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February 4, 2006 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Surreptitious cell phone stalking tracking. Stalkers are no longer limited to just your call history. For a small fee and with a few minutes access to her cell phone the author was able to track his girlfriend's cell phone location within a hundred yards or so and the cell phone provides no trace that it was happening. Traceamobile.com appears to be one site offering such a service. Mologogo was discussed here previously but does not appear to be surreptitious. (Appears to be limited to UK for right now.)
posted by caddis (21 comments total)
I am SO not ever getting a cell phone.
posted by JanetLand at 6:46 AM on February 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

2. Can someone else trace my mobile phone without my permission?
No! Our mobile phone tracking requires you to agree to this before tracking can be activated on your mobile phone.

Of course, the author of the article had time alone with the phone and was able to delete the incriminating text messages that showed the phone would be tracked. But don't text messages show up on people's phone bills? (I've never sent one, and only received one once, but that one time, it did show up on my phone bill and I was charged for it.)
posted by Gator at 6:46 AM on February 4, 2006

It seems to me that a less ethical company could do this without that nasty text message step.

I view this as a massive security problem.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:59 AM on February 4, 2006

Gator: No.
I'v never had text messages itemized on a bill. I don't even get a bill with my currrent phones.
Many Brits send dozens of text messages a day and even if they were itemized the bill wouldn't get scrutinized.
posted by nowonmai at 7:19 AM on February 4, 2006

additionally, there is no charge to receive a text (in the UK).

I don't like this much, but considering the Police, MI5 et al already have this tech, it's mainly spouses (spice?) that need to be concerned, it seems to me.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:26 AM on February 4, 2006

there is no charge to receive a text (in the UK).

Yeah? That's interesting. Here in the U.S. it seems to depend entirely on what phone company you're with, and what "plan" you've contracted with them (so many free minutes, so many free text messages, above and beyond which you have to pay for).
posted by Gator at 7:33 AM on February 4, 2006

Of course the same phone companies are getting sued for NOT providing location information ...
posted by forforf at 7:48 AM on February 4, 2006

dude, how do i do this in the usa? it'd be so cool to know if my boss is in the building.
posted by rbs at 8:04 AM on February 4, 2006

That Guardian article was perhaps a bit sensationalist. The Register claims to have talked to the company in question, and they say the service repeatedly texts the targeted phone every so often to let its user know they are being tracked. The Guardian article in the FPP gave the impression that to surreptitiously abuse the system, you would only have to intercept the first such text message, which was rather meretricious, if the Register's claim is true.
posted by Coventry at 8:05 AM on February 4, 2006

That would make sense. This product (Child Locate) sells the service to keep track of kids, and explicitly states in their privacy policy that they send regular text messages to the child's phone about the tracking.
posted by caddis at 8:15 AM on February 4, 2006

In theory, I love this feature for my kid.

In reality, I hate this feature because of my government. (Although we knew already that 1984 is already here.)
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:31 AM on February 4, 2006

Also, the same folks who are saying, "It's okay if the government listens to my phone calls without a warrant; I'm not doing anything wrong," will the say same thing about the government tracking their movements.

And the government, when they get caught tracking people, will say: a) 9/11 changed everything and we need to track these terrorists; and b) it's for your own good because when you are stranded somewhere, we can find out where you are and send the cavalry to come rescue you.

Then they will put out some kind of b.s. about how some old lady was stuck out in the woods with a broken leg and she was tracked by a team of rescuers through her cell phone. Then she will be interviewed on TV in her hospital bed, smiling through her tears of joy, surrounded by her grateful family, and say, "Thank God for this technology or I wouldn't be alive today. And thank God for George Bush and his warrentless spying. And God bless the USA!"

I don't know whether to weep or vomit because a frighteningly large percentage of people will be okay with this.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:47 AM on February 4, 2006

This isn't just Bush doing this, there have been previous US presidents interested in the same sort of surveillance. And a long time ago. I bet 98% of you never knew about this fun item...

If you really want security, you always have to take it into your own hands, endpoint to endpoint. Or you have to work under the assumption you are being monitored.

