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The accuracy of network-based techniques varies, with cell identification as the least accurate due to differential signals transposing between towers, otherwise known as "bouncing signals" and triangulation as moderately accurate, and newer "advanced forward link trilateration " timing methods as the most accurate.

The accuracy of network-based techniques is both dependent on the concentration of cell base stations, with urban environments achieving the highest possible accuracy because of the higher number of cell towers , and the implementation of the most current timing methods. One of the key challenges of network-based techniques is the requirement to work closely with the service provider, as it entails the installation of hardware and software within the operator's infrastructure.

Frequently the compulsion associated with a legislative framework, such as Enhanced , is required before a service provider will deploy a solution. The location of a mobile phone can be determined using client software installed on the handset. In addition, if the handset is also equipped with GPS then significantly more precise location information can be then sent from the handset to the carrier. Another approach is to use a fingerprinting-based technique, [6] [7] [8] where the "signature" of the home and neighboring cells signal strengths at different points in the area of interest is recorded by war-driving and matched in real-time to determine the handset location.

This is usually performed independent from the carrier.

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The key disadvantage of handset-based techniques, from service provider's point of view, is the necessity of installing software on the handset. It requires the active cooperation of the mobile subscriber as well as software that must be able to handle the different operating systems of the handsets. Google Maps.

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One proposed work-around is the installation of embedded hardware or software on the handset by the manufacturers, e. This avenue has not made significant headway, due to the difficulty of convincing different manufacturers to cooperate on a common mechanism and to address the cost issue. Another difficulty would be to address the issue of foreign handsets that are roaming in the network. The type of information obtained via the SIM can differ from that which is available from the handset. For example, it may not be possible to obtain any raw measurements from the handset directly, yet still obtain measurements via the SIM.

Crowdsourced Wi-Fi data can also be used to identify a handset's location. Hybrid positioning systems use a combination of network-based and handset-based technologies for location determination. Both types of data are thus used by the telephone to make the location more accurate i. Alternatively tracking with both systems can also occur by having the phone attain its GPS-location directly from the satellites , and then having the information sent via the network to the person that is trying to locate the telephone.

3 Ways to Track Mobile Location

In order to route calls to a phone, the cell towers listen for a signal sent from the phone and negotiate which tower is best able to communicate with the phone. As the phone changes location, the antenna towers monitor the signal, and the phone is "roamed" to an adjacent tower as appropriate.

By comparing the relative signal strength from multiple antenna towers, a general location of a phone can be roughly determined. Other means make use of the antenna pattern, which supports angular determination and phase discrimination. Newer phones may also allow the tracking of the phone even when turned on and not active in a telephone call.

This results from the roaming procedures that perform hand-over of the phone from one base station to another. A phone's location can be shared with friends and family, posted to a public web site, recorded locally, or shared with other users of a smartphone app. The inclusion of GPS receivers on smartphones has made geographical apps nearly ubiquitous on these devices. Specific applications include:.

In January , the location of her iPhone as determined by her sister helped Boston police find kidnapping victim Olivia Ambrose. Locating or positioning touches upon delicate privacy issues, since it enables someone to check where a person is without the person's consent. The requests are being made in order to determine precisely how these records were requested, and how this information was utilized.

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By making these inquiries, the ACLU may expose potential misuses of requests made by law enforcement. As the current policies surrounding these requests are often vague or non-existent, the ACLU hopes to provide more clarity around how law enforcement makes requests for individual's data, which will lead to the general public will have more information about how and why law enforcement can request access to their personal information.

Location data obtained from cell phone providers is not the only issue that has garnered attention recently. The storage of location data has become an increasing concern since April In this month, stored historical data was discovered by security researchers on both iPhone and Android devices. This information was being stored locally and at no time was Apple or Google viewing it. Although no sensitive information left these devices, it raised a concern about information being collected without user consent.

Additionally, by storing the historical location data on the devices themselves, it could provide additional information in the event authorities ever had cause to search an individual's cell phone data. No longer would a request to the cell phone provider be required, as at least some of the historical information would be stored on the devices themselves.

