Who Needs A Private Eye (When You've Got A Cell Phone)?
Even geeks like me find it hard to keep up with technology. It’s expanding exponentially like nuclear fission. Once a new discovery comes out it spawns many more discoveries - like a bad movie and its sequels. And they tell their friends and they tell their friends and so on and so on and so on. This posting just goes to show that you should never make assumptions.
UCAN Fraud Squad agent Sue got this post from an individual:
Please explain the nature of your dispute:
Cell phone was hacked and used as tracking device.
What have you done thus far to resolve the problem?:
I have ask them for help many different times from many small verizon dealer or even verizon company own stores.they answer was nothing wrong with your phone or you mentaly ill.the latest accident i am can not get into my mess acct or update phone or contact verizon customer service.i am have my cell phoe look at by many different dealer ,i am was told my phone has been illegaly turn on and use for as a listening and tracking ( GPS) device.
My first response to Sue was that this individual probably DID have a case of psychosis:
We both know that cell phones have GPS in them but what I’m not sure about is whether it can be used for anything other than tracking BY THE CELL PROVIDER. This would be done via the datastream over their network and would not be available to a hacker. If a nefarious 3rd party accessed the phone and installed software on it, the complainant would have to have Internet or email access in order to get the data out of the phone and to the bad person.
I’m afraid this person may be suffering from paranoia. This story sounds like similar stories I’ve heard from other people who have this disease to some degree or another. I know that ad agencies are working on ways to have a cell phone tell them where it is so they can send back to the phone the locations of nearby services. But this would probably involve software and 3G internet access. Also, I’m not sure how a phone gets “hacked” without having it physically given to the hacker first unless they have Internet access on the phone and they have downloaded some malware.
From the Horse’s Mouth
I wrote to Verizon wireless to see what they knew about monitoring and tracking cell phones. PR person Ken Muche replied:
I have never heard of third parties using their own software to track certain people's cell phones. I am also not aware of any software that a person can buy and install on their own phone to do the same.
The FCC requires every carrier to use an e911 solution for first reponders to track the phones of people calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. This means 9-1-1 operators can get a person's GPS locaiton --- but only if that person dials 9-1-1 themselves. Otherwise, no first responders have that info. Also, the FCC gives wireless carriers two options for calculation lattitude/longitude coordinates. Not ever carrier is the same, so I can't answer what chips are in what phones.
If phones can have (and do they do have) Navigation programs in them that act just like a Garmin or Tomtom, then these programs must be accessing info from the GPS receivers. If they are accessing info from the GPS receivers, then a rogue program could easily send that info out via email or via SMS. You are saying to me that Verizon has no awareness of people creating such programs, am I right?
I understand from your comments below that in order for an E911 operator to get the callers location, the caller must have dialed 911. So I'm guessing that even if the police call Verizon and say "we're looking for a lost girl. Here's her cellphone number. Can you track it?" You'd say "All we can do is to tell you what cell it last registered with and, if necessary, we could triangulate on it, assuming it's still operating. We cannot give you the locations of her phone AS PER GPS." Am I correct?
I am saying I have no awareness that a rogue program is doing what you suggest below.
Also, as to your question re: law enforcement: I meant that law enforcment agencies and e911 operators cannot proactively and independently track cell phone locations. That is, neither a random law enforcement agency nor a random e911 operator can push a button or run a program to find any cell phone they'd like. They do not have that ability.
Wireless carriers can track e911-compatible phones --- but can only get their near-precise location if that phone is making a voice or data call. If not, the wirelesss carrier can send a ping from their network switch to the phone and determine the nearest cell site that is serving that phone, triangulating if necessary. Also, we highly value our customers' privacy so we only provide law enforcement agencies location information if served with a subpeona or a bench warrant. Federal law allows for an exception to this but only in "exigent" circumstances. An "exigent" situation is one that is life threatening or poses a threat of serious physical harm or damage to property.
Comments from a GPS Pro
In the meantime, I wrote to Doug Adomatis who blogs about using GPS’ for travel at http://www.travelbygps.com and has a specific article about cell phone tracking here http://www.travelbygps.com/articles/tracking.php The tracking services he mentions in this article, like MapQuestFindMe, all require a GPS enabled phone with software installed on it. That said, it’s plausible that a person could have had such software installed and enabled on such a phone without their knowledge. I have no experience with iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys but I do know that you can see a list of most currently running applications on a Windows Mobile phone using the Task Manager.
But there seems to be a seedier underside to this tracking business. One example is BigDaddySpy, a Google ad for which happened to be displayed on Doug’s site. It says Track your child's cell phone activity. Catch that cheating spouse
I asked Doug about this whole subject:
I'm not sure what all BigDaddySpy does. I get calls from paranoids all the time, wanting to know if they are being tracked. Here is what I know.
A cell phone can be "pinged" which is finding out what tower the phone is closest to. It is called a tower report which is provided by the cellular service provider. The phone has to be on but not necessarily in use and the person requesting the information must know the cell phone number and must have authorization. Clearly law enforcement would be able to obtain authorization. Maybe private investigators. Private individuals probably not. But a tower report will not pinpoint a person's - well more accurately: the cell phone's - location. But if you are supposed to be at home and you're pinged in the next county then you're busted anyway. I have read where some claim that a phone can be tracked when it has been turned off and that is just not true.
Regarding GPS, if a phone is sophisticated enough it can transmit location information. If equipped and enabled and in the event of a 911 call, the GPS data (latitude and longitude) are transmitted along with the phone call.
As far as someone getting the GPS data from the phone, you have several layers of hardware, software, and service provider bureaucracy. I've explained in my article that you must have the right equipment on the right network with the right service. Sure it is easy to sign up and use GoogleLatitude if you have a compatible phone, but in doing so you sign an agreement. If someone is really paranoid they would never do such a thing.
But I guess the bottom line is, if you are worried about being tracked, don't use a cell phone.
In my next posting on this subject I’ll look at a recent event where someone was tracked, theoretically without their knowledge, and lives were lost as a result. I’ll also look at just how much can be done remotely with a cell phone
Here is what I’m getting from this research (so far)
- Not all cell phones have GPS units in them
- A phone with or without GPS can be tracked using “triangulation” (radio direction finding) or, less accurately, by knowing to what cell a phone is presently registered. This info is not available to the public in the US because it’s determined by a cell carrier’s network, not by a user’s phone, and is not given out, TO MY KNOWLEDGE. Engadget.com says that companies like this can use cell tower info as well as GPS info to track phones in the UK or certain networks: http://www.world-tracker.com
- Many cellular providers offer services to let you track kids and employees (e.g. Verizon’s CHAPERONE service). More to follow.
- Just because you know it all doesn't mean you do ;^)
Please see my other postings regarding personal and small business cellular, phone systems, email, fax, and other communications topics here: http://www.ucan.org/internet_media/broadband_isps/ask_dr_telecom_the_com...