A device tracking system consists of: client hardware or software logic installed on the device; (sometimes) cryptographic key material stored on the device; (sometimes) cryptographic key material maintained separately by the device owner; and a remote storage facility. The client sends location updates over the Internet to the remote storage. Once a device goes missing, the owner or authorized agent searches the remote storage for location updates pertaining to the device’s current whereabouts.
The paper goes on to describe specific goals for Adeona:
network update anonymity
privacy from the thief
efficiency on par with existing tools
I'll argue that most of this is post-hoc requirements from an early decision to rely on OpenDHT (which turns out to be a not so great idea). That said, it's not bad stuff to have; Joey Hess's recent discovery made headlines, and rightly so, when Palm Pre violated pretty much every principle the Adeona wrote about.
However, it's rarely a wise idea for products to rely on academic research projects. As a research project, it might have been acceptable for Adeona to depend on OpenDHT. But this decision should have been revisited when Adeona launched as a community product. And they've paid a price -- OpenDHT announced it would be closing down on July 1st 2009. I'm not clear on whether the OpenDHT infrastructure is too slow and unreliable, or if the software itself is unreliable, but Adeona's own website currently starts with a disclaimer of non-functionality.
So what I'm wondering out loud is, why not integrate Adeona and UbuntuOne? The purpose of using OpenDHT appears to be to find cheap storage for tracking data. Obviously some privacy would be sacrificed. Canonical would basically be able to track some things, like IPs connected to UbuntuOne. While there are already other reliable places for Canonical to snoop IP addresses (access logs from Ubuntu archives), UbuntuOne takes the extra step of authenticating users. I believe though, that the only thing they'd be able to associate is your username with a set of IPs. I guess it comes down to how many ultra-paranoid users object to the privacy concerns of UbuntuOne itself.
Ideally, I think Adeona would be generalized to allow a number of remote storage interfaces. If I understood the system correctly, data is encrypted before being stored. The privacy paranoid would be able to store location data on their own servers, or encrypted email, etc.
So is there something I'm missing? A competing product maybe? Or perhaps the viewpoint of law enforcement; the academic papers seem to neglect recovery rates and concerns from police. Or perhaps something technical. I'm hardly a crypto expert, and currently security researchers seem to be focusing on a proprietary application.