While this information is still available on Android devices, the iPhone platform was updated to reduce the size of data stored on the device, delete these files completely when location services are turned off, and encrypt this data on the device, which assists in limiting unauthorized access. While legitimate requests to view current and historical location data of a user are primarily made by law enforcement, many cases exist where individuals or organizations are provided with this information, often without the user's knowledge.

A study performed by The Wall Street Journal The Wall Street Journal, of applications available for the iPhone and Android platforms showed an alarming number of approved applications that send location data to the application owner or third parties. Where this location information is being stored, or how this information is being utilized, is unknown, as there is no enforcement surrounding this functionality after a user provides consent. The issue of data abuse in mobile applications is further inflated when mobile malware, or malicious applications running on mobile devices, is considered.

Malware targeting mobile devices, specifically on the Android platform, has risen exponentially in the past year. While there have been instances of malware on the iPhone and Windows platforms, Android's open marketplace, coupled with the user's ability to choose third-party marketplaces, has fostered a large number of malicious applications.

The majority of these applications are often discovered on third-party sources; however, there have been instances of malicious applications being placed on the official market, and subsequently removed by Google. The most common way a mobile device becomes infected is when a user installs a malicious application.

How to Legally Track a Cell Phone

Malware will pose as a legitimate application in order to entice a user to download and install it. Installing applications from third-party markets, however, is not the only way to get infected. Simply navigating to the wrong website or plugging these devices into the wrong computer can also lead to a malicious application installation.

One current trend seen in the wild at this time is when a user is asked to install a legitimate application, a malicious update is pushed out immediately afterwards. Once installed, these applications will often send SMS messages to premium-rate numbers, record phone calls, collect contact information and, in some cases, record location data as well. This information is then sent to the attackers, where it can be sold or used for illegal purposes. Criminals can use location data on individuals in many ways.

On smartphones, this commonly requires special software such as a MAC address-changing app.

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Currently, this option is not available for the majority of smartphone models. Apps can ask the phone for this location information and use it to provide services that are based on location, such as maps that show you your position on the map. Some of these apps will then transmit your location over the network to a service provider, which, in turn, provides a way for other people to track you.

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The app developers might not have been motivated by the desire to track users, but they might still end up with the ability to do that, and they might end up revealing location information about their users to governments or hackers. Some smartphones will give you some kind of control over whether apps can find out your physical location; a good privacy practice is to try to restrict which apps can see this information, and at a minimum to make sure that your location is only shared with apps that you trust and that have a good reason to know where you are.

In each case, location tracking is not only about finding where someone is right now, like in an exciting movie chase scene where agents are pursuing someone through the streets. It can also be about answering questions about people's historical activities and also about their beliefs, participation in events, and personal relationships. For example, location tracking could be used to try to find out whether certain people are in a romantic relationship, to find out who attended a particular meeting or who was at a particular protest, or to try and identify a journalist's confidential source.

A tool called CO-TRAVELER uses this data to find relationships between different people's movements to figure out which people's devices seem to be traveling together, as well as whether one person appears to be following another. There's a widespread concern that phones can be used to monitor people even when not actively being used to make a call. As a result, people having a sensitive conversation are sometimes told to turn their phones off entirely, or even to remove the batteries from their phones.

The recommendation to remove the battery seems to be focused mainly on the existence of malware that makes the phone appear to turn off upon request finally showing only a blank screen , while really remaining powered on and able to monitor conversations or invisibly place or receive a call. Thus, users could be tricked into thinking they had successfully turned off their phones when they actually hadn't. Such malware does exist, at least for some devices, though we have little information about how well it works or how widely it has been used.

Turning phones off has its own potential disadvantage: if many people at one location all do it at the same time, it's a sign to the mobile carriers that they all thought something merited turning their phones off. An alternative that might give less information away is to leave everybody's phone in another room where the phones' microphones wouldn't be able to overhear the conversations.

