Privacy Alerts - Phone Tracking, GPS

Can someone track me with my phone?


Cell phone networks have been designed to identify locations of cellular users since the late 1990's. This was part of a federal mandate to help find citizens in emergency situations and has already saved many lives. At the same time, it introduces a potential tool for invasion of privacy.

More importantly, Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has flooded the market in recent years creating a much more realistic concern. These GPS Trackers (uLocate Trackem, Whereify Wireless) allow a third party to physically install software or a chip on your cell phone and then monitor your geographic location from any PC with complimentary software. More specifically, some programs will not only allow for mapping of location, but will create a real time map or a summary of your movement including stop duration, etc...

The GPS Tracker feature is becoming increasingly common in the market, as a safety feature for individuals wishing to know the whereabouts of their children, partner, or family members.

Again, as a safety feature or as a tool of convenience GPS technology is truly useful. However, it introduces a real tool for the invasion of privacy.

Because technology often develops faster than government legislation and laws that protect a population, many of these concerns realistically lie in a "gray" area with little judicial precedent.

Privacy and Employers:

In a recent American Management Association (AMA) study, employers have been slow to adopt emerging monitoring/surveillance technologies to help track employee productivity and movement. Employers who use Assisted Global Positioning or Global Positioning Systems satellite technology are in the minority, with only 5% using GPS to monitor cell phones; 8% using GPS to track company vehicles; and 8% using GPS to monitor employee ID/Smartcards.

Did you know?: If you have a company-issued telephone, it is possible there is GPS Tracker software pre-installed. They could be monitoring your locations during and after work. Your consent would be implicit in you working for them and accepting a company issued phone.

A future source of concern: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is an emerging tool in the market. The technology allows for a second device, an RFID reader, to read an RFID chip. This chip may contain different types of information.

For example, many manufacturers are currently using RFID technology to keep track of vast amounts of inventory. They use it to help ensure they are never under-stocked and packages are sent to customers.

A more concerning example: The U.S. government is currently researching RFID-embedded passports and driver's licenses. Information regarding your citizenship or your DMV information would presumably be included and readable. The largest current obstacle with use of RFID technology is ensuring security of information. That is, minimizing the likelihood of an ID thief being able to use a RFID reader to steal your personal information.

The good news: realistically, RFIDs aren't of real concern. Yet. Use on government issued identifications appears to be a few years away. Also, current RFID scanners only have a range of a few feet. The most powerful commercially available is about 300 feet (100 meters).

Know your rights

The law that enables cellular tracking for emergency situations is called: "E911" or Enhanced 911 Wireless Services. It was created by the FCC.

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Realistically, there is little you can do avoid the Enhanced 911 Wireless Service law. You always have the option of turning off or not carrying your cell phone with you.

You can minimize the threat of a third-party using your cellular phone to track you by:

  1. Monitoring any new or unknown software on your phone. If there's something new or unknown, research it. Although some spyware will not show up as a program on the phone, some still will.
  2. Monitoring any new or unknown hardware on your computer. If it's a physical GPS tracker, check under the battery cover or in the "nooks and crannies" of the phone.
  3. Check with your phone service provider if your account is set up with a tracker/monitor feature. Perhaps a spouse who has access to the account (or manages the finances) set it up, or a third party impersonated you to add the feature to the account.
  4. If you think someone is interested in tracking you, don't physically leave your phone for too long. These programs need arm's reach installation to get onto your phone.
  5. If you think a loved one or friend is interested in tracking you: try talking to them about whatever issues pertain to them possibly wishing to track you! Good communication = peace of mind.
  6. In regards to a work phone, leave the phone at home when you're not "on-call."
  7. Turn your phone off (This will not work for GPS hardware, only software!).

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