Who's Tracking Your Cell Phone?

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Is your cell phone being tracked? The odds are quite good there's a spy in your pocket. The only real question is, who's doing it?

Earlier this week Wired's Spencer Ackerman profiled what he calls the "Keyzer Soze" of geo-location tracking, a company called TruePosition. TP uses cell tower triangulation to locate the geo position of any cell phone within 50 meters.

wireless security phone security
This technology is used for e911 calls in the US by T-Mobile and AT&T, so if you're in trouble the good guys can find you. It is also used by foreign governments for purposes known only to them (but presumably not necessarily the good guys).

[See also: Confessions of a Facebook advertising scofflaw ]

Using TruePosition, organizations can create a "geo fence" around sensitive facilities like nuclear power plants. If someone with an unauthorized cell number enters the geo-fenced area, the authorities can receive an alert and intercept the interloper.

Sounds both cool and scary right? TP wants to sell this technology as an anti terrorist tool. Civil rights organizations fear it can just as easily be used to track dissidents. They're both right.

The problem here: If you were a terrorist and you knew this technology existed, wouldn't you just turn your phone off when you were about to do something bad? Dissidents could do the same, though I suspect the idea wouldn't occur to them. (See also News of the World Cell Phone Hack: How it's Done.")

The fact is, this concept isn't especially new. Verizon has been marketing a similar service to families with teens for several years now, using GPS. You set up a perimeter, like around your child's school or the public library. If he/she breaches that perimeter at an unauthorized time, you get a text alert to your phone. Useful, but not exactly cloak and dagger.

In fact, the odds that your cell phone is being spied upon are pretty good, but it's not the government doing it - it's your family members. In its most recent Gadgetology survey, consumer search site Retrevo asked people how often they spied on the cell phones of partners or family members.

The answer: All the friggin' time. And the biggest snoops are women.

For example: 32 percent of men say they have checked the email or call history of a spouse, while 41 percent of women have. Roughly 4 out of 10 parents have snooped on a child's call history or email.

And the younger they are, the more likely they are to spy. Nearly half of all women age 25 or under have spied on the cell phones of people they're dating. (Young men clock in at 38 percent.)

How about cell phone tracking? Here the numbers are more equal: about a third of men and women would secretly track their partner's cell phone, if they could. When it comes to parents, those numbers zoom to 53 and 64 percent, respectively.

As someone with a tween and a teen in the house, all I can say is Damned Straight. I periodically "borrow" my son or daughter's cell phone to see who they've been texting and what they're saying. And sometimes I'm appalled at what I find. But that is a topic for another venue.

(Good thing they never read this blog, eh?)

Yes, I'm an awful parent. Sue me.

We have met the real spies, and they are us.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is glad they didn't have cell phones when he was a kid. (Or electricity, for that matter.) Take a walk on the snarky side at his eHumor site eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

This story, "Who's Tracking Your Cell Phone?" was originally published by ITworld.

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