The thought of someone tracking your every move is scary, whether it’s your employer, government, or even a stalker.
All smartphones on the market today come with built-in location services that could be used to reveal location data. But what if you don’t want to share your location data with anyone? If you disable location services on your phone, is it still possible for it to be tracked?
Read on to find out whether your phone can be tracked after you disable location services.
Can Your Phone Be Tracked If Location Services Are Off?
Turning off location services on your phone is supposed to make it untraceable. But this is not always the case, as there are other ways that your device can still be tracked.
To be fair, turning off the built-in location service on your device does a good job of concealing your location. However, trackers can use other technologies and techniques to reveal your device location, whether or not location services are turned on.
Four Ways Your Phone Can Be Tracked Without GPS
Turning off location services on your device works well to keep your device location hidden, but only to an extent. There are other technologies and techniques that can be used to track your phone even with location services turned off. Let’s talk about some of them below.
1. Cell Carrier Towers
Yeah. They’re everywhere. Cell carriers can track your phone’s location by identifying the towers you’re connected to and measuring the time delay that a signal takes to make a round trip between the towers and your phone. This delay is then calculated and converted into a specific distance or range, which returns a fairly accurate phone location.
This works very well because your phone (when on) stays in constant connection with nearby cell towers.
2. Public Wi-Fi Networks
Free Wi-Fi networks are all the rage these days. They’re everywhere, and it can be tempting to connect to one when you have a slow connection. But here’s the thing: public Wi-Fi networks are another way your device’s location can be tracked, even with location services turned off.
Most free Wi-Fi providers collect your device’s media access control (MAC) address in exchange for the connection. Providers can use your phone’s MAC address to keep logs of the places you visit whenever you connect with any hotspot from the same provider.
StingRays (also known as cell-site simulators) function a lot like cell towers, except their only use is to track your phone instead of providing you with a real network connection.
A StingRay simulates a cell tower to get nearby mobile devices to connect to it. StingRays are mostly used by law enforcement to track devices in a given area. They broadcast stronger signals than cell towers, which forces mobile phones to disconnect from legitimate cell towers and connect and ping to them instead.
Just like with legitimate cell towers, your phone’s location can then be deduced by measuring and converting the time it takes for the signal to make a round trip between your phone and the StingRay.
4. Spyware and malware
Pre-installed malware can also be used to track your device even when your GPS is turned off. The most common way this malware gains access to your device is through a Trojan horse, accessing your system through a backdoor.
The Skygofree malware tracks the location of the device it’s installed on and disguises it as an update to improve the user’s internet speed.
Once installed, Skygofree tracks the location of the device it’s installed on, turns on audio recording, controls Wi-Fi networks as well as manages apps like Facebook Messenger, Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp.
How to Stop Your Phone From Being Tracked
There are many reasons why you may want to stop your phone from being tracked. It could be for privacy and sometimes even for security reasons.
Whatever is your reason, here are a few things that you can do if you want to stop your phone from being tracked.
1. Turn Off Wi-Fi In Public Places
Most smartphones generally have a connection preference for Wi-Fi networks. You may have experienced a time when your device automatically switched from using your mobile data to using an available Wi-Fi network. This happens rather often if your Wi-Fi is always on.
Disabling your phone’s Wi-Fi connection when in public places eliminates the risk of your device automatically connecting to a Wi-Fi network that collects location data.
2. Turn off GPS
There are ways your device could still be tracked even after turning off location services but not turning it off is worse. Turning off location services on your phone provides a layer of security against the most common location trackers.
3. Browse Using a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) enables you to browse the internet anonymously by creating a private network from a public internet connection. When you use a VPN while browsing, it encrypts your internet data, hiding your IP address and physical location. This way, you’re covered even if you visit a site that collects visitor location data.
4. Mind Your Download Sites
Only install apps from official stores. There are other ways malware could be distributed, but disabling the installation of apps from third-party sources and minding your download sites is the best way to keep them out.
You can also install an antivirus to better secure your device from malicious apps and files, suspicious websites, and dangerous links.
5. Scrutinize App Permissions
All apps require certain permissions to function properly. But you should be wary of dubious permission requests. When an app that doesn’t require your location data to function requests for location permission, that’s a sign that the app may be doing more than it’s supposed to.
Uninstall any app that requests more permissions than you think is reasonable. You can find replacements on the app store if you absolutely need to use the function.
How to Stop Your Cell Carrier From Tracking Your Phone’s Location
You’ve probably already noticed that none of the tips shared above can protect your phone from being tracked by your service provider. There’s an explanation for that.
It is because your phone needs to be in constant communication with nearby cell towers to function properly. The only way to stop your device from being tracked by your cell carrier is by switching it off— and removing the battery.
This is the only way you can be guaranteed that your device is not being tracked. Anyone trying to track your device after it’s been switched off will only be able to trace it to the location it was before it was switched off. Which, ideally, should not be your home address.
Image Credit: EFF/Wikimedia Commons
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