How Does Tracking an iPhone Work?

Privacy Issues

I know, this blog is about hiding ourselves from trackers. But in order to be able to do so, it’s also interesting to jump into the other side of the fence and see how people can do to track. Learn about tracking iPhone.

This topic is still about privacy issues, but let’s take another perspective: the one of a partner who wants to track his other half’s activities. For this, let’s consider that the partner to be tracked is using an iPhone (similar solutions exist for other brands of mobile phones).

But first, let’s see why tracking via a mobile phone is so popular?

In order to answer this, just count the number of times where you don’t have your mobile phone next to you… Think again … Not much time, huh? Yep, that’s the main interest of tracking iPhone: the owners almost never leave their phone. Adding to that, let’s consider the following:

– mobile networks are conceived in such a way that every subscriber is located in a “cell” that can be physically determined,

– most smartphones now come with GPS features that give the exact location where the phone is located, and thereby, where the owner is, most of the times

– finally, with 3G networks that are becoming popular, those mobile phones can regularly be sending few small updates without the user knowing about it.

In fact, that’s how those GPS systems are set up so as to track a fleet of vehicles. But for our case, it’s used to track one person (one phone in fact)

What are the challenges?

iPhones (as well as other mobile phones) don’t come pre-installed with apps that are meant to do the tracking. However, they have all the features for doing so. In fact, most of the solutions are apps that need to be installed on the iPhone of the person that needs to be tracked. Some more advanced solution is used for investigation purposes, but this isn’t within the scope of this article.

The challenge is then simple: the application needs to be installed in stealth mode and should not leave any visible trace (icons for example). With installations that can be done over-the-air with 3G or Wi-Fi networks, it only takes a few minutes to install a new application on an iPhone. Most of these applications are so light that an inattentive iPhone owner wouldn’t even notice them.

How does it work?

In fact, the application records in the regular interval the location of the phone: this usually comes in a GPS format. By using 3G, or an internet connection that is available, the application then sends those GPS coordinates on an internet server (sometimes it’s done almost in real-time, while on more often than not, they are processed in batch).

The application provider then maps those coordinates on a Google map or whatever map solution that exist. So at the end of the day, the places where the iPhone has “traveled” to, as well as an approximate duration can be visually seen on a very precise map.

Now, imagine that you are the iPhone owner and that your partner shows you a nicely color-printed Google map showing your itinerary of the day and asking you some explanations … Scary? Well, solutions already exist for such purposes, check the list of installed applications on your iPhone and get to know them 🙂

What do you think about tracking iPhone? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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