Not that you should *have* to do that, but it's just the way it goes. Everywhere Ontario's total population is about 12 million, "thousands" bugged, or 0.1% of the total population.
posted by shepd at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2006

I find it interesting that the newly amended and renewed Violence Against (some) Women Act prohibits "annoying" me online, yet allows people to get my cellphone records and track my phone's location. Am I wrong to assume that our Congresscritters are a bunch of asshats?

Of course like all tracking strategies that do not involve implants, this does assume that me and my cellphone (or other tracked item) are in the same place. Maybe I am forgetful.
posted by ilsa at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2006

1) I know I'm paranoid, but that is precisely the reason I refuse to have a cellphone. In fact, do not have any portable technology save for a gameboy and a DS. But so far, I trust Nintendo and the DS.

2)leftcoastbob: "In theory, I love this feature for my kid.

In reality, I hate this feature because of my government. (Although we knew already that 1984 is already here.)

This brings out the excellent dichotomy of hierarchical organization and authority. And it really struck home the "Big Brother" term to me. That is, you ARE your child's government, and your child hates you tracking (well, if they're old enough to have that independent spirit) him/her as much as you are your government's child (in their eyes, at least), and hate them tracking you. Sorta like that whole eye on the pyramind thing, eh?

3) Ah the ol' clipper chip. It's on reason I'm not keen on Dems... Oh we had a better economy going at the time, but Clinton and his buddies wanted this technology implemented (IIRC, it was "key escrow" where two-part encryption would be available to two different government agencies and given a court order they could listen to any phone call they wanted...) I remember reading about it in what I think was a High Times interview with John Perry Barlow...

Sadly, I think I miss those days.
posted by symbioid at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2006

There's a simple way to defeat this.

Turn off the cell phone.

Its what I do. I only turn it on whenever I need to call someone. Otherwise it would quickly become a collar with a short leash. (No, I won't fix your xxx!!) Sometimes I just don't want to be connected (or tracked.)
posted by nofundy at 1:29 PM on February 4, 2006

If anyone tried to track me, they'd think I never left my kitchen. heh.
posted by drstein at 3:26 PM on February 4, 2006

shepd writes "I bet 98% of you never knew about this fun item..."

Clipper at least was a net privacy gain. In theory anyways the only people able to tap your phones would be the goverment, private parties like reporters and PIs would be unable to tap your phone calls directly. So Clipper was squashed and now all calls are made in the clear. I'm not sure who won in that situation; the goverment can still tap your phones (post PATRIOT in secret) and you aren't protected from private taps like those recently uncovered in Greece (if that really was private and not just sloppy goverment work).
posted by Mitheral at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2006

1. All cell phones in the United States can be tracked. It is part of E911 service and has been since 1999 or so. However the infrastructure to do this as a commercial service is just starting now. However, yes, if you call 911 they will get your location to within a few blocks as part of the call.

2. I believe the courts in New York recently said that you need a warrant to get someone's location for legal reasons, but we all know how much that matters these days.

3. The tech works poorly inside buildings. Without LOS to the sky you get cell location which is pretty useless.

4. If you really are worried get a prepaid phone, make someone else buy it for you, and switch phones every now and then.
posted by aspo at 2:31 PM on February 5, 2006

I wrote the front-end for one of these web apps, back when Vodafone in the UK was betaing the service.

As far as I can recall we gave Vodafone a mobile number via a web service, they returned the cell ID, the lat/long of the cell tower and a radius (which I assume was based on the cell's power rating). The lowest radius I saw was 300 metres, but I saw them up to 2500 metres. Outside central London larger was more typical.

A powered-off phone still appears to be "in" the cell it was last registered to, even after weeks.

All the telcos are doing here is selling access to the "which cell is this phone in" data that must exist for them to route calls. These middle-men companies are then selling it on to stalkers and over-protective parents.

Personally, I think that if this kind of surveillance is inevitable I'd rather see it available to everyone than a chosen few (David Brin's argument), so I find the existence of these companies encouraging in a weird way. Having said that, once I built it we racked our brains trying to figure out how to make some cash off it, and we couldn't see any real market. It's too expensive (it quickly becomes cheaper to kit a fleet out with GPS), too coarse-grained (2.5km), and the data can be horribly out of date (the "last seen at" problem).
posted by Leon at 4:55 PM on February 5, 2006

posted by deborah at 7:51 PM on February 5, 2006

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