Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Your Cell Phone is Tracking You

You probably have a tracking device in your pocket. You are helping government spies, hackers, burglars, and cell phone companies track your every move. Every time you place your cell phone in your pocket or purse, you are on the radar and your movements, position, orientation, and conversations are all open to someone. In fact, that happens whether you place a call or not.

The “smart phones,” such as an Android or Apple phone, provide the most information about your movements and activities, but even the so-called dumb phones are almost as bad. All cell phones track your location. The “smart phones” simply provide additional accuracy as to your location. Instead of tracking you plus or minus a mile or so, a smart phone or even a dumb phone that has a built-in GPS will identify your location within a very few feet at all times.

Click on the above image to view a larger version

Want proof? Look to the right to see a map available on Google that tracks my recent travels with an Android phone in my pocket. Click on the map to view a larger version. You can see where I traveled in considerable detail.

OK, that’s not a great secret. After all, I wrote about my planned trip online before departing, again during the trip, and then after I returned. No great secrets there. But what if I had also made a side trip to a location I didn’t want to share with the public or with the NSA? What about you? Do you want to have your movements tracked in great detail?

Writing in the Windows Secrets newsletter at, Woody Leonhard describes a number of privacy problems caused by today’s technology. He used one example that struck home with me: Google not only collects location information from every Android phone, but the company also provides that information to users in easy-to-read maps. See my example above and to the right.

The problem is not limited to Android phones; if you are signed in to a Google account via an iPhone, iPad, or other device and have GPS tracking turned on, Google has recorded your movements.

In theory, Google makes that information available only to you, the user, and to its own employees who then collect the data and use it for whatever purposes the company wants. When I was in Scotland recently, every time I went to a Google web site the phone displayed ads for products and services in Scotland. Obviously, Google was tracking me.

Now let’s make some guesses. If Google collects the information for the company’s own purposes, will the company also make the information available to others? If advertisers pay for targeted ads to be delivered, will Google assist in that effort? If a government employee, such as an NSA employee, delivers a court order to Google asking for your travel information, will Google hand the information over?

You bet they will!

Google is not the only company that is tracking you and me. All the cell phone companies do the same, and other commercial companies possibly may do so. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the NSA also does the same. I am focusing on Google simply because the company makes the information available to you and me in a user-friendly and easy-to-read report. Nonetheless, other companies track you also but may not publicize their espionage the way Google does.

In fact, there is some question whether a court order is required or not. Woody Leonhard also wrote, “Others can mine your geolocation information, too. Mobile-phone providers can track a device’s location by triangulating the signal. That’s become a potent tool for law enforcement. As reported in a June 12 JURIST story [at], the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that police need a warrant in order to acquire phone-based location information. But the Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on that.”

Of course, we can look for solutions, but they are not easy to find. My first reaction is that I should turn my cell phone off. However, according to a 2013 Slate article at, the NSA — and presumably other secret agencies — can track the location of targeted phones EVEN WHEN THEY’RE TURNED OFF.

The only real solution is to turn your cell phone off and crush it. Then disconnect the old-fashioned wired telephone in your home as it is easily wiretapped by almost anyone. Stop using email. In fact, stop using the World Wide Web. Stop sending old-fashioned postal service mail. Don’t write checks or use credit cards. Instead, revert to a cash-only policy.

Even those Draconian measures will not stop all snooping, but they should slow down and discourage the snoops, both governmental and private snoops alike.

As for me, I am not yet prepared for that drastic a solution. However, I am now more cautious than ever about my use of technology tools. I may never be able to eliminate someone spying on me, but I certainly can discourage the spies by making their jobs more difficult.

I started by turning off cell phone tracking in my Android phone.

Categories: Cell Phones

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