Phones that are used temporarily and then discarded are often referred to as burner phones or burners. People who are trying to avoid government surveillance sometimes try to change phones and phone numbers frequently to make it more difficult to recognize their communications. They will need to use prepaid phones not associated with a personal credit card or bank account and ensure that the phones and SIM cards were not registered with their identity; in some countries these steps are straightforward, while in others there may be legal or practical obstacles to obtaining anonymous mobile phone service.

First, merely swapping SIM cards or moving a SIM card from one device to another offers minimal protection, because the mobile network observes both the SIM card and device together.

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This default feature is useful. By requesting this data from cell phone providers without a warrant, it removes the need for a judge to review the circumstances and determine if it is justified, which can lead to abuse from law enforcement. Take back your privacy. Some apps claim to detect their presence, but this detection is imperfect. Therefore we shall not be recommending the software listed below. This technique has been used by some governments to spy on people through their own phones, and has created anxiety about having sensitive conversations when mobile phones are present in the room. Both of these kinds of wireless signals include a unique serial number for the device, called a MAC address, which can be seen by anybody who can receive the signal.

In other words, the network operator knows the history of which SIM cards have been used in which devices, and can track either individually or both together. Second, governments have been developing mobile location analysis techniques where location tracking can be used to generate leads or hypotheses about whether multiple devices actually belong to the same person. There are many ways this can be done. For example, an analyst could check whether two devices tended to move together, or whether, even if they were in use at different times, they tended to be carried in the same physical locations.

A further problem for the successful anonymous use of telephone services is that people's calling patterns tend to be extremely distinctive. For example, you might habitually call your family members and your work colleagues. Even though each of these people receive calls from a wide range of people, you're likely the only person in the world who commonly calls both of them from the same number.

So even if you suddenly changed your number, if you then resumed the same patterns in the calls you made or received, it would be straightforward to determine which new number was yours. Remember that this inference isn't made based only on the fact that you called one particular number, but rather on the uniqueness of the combination of all the numbers that you called. Indeed, The Intercept reported that a secret U.

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The document describes the Hemisphere database a massive database of historical call records and how the people who run it have a feature that can link burner phones by following the similarity of their call patterns. The document refers to burner phones as "dropped phones" because their user will "drop" one and start using another one—but the database analytics algorithms can draw the connection between one phone and another when this happens, so long as both were used to make or receive calls to similar sets of phone numbers.

Together, these facts mean that effective use of burner phones to hide from government surveillance requires, at a minimum: not reusing either SIM cards or devices; not carrying different devices together; not creating a physical association between the places where different devices are used; and not calling or being called by the same people when using different devices. This isn't necessarily a complete list; for example, we haven't considered the risk of physical surveillance of the place where the phone was sold, or the places where it's used, or the possibility of software to recognize a particular person's voice as an automated method for determining who is speaking through a particular phone.

The Global Positioning System GPS lets devices anywhere in the world figure out their own locations quickly and accurately. GPS works based on analyzing signals from satellites that are operated by the U. In fact, the GPS satellites only transmit signals; the satellites don't receive or observe anything from your phone, and the satellites and GPS system operators do not know where any particular user or device is located, or even how many people are using the system.

This is possible because the individual GPS receivers like those inside smartphones calculate their own positions by determining how long it took the radio signals from different satellites to arrive. Usually, this tracking is done by apps running on a smartphone. They ask the phone's operating system for its location determined via GPS. Then the apps are able to transmit this information to someone else over the Internet.

There are also tiny GPS-receiving devices that can be surreptitiously hidden in someone's possessions or attached to a vehicle; those receivers determine their own location and then actively retransmit it over a network, usually the mobile phone network. Mobile phone networks were not originally designed to use technical means to protect subscribers' calls against eavesdropping. That meant that anybody with the right kind of radio receiver could listen in on the calls.

The situation is somewhat better today, but sometimes only slightly. Encryption technologies have been added to mobile communications standards to try to prevent eavesdropping.

But many of these technologies have been poorly designed sometimes deliberately, due to government pressure not to use strong encryption! They have been unevenly deployed, so they might be available on one carrier but not another, or in one country but not another, and have sometimes been implemented incorrectly.

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