How Can You Be Tracked From Your Smartphone?

Featured, Misc, Privacy Issues, Q&A

It is now more than common that most urban citizens use a smartphone on a daily basis. Most of them would even come back home to pick their phone should they forget it. A lot of people’s lives are now centered around this device: whether it is for communication (phone, e-mail), but also for entertainment. Learn about smartphone tracking.

Field of research: smartphone tracking

On the other hand, advertisers want more information about internet and mobile users so as to serve more accurate ads. In fact, knowing what every smartphone user is doing has become a huge “market” and field of research for marketers. They want to know where you’ve been physical, what sites do you browse on the internet, what kind of applications do you have running on your smartphone, and so on and so forth …

While they do it under the argument of “better serving tailored ads”, most users are concerned about being tracked all the time- some without even knowing it. Yes, it’s always good to load some applications on your newly acquired smartphone, enable some nice features or even play with some “insignificant” applications that actually is reporting something else than what you expect for.

In fact, this issue of reporting what you are doing already happened with the Microsoft Windows operating system years ago (no one knows what kind of reports are being sent back to Microsoft’s servers), but it’s becoming more alarming with the exponential growth of smartphone adoption as well as the rapid adoption of the “there’s an app for that” reflex, especially when smartphone is bringing to the table a very interesting data: location.

But how does a smartphone communicate location data?

In fact, even though all smartphone isn’t set by default to transmit location-based data to remote servers, they come out with a lot of tools: Wi-Fi and GPS especially. Moreover, by conception, a mobile network is a collection of multiple cells that can be physically located. Your smartphone is “communicating” with those cells all the time, thereby allowing to get a rough idea of where you are based.

So, for example, if you are moving inside one town with your mobile phone in hands, with the proper tools, you would notice that the cell that you are “communicating” with is changing depending on where you are located. I’m sure you’ve already seen those spy movies where they are locating a phone triangulation- those are not fiction only- they can actually be done: the results may not be as precise as would be a scientific police system, but at least it can give marketers information about your city so that they can serve you ads for Los Angeles instead of Tokyo.

Smartphone also can be tracked by IP address

On the other hand, if your smartphone is connected to the internet, then it can be tracked via its IP address, or via the Wi-Fi hotspot that it is using. Remember how geolocation services can assign a city to each IP address? This is exactly how your smartphone can also be “tracked”. The good news: you may avoid the tracking by using VPN services or other hide IP tools.

Now, if your smartphone has GPS (Global Positioning System), then it can be tracked almost precisely and almost anytime, with the exact GPS coordinates. This feature is used by check-in services: so whenever you do a check-in on Foursquare or Facebook places, it picks your GPS coordinates, attaches it to a map, then you give a name to the place and that’s it …

Location-based tracking will get more complex and more precise in the coming years, and I expect location-based ads will also that same trend. Now the question is: as a user, do you think this makes your internet and smartphone browsing experience more enjoyable? Or does the smartphone tracking scare you?

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