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Chris HoffmanEditor-in-Chief

Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief that How-To Geek. He"s composed about an innovation for end a decade and also was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written because that The new York Times, to be interviewed together a technology expert top top TV stations prefer Miami"s NBC 6, and also had his job-related covered through news outlets prefer the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has actually written end 2,000 posts that have been read virtually one billion times---and that"s just here at How-To Geek. Read more...

You are watching: Can your location be tracked by your cell phone

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Jan 18, 2019, 6:40 to be EDT| 4 min read
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Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Shutterstock.com.It’s the year 2019, and everyone willingly dead a tracking an equipment in their pockets. People can have their an exact locations tracked in real time by the government, advertising companies, and even rogue bounty hunters. That sounds favor dystopian fiction—but it’s a reality.

We like debunking sensationalist stories, but this latest conflict is true. Your phone’s specific location have the right to be tracked in several different ways.


How Rogue Bounty Hunters can Track her Location

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flemingn/Shutterstock.com.

The latest controversy was touched turn off by Joseph Cox end at Motherboard, who offered a bounty hunter $300 and a phone number. That bounty hunter controlled to find the precise, current location the the cellular phone associated with that phone number, under to a couple of hundred meters.

Wait, sluggish down: How?

Well, supposedly AT&T, Sprint, and also T-Mobile all sell data—including geographic locations associated with client phone numbers—to a variety of sketchy third-party companies. This data can be provided by the bail bond sector to track human being down, for example. But there’s not much oversight, and also rogue bounty hunters have access to the data. “People space reselling come the wrong people,” a resource in the bail market told Motherboard.

Here’s the sad thing: This isn’t also a new problem! The new York time reported the this might happen earlier in might 2018. Cellular carrier promised to do better. For example, T-Mobile CEO man Legere promised to not “sell customer location data to shady middleman” in an answer to the new York time Story back in June 2018


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The an excellent news is the AT&T, Sprint, and also T-Mobile have all promised to protect against selling this data come aggregators in an answer to Motherboard’s January 2019 story. And it seems favor Verizon already stopped after ~ the earlier new York times story.

What You deserve to Do about It: expect carriers stop selling her data to shady intermediaries this time, as promised.

How the federal government Can Track her Location

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Michal Kalasek/Shutterstock.com.

It’s worth emphasizing that the government itself have the right to still get access to your ar data from your cellular company. They just need to get a warrant, and they have the right to serve that to your cellular business provider. The moving provider deserve to then administer your location to the government, even going so much as to administer real-time updates. (And yes, the us Supreme Court has ruled the police need a warrant to obtain this information!)

That all makes perfect sense. That course, if the technology exists, the government can get accessibility to it v a warrant. Yet it is rather a readjust from decades ago when the government had no way to track people’s real-time locations with a an equipment that’s nearly always in their pockets.

The federal government doesn’t even need to get your cellular firm involved. There are other tricks they can use to pinpoint your place with even much better accuracy, such as by deploying stingray devices near you. This impersonate nearby cellular towers, forcing your phone to attach to them. (More united state courts are judgment that police need a warrant because that this form of tracking, too.)

What You have the right to Do about It: Nothing uneven you desire to prevent carrying a phone.

How Advertisers can Track her Location

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It’s not just your cellular carrier. Also if her cellular transport perfectly safeguarded your data, it’d more than likely be very easy to track you many thanks to the location accessibility you’ve provided to apps mounted on her smartphone.


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Weather apps are an especially bad. You download a weather app and also give it access to her location—after all, it demands your ar to show you the weather. That’s all true and over board.

But, organize on: that weather app is additionally selling your data to the highest possible bidder. ~ all, you probably didn’t pay money for your weather app, so it has to make money somehow!

The city the Los Angeles is suing the Weather Channel, saying the its app intrusively mines and sells its users’ place data. AccuWeather was recorded sending that users’ place data to a third-party advertiser ago in 2017, too—even ~ updating the app to eliminate that feature, after the was an initial reported! This is a pattern for weather apps in particular. It’s possible people could use this data to find weather app users’ an accurate locations.

Dark Sky promises that won’t abuse your location data and also we like Dark Sky. But Dark Sky deserve to only bought to do that since it dues money for its weather app up-front.

Weather apps are simply one example, and all kinds of apps the request access to your ar probably offer it in some way. Rogue bounty hunters can probably start getting location data indigenous these kinds of apps fairly than from cellular carriers in the future.


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What You can Do around It: Avoid offering third-party apps accessibility to her location. Together Motherboard recommends, prevent using third-party weather apps and also use her phone’s integrated weather app. (Here’s exactly how to manage app permissions on her iPhone or Android phone.) plenty of weather apps additionally let you get in a Zip password or city name for the cities you desire to track, which is in ~ least far better than share your ar data.

How Your family Can Track your Location

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blackzheep/Shutterstock.com.

Your call is capable of identify its location and also sharing the in the background, also if the screen is off. You don’t require to have actually an app open.

You can see this you yourself if you usage a organization like Apple’s uncover My Friends, which is had on iPhones. Discover My Friends deserve to be used to re-superstructure your an accurate real-time places with family members members or friends. After you offer someone access, they have the right to open the app, and also Apple’s servers will ping her iPhone, acquire your location, and also show it come them. It’s a convenient means to check out whether your partner is ~ above the means home from work-related yet or discover your friends in a crowd.

Android phones have something similar in a Google app called reliable Contacts, and also of course, there are plenty of third-party apps that aid you share her real-time places with people.

Of course, this is only with your permission, yet it just shows how pervasive this modern technology is. ~ all, it’s the same technology you deserve to use come remotely track your lost iPhone or Android phone call in instance you lose it. However it’s available to any app that asks for accessibility to your location in the background.

See more: Brad Pitt Jennifer Aniston Married Again After Divorces, Access Denied

What You deserve to Do around It: it is in careful about who girlfriend share your real-time ar with.


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Chris HoffmanChris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He"s written about modern technology for over a decade and also was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has actually written for The brand-new York Times, to be interviewed together a modern technology expert top top TV stations prefer Miami"s NBC 6, and also had his occupational covered by news outlets like the BBC. Due to the fact that 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 posts that have been read almost one exchange rate times---and that"s just here at How-To Geek. Read complete Bio »