven twelve access wayside visible in the neighborhood right, We are using a there's only like ten people who have internet in this neighborhood. What not- have wireless internet Dave Movement I have wire listen, but it's really, I mean,
I've, never seen a place in the city. Would this like few wireless access point six, especially like a places heavily populated why I mean it. I was driving around here. I saw couple at border palaces, but nothing it would be like this. Is the Wifi desert land cool throw out a theory. Yes you can there are a few wireless access point in that neighbourhood, that it is inverted Lee that when people that How do I ve described this I will tell you that you are warm as hell. They are actually like to problems that are interlocking with each other. Here and before even get to the part you're talking out, we have to explain problem number one which David also figured out so computers, as you know, have ip addresses and you can look up Sundays IP address, and I say this
address originates in New Jersey or New York or small town whatever, and so small company keeps track of ip addresses and the town to they describe and that small companies feeds their data to a medium sized company and the Navy that beer company- it's like others, low for a national yellow pages. Anyway, one of these local databases in Atlanta made a mistake. They had a big. Of cell phones, computers and other devices they connect to the internet and the he wrote down the wrong like real world address for these devices, your laptop, my cell phone thou wireless router, the company said that they were all at the same arbitrary point on a map and arbitrary point that just happen to be on the street from Christina and makes House David drove out to see the arbitrary point and he said it just a random intersection. There's like what
as I thought it would be like a data centre or like a little building. Where, like all the network connections, I will terminate two or something just for houses for lack of a better location. These companies have just said the spot here Southwest Atlanta. So that's problem. One ok problem too, that's where the like wifi desert thing comes in, because locating somebody on a map by their ip address is actually pretty and precise. It doesn't get you like. The blue dot on the house, it gives you the gene, or area that the blue dot should go in and When the find my phone app or whatever boots up it wants to tell you lake exactly where that blue dot belongs. And so it s like broadly like. I know that you're in this neighborhood, but where exactly are you in this neighborhood? Let us look at all:
all the Wi Fi networks in the neighborhood and we'll use them to sort of like triangulate, so tries to do that, and it assumes that there are tons of devices broadcasting but have absolute racy bad luck, a being like the on loan spot of activity in this internet desert. So this gps over cracks and send- but he too this one shining spot of activity. My interests in this house, so everybody and are getting sent to their house, did so crazy, yeah alleys. That David How sure you I would make a Vegas bet on it? Was the vaguest bet I bet money various on? If you get to see another, carry bet on very specific Ezida, so why now well, we
I don't want you to he doesn't know how to fix it. No, I mean it's not that he doesn't know. How is that it's such a hopelessly complicated bureaucratic mess that you can actually fixes without getting politicians mouthed like multiple politicians at many levels,. And then teaching those politicians the finer points of ip address, our canna but weirdly, making Christina their extremely jazz to get this news. They are so grateful to David. How do you view I mean that I feel great, because this is like the firs really solid direction which we can head because, like little actual evidence to back up our guest worker once they meet the story publicly, then bombarded with potential. You know theories like what could be causing this. Like literally before he was coming over, like our plan was just kind sit down and listen reading that everybody in the internet has said about what could potentially be causing as unjust keynote drawing
game plan, for I don't know the next six months or something was no This is much better and we appreciate and you so much for coming over there because at least now their problem has a name. They know they have to do next right, but you're because like when I was down there. I have a feeling really frustrating is like what have we done in dislike modern world where we built acknowledge that so complicated like we don't. And it is ruining these people's lives. You not, I mean, kind of like a grumpy old men yeah. I follow you, grumpy old man. But I was thinking I rise. Like is literally always been like this, like the moon. We cover technology. We start using. We don't wait to figure out how it works or how can go wrong. The burden covered fire was like this is awesome. It provides heat and light and then only like a wii later did someone accidently burn themselves, horribly, be like wives and Ngos like I don't know anymore done, other bugs you like it. It's always like that. We move too fast. We figure it out later, but what is cool is that
in that period of time were using staff that we don't understand that, while the people who somehow get it like the people like David, they feel magical when he came in and he saw whenever was going on in that house, it felt as much like an exorcism as it did like someone doing really complicated technical work, yet I have to say that when he appears in the story. I got really excited yet. I think you would understand better than I did also. I just love this crap so the other week I have a weird wifi sword at my house. What your wife, haphazard, we'll cut it out, it's big, perverted ill. Why? it's part of the lyrics of a song? Ok, and you're gonna get arrested, and so we had a baby, you're coming over a couple days ago and areas like this babysitters in high school. You need to change your wifi password so like I was like I love resetting routers, I'm having a very fine time doing this. Do you really very
labour? Restarting the router I really was like. I want to go and look see what kind of old stuff at do. I have lingering around in my settings on this rather cause. I'm gonna for ten years sounds like excited too. Take a look at it. I can't I have a feeling at all And like I just would have loved to see his utility about not that I would ever approach that level of technical know how but you're more equipped to appreciate it yeah. It's like her I'm sure there are a lot of people in art school who can't paint like Rembrandt, but really like looking at Rembrandt's. I want a funny. They think that's totally right. Ok about this. Next time there is an opportunity to go see like this system apple of wireless router. Miss configuration problems. I promise you, you do the story, not me. Thank you. So much, I promise I'll, never get sick again. If I can go, do that ok up up up up up up up up, I would like
but I got a virus me fugitive out an outcome- we reduce this week by ten Howard treaty, parliament, any if we abandon our editors, Peter cloning, Gregson assistance from Mervyn D gone. Yes, we're makes even Herman. Not labour is the person who can fix the things that are broken and complicated special thanks to Dana Riley huge enormous continental size thanks to Kashmir, Hill for first finding this story, if you like red, reporting about it, which is excellent, using find it at first dot net whilst also have a link in the show description for this episode, our theme song
Monsieur is bright, master cylinder, add music if they build buildings used by more episodes at our website, provides that ninja or on Itunes at Itunes, dot com such reply on next week, all of gimlet is going dark. The radio factory is closing as we work together on weird secret projects. People from different teams are gonna, be doing different roles. It's gonna be very strange, but for you important part is that we will not have an episode. Or at least we're not supposed to who knows- and I regret the rules here thanks to respond. Casper and online retailer of premium mattresses for a fraction of the price Casper as a risk free trial in return policy.
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-13.