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This guide covers the topic of privacy and phone tracking that includes how cell phones are tracked, what devices are used, how you can improve security and privacy, ways to be anonymous, why it happens and if there are any benefits.
Modern technology has opened up a wealth of opportunity, as well as becoming the key to everyday convenience. Many people have embraced the changes that technology has brought about by using smartphones with a variety of features.
In times past, the humble mobile phone was used for, well, phoning! However, today the smartphones are, well, smart! What are they used for?
Today’s phones contain a plethora of functions. You can send and receive emails, set up your calendar, use internet banking, engage in social media, play games and download hundreds of apps aimed at making your life easier and organizing even the most unorganized of souls.
Along with the wonder of technological advancement comes a sinister reality to this phenomenon. Your phone is able to track your every move and listen to conversations you have with others.
The question is, are certain phones, such as flip phones, better for privacy than others? Flip phones are convenient and remove accidentally calling someone when the phone is in the pocket etc.
Unfortunately, they offer no extra protection from tracking. Let’s look in more detail about what tracking is and how it is done.
It may surprise you to know that tracking started way back in the 1960s. Echelon was a secret project created by the government.
It was originally formed to track military communication during the Cold War but continued as a global system of monitoring and intercepting any digital communication. It means that for all digital users, 100% of communication is captured and stored.
Along with tracking, local government agencies also used Stingray, which consisted of a cell phone tower in the local area that can force digital phone users to connect to it. Once connected, the technology was able to listen in to conversations and access text messages and browser details.
All calls, whether using landlines, flip, or cell phones and VoIP are tracked by the government so to answer whether flip phones are the solution, the answer is a resounding no!
The only way to provide privacy and security in the world of digital devices is for there to be a formal change in legislation. It’s useful to research the Echelon project and also the patriot act to verify these things exist, which you will! In times past there was some talk of conspiracies and false information, so fact checking is always beneficial.
When on a phone call, it’s guaranteed that somewhere your conversation will be getting recorded and the information will be stored (forever, probably). The audio is used for analysis by detecting specific keywords or sentences.
The government uses the information to keep track of social media activity, so there is no privacy at all.
The lack of privacy is one concern, however that’s not the only thing to be worried about. The speaker/microphone on your cell can be activated remotely when not in use. The cell phone provider and, or the government can access and listen to your device even when you are not conversing on a call.
With the above in mind, there are cell phones available now that address the issue of privacy and have integrated options for extra security. However, it matters little if you install these features because if higher authorities wish to target you, they have ways to bypass any security system.
The ability to locate someone has its benefits. In the case of a missing person, if they have a phone with a location tracker, it can help loved ones find them and ensure their safety. In addition, it can help you find places geographically and navigate areas you are unfamiliar with.
However, as with the other features of the GPS, constantly running your location makes you easy to track. You may think disabling it is the answer, but no, it can be remotely accessed and accurately report where you are. Scary stuff!
Cell tower triangulation is a modern term and is a way of tracking devices through the use of a tower. Multiple towers can track the device by measuring the delay in time from the phone’s signal. Even older phones without all the modern features are able to be tracked using cell towers.
With all the above in mind, is there actually anything you can do to ensure you have at least some privacy?
If you remember, taking out the battery of the microphone will prevent your phone from getting bugged and allow you to have private conversations without the stress of worrying who’s listening.
Another option for privacy is to put the phone into DFU mode. Confused? DFU stands for ‘device firmware update’ it’s similar to recovery mode and should be void of drivers except storage and an input for USB.
By doing this, the 3 & 4g should be deactivated along with GPS. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that as time goes on and more people choose this as an option to restore privacy, it’s likely that those authorities will change it so even in DFU the location can be accessed.
For those who use android phones, the android IMSI catcher detector notifies you if the signal of your phone is interfered with. How does it work?
AIMSICD stands for android-imsi-catcher-detector. It is a project by Android to help identify stations that are fake or mobile antennas with little encryption. It will alert you if the ciphering on your phone isn’t working.
Furthermore, it also offers several options to protect you if you’ve been tracked. However, the app isn’t fully operational and isn’t foolproof, so offers a limited number of solutions. For example, it won’t offer secure calls, texts, and data transmission or remove spyware and bloatware.
And it doesn’t offer complete encryption.
Unfortunately, if you are glued to your phone and use it for lots of things like most people do these days, your privacy is a thing of the past. It’s true to say that Google knows everything!
Ever had a conversation with someone and then checked social media to find adverts aimed at you based on the conversation you had ? That’s nosey old Google not missing a trick. To address this, as mentioned earlier, pop the phone in DFU mode or remove the battery.
Or, for ultimate security, leave the phone at home.
