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Can mobile phones be tracked?

Q:

Can mobile phones be tracked?

A:

There's more than one way to track devices by location. Guides on locational tracking point out that with traditional cellphones, tracking technologies often involved radio frequency ID (RFID) chips. This technology uses radio waves to track something in real time. However, RFID is used in passive systems that only track something based on a user prompt, rather than providing continuous tracking.

In modern smartphone tracking, many elements of locational tracking are done according to the wireless networks that support smartphone use. With so much of mobile computing using elements of trackable data and voice networks, carriers supporting smartphone use are often able to keep data on individual devices through the same kinds of networks that support mobile computing. In other words, elements of smartphone tracking systems can build on the centralized controls that help all of a carrier’s distributed users tap, text and stream movies.

Generally, carriers can send signals between towers to assess the relative location of a device. Some refer to these methods as network-based, whereas other chip-driven or device-driven systems can be called SIM-based, and efforts relying on Wi-Fi connections can be called Wi-Fi-based.

In terms of how consumers experience mobile phone tracking, companies making and selling the devices usually offer specific mobile apps and software applications for computers that will help to track a device if it is lost or stolen. These applications will give the user visual views of where a device is located, again, according to proprietary engineering by a particular smartphone maker’s offices.

Ostensibly, no one should be able to track a cell phone without the user's permission. However, revelations about the extent of the NSA's spy capabilities and general surveillance of these networks has brought up the issue of "loveint" and related phenomena, where an NSA employee would theoretically be able to monitor individuals through their smartphones by unauthorized use of the employer's capability.

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