Between 2010 and 2012, a man named Timothy Carpenter planned and carried out several armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio. He was caught and sentenced to 116 years in federal prison.
During its investigation of the robberies, the FBI sought cell phone records of phone calls made and received by Carpenter’s cellphone, in addition to the location of his cellphone over a 127-day period.
The information from the cell phone records placed Carpenter’s phone nearby at the times and places of each of the robberies, providing strong evidence against him.
On the other hand, those opposed to law enforcement tracking cell phones will point out that tracking Carpenter’s cell phone also revealed other information such as which nights Carpenter slept at home and what church he prayed at on Sunday mornings, which is information completely unrelated to the investigation of his crimes.
The thing is, the FBI didn’t get a search warrant for that information, they simply asked Carpenter’s cell service provider, MetroPCS, for the data and they were given it.
The reality is, the capability to track cell phones in real time has helped law enforcement solve thousands of crimes from murders to mail theft.
Obviously, law enforcement has access to some of the best tracking technology in the world that the average citizen would never be able to use.
But the truth is, your cell phone can be tracked by anyone off the street. Not just law enforcement. It can all be done only needing your phone number, without using any high-tech tracking device.
Of course, it’s no secret cell phone service providers including T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint track your movements and sell this data to other companies who use it for advertising.
In other words, if you are on vacation in Las Vegas you will probably see more advertisements on your phone for things in Las Vegas since the advertisers know your location.
The major cell phone providers sell your location data to companies such as LocationSmart or MicroBilt, for advertising purposes.
In turn, these companies sell your location to even more businesses including private industries, ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters.
The problem is, as the data is given to more and more legitimate business operations, it can easily be sold to shady people.
With a few hundred dollars, an average citizen could simply hire a private investigator or bounty hunter to track down the cell phone location since this is information they can easily get. As one cell phone company employee stated, “If there is money to be made they will keep selling the data.”
Since the practice of selling your location data isn’t going away anytime soon, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from having your location tracked.
Turn off all location services and put in airplane mode. Most applications on your smart phone will ask for access to your location data. With that being said, simply turning off your location services won’t prevent tracking from happening.
Cell phone providers are tracking your phone based of the tower it’s using, meaning if your smart phone can make calls it can be tracked.
However, if you were headed to a private business meeting or needed to ensure you weren’t tracked, you can turn off the ability to make phone calls by putting your phone in airplane mode or simply turn off your phone.
Unlink your apps and social media accounts. The key is to examine exactly what apps and websites are pulling data from your social media profiles.
Facebook’s shortcuts allow you to see where you’ve used Facebook in the past and this information can easily be shared among multiple platforms. When possible, you should never sign into an application using your Facebook or Google log in.
Always create a new account with the specific website or app you are logging into so they aren’t able to share data across multiple websites and reveal your movements.
Turn off your Wi-Fi. Even if you’ve turned off your location services as well as the ability to make phone calls, your phone can still connect to Wi-Fi.
Most people have enabled their Wi-Fi settings on their phone to recognize networks you’ve logged into before and reconnect whenever you’re in range.
The problem is, your phone will connect to the Wi-Fi every time you’re home, at work, or perhaps walking by Starbucks if you’ve logged into their network previously.
It’s best to change your settings so that your phone asks you to join a network whenever it’s detected, even if it’s a network you use on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, as long as the cell phone carriers are willing to sell our tracking information to third parties there will always be the risk that anyone willing to pay can gain access to our data.
However, if you ever find yourself being stalked or running away from a dangerous situation remember these tips that can help minimize the chance of a dangerous person tracking you down.
And, if it’s really that serious of a situation, you’d be best off dumping your cell phone for good.