We have a love-hate relationship when it comes to our smartphone GPS tracker system. While there may be something comforting about the ability to locate us in an emergency, there is also a type of concern that relates to the “Big Brother is Watching You” predictions in George Orwell’s “1984”. Due to these worries, smartphone manufacturers allow you to turn off your GPS tracking system; but it turns out that this is just a ploy, as there are methods to track and locate you even when the GPS tracker is turned off.
This concept is very concerning, especially when you consider that there are some people that can make use of these abilities with “stalking”. Researchers at Princeton University have made use of sensory and non-sensory data that is on a smartphone to locate individuals. This data includes the timezone, IP address, network status, the heading of the device and even the air pressure in the environment to estimate a particular device location. This is standard information that is stored on a smartphone and can be accessed without the requirement of the approval of the user.
This may sound like a lot of hoops to jump through to find someone, but in today’s high tech world, criminals as well as those that are stalkers will go to great lengths. As we continue to move forward in our “internet of everything”, our lives will be monitored, filmed and even checked in methods that are akin to the television series “Person of Interest”. Unless one is completely off the grid and outside of all tech access, there is a good possibility of finding them.
But there is one additional technology that you may have watched on shows such as NCIS: triangulating the location of a smartphone through the use of cell phone tower information. This is an actual process and in a Quartz report, Google admitted that they made use of cell tower data for Android phones, even when the GPS tracker was off. This process apparently works without a SIM card, so if you were thinking about that as an option, it won’t remove you from the triangulation process. While this may be useful in an emergency situation or to help Uber locate you when you forgot to turn your GPS tracker back on, it is very worrisome as an overall method to find you when you don’t want to be found, especially by those that may cause harm.
More details about this were included in an article by The Verge: “A Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge that all modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires mobile country codes and mobile network codes, so tower info called ‘Cell ID’ codes were considered an “additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.’ Google ultimately discarded the cell tower data and didn’t go through with the original plan.
A source familiar with the matter stated that Google added the cell tower data-collecting feature to improve its Firebase Cloud Messaging, where devices have to ping the server at regular intervals in order to receive messages promptly.”
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