Despite the conveniences of modern devices, it’s easy to understand why some are yearning for the good old days when anonymity was much easier to adopt and privacy was a choice.
However, you can still try to reinvent the old days in some areas such as using old-fashioned maps to find your way around or investing in a branded GPS not attached to the phone.
If you opt to take out the battery, only return it when you are somewhere you feel safe and are happy for location details to be open.
How To Remain Anonymous?
If being without a phone isn’t an option, then you could consider using a prepaid phone when you go somewhere you don’t want to be tracked.
It can be activated away from home, and you can remove the battery until it is needed. It’s good for using in neutral locations, and it’s a good way of keeping costs down on the other phone too.
However, it won’t take long for interceptors to start recognizing who you are even through a prepaid device, so you may need to keep replacing it for ultimate security.
Ways We Are Tracked
If you are an avid internet user, as most people are expect to have all search information and usage tracked. Encryption provides some level of security and will protect data such as bank details and other sensitive information, but you’re not completely protected.
A good solution is to use ‘tails’. Tails is a transferable operating system that attempts to protect you against censorship and surveillance. It uses the Tor network. All you need to do is use your pc with a Tails USB stick instead of the standard Mac, Linux, or Windows.
This way, there is no trace on your PC once it is shut down. You use tails from an open on public Wi-Fi using a laptop you have never connected to your home network.
Remember not to have your phone or your cover is blown as they will work out the proximity of the network via the smart device. Hard work to be anonymous, isn’t it?
Another common way we are tracked is through the radio. Can you believe it? Although it seems to be the safest out of all, ‘they can still find you through your radio use. Ever heard of fox hunting? (not the insane act involving our furry friends).
Fox hunting in the cyber world refers to tracking rogue transmitters. It uses a directional antenna to locate radios within a specific area. As a rotational antenna moves, the signal will increase or decrease and hunters are able to locate the direction of the transmitter.
How can you minimize radio tracking? It’s best to transmit and get out of the way, this will confuse the antennas and likely minimize the ability to find you. You could also try bouncing the signal.
You may be wondering why tracking is such a problem, what is to be gained? Firstly, it is a tool used by marketers to promote business and sell products and services.
By intercepting conversations and using data produced by google searches, marketers can analyze trends and use direct marketing techniques via social media and other digital means to influence buying decisions. Large companies every day are gathering information and collecting data on millions of unsuspecting people.
We may think that we are savvy enough to recognize this, but it can be very subtle, and it’s surprising how many purchases and decisions we make based on surreptitious advertising.
It’s interesting to note that if you download an app, it will ask you questions regarding location. It will tell you that it helps get accurate information, and many people accept this as the norm.
However, each time you grant access to such information, you release more data that can then be sold on to other companies that use targeted advertising or sometimes actions more sinister.
The type of tracking mentioned above is done by using specially designed software or SDKs (tools designed to support app function. Large corporations and companies offer this software free of charge to app developers in order to use their services for collecting data.
So, whenever you turn on location services to check the weather, for example, you are inadvertently sending your information to companies that use it for their own gain.
Essentially the information that an app sends through to a third party allows them to build a profile of you including basic information, likes and dislikes, where you’ve traveled and so forth.
It’s easy to think that it’s okay for some information to get out, and you’re okay with it but to put it in perspective if you have several apps on your phone it is likely that your phone will be sending data about your whereabouts thousands of times per day!
Let that sink in. Data is sent in real time to hundreds of companies at once. This process is often unregulated, and these companies are watching the movements of millions of individuals each and every day.
Are There Benefits To Tracking?
As uncomfortable as it may feel, there are some benefits to tracking. Google and Apple joined forces during the Coronavirus pandemic for the purpose of contact tracing. Although not location tracking, the technology was able to identify people’s phones using a special number individual to each person.
The information was then stored on phones instead of a central database. When a confirmed diagnosis was made, the information was then transferred to a database set up by a specific health authority.
This is an example of where digital services such as contact tracing have proven to be invaluable. In fact, we could go as far as to say this tracking may have saved a few lives.
As mentioned earlier, another benefit of location tracking is the ability to find people if lost or in danger. Many parents have location services enabled on the phone of teenage children to give them peace of mind that if their children were in trouble, they could find them.
It can also help them keep track of texts, whatasps, photos and activity on social media which can assist in helping children stay safe online.
Another benefit of location services is that they enable you to find lost devices. Features such as ‘find my iPhone’ bypass a phone even if on silent, alerting you to its whereabouts, very handy if you tend to lose things easily.
So, there are some solutions to avoiding tracking and ensuring your digital lives remain private. But it does take effort, and only you can decide if it is worth it.