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Mobile phone tracking is a process for identifying the location of a mobile phone, whether stationary or moving. Localization may be effected by a number of technologies, such as using multilateration of radio signals between several cell towers of the network and the phone, or simply using GPS. To locate a mobile phone using multilateration of radio signals, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call.
Mobile positioning may include location-based services that disclose the actual coordinates of a mobile phone, which is a technology used by telecommunication companies to approximate the location of a mobile phone, and thereby also its user. The location of a mobile phone can be determined using the service provider's network infrastructure. The advantage of network-based techniques, from a service provider's point of view, is that they can be implemented non-intrusively without affecting handsets.
Network-based techniques were developed many years prior to the widespread availability of GPS on handsets. The technology of locating is based on measuring power levels and antenna patterns and uses the concept that a powered mobile phone always communicates wirelessly with one of the closest base stations , so knowledge of the location of the base station implies the cell phone is nearby. Advanced systems determine the sector in which the mobile phone is located and roughly estimate also the distance to the base station.
Further approximation can be done by interpolating signals between adjacent antenna towers.
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Qualified services may achieve a precision of down to 50 meters in urban areas where mobile traffic and density of antenna towers base stations is sufficiently high . Rural and desolate areas may see miles between base stations and therefore determine locations less precisely. GSM localization uses multilateration to determine the location of GSM mobile phones, or dedicated trackers, usually with the intent to locate the user.
The accuracy of network-based techniques varies, with cell identification as the least accurate due to differential signals transposing between towers, otherwise known as "bouncing signals" and triangulation as moderately accurate, and newer "advanced forward link trilateration " timing methods as the most accurate. The accuracy of network-based techniques is both dependent on the concentration of cell base stations, with urban environments achieving the highest possible accuracy because of the higher number of cell towers , and the implementation of the most current timing methods.
One of the key challenges of network-based techniques is the requirement to work closely with the service provider, as it entails the installation of hardware and software within the operator's infrastructure. Frequently the compulsion associated with a legislative framework, such as Enhanced , is required before a service provider will deploy a solution.
The location of a mobile phone can be determined using client software installed on the handset. In addition, if the handset is also equipped with GPS then significantly more precise location information can be then sent from the handset to the carrier. Another approach is to use a fingerprinting-based technique,    where the "signature" of the home and neighboring cells signal strengths at different points in the area of interest is recorded by war-driving and matched in real-time to determine the handset location.
This is usually performed independent from the carrier.
The key disadvantage of handset-based techniques, from service provider's point of view, is the necessity of installing software on the handset. It requires the active cooperation of the mobile subscriber as well as software that must be able to handle the different operating systems of the handsets. Google Maps.
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One proposed work-around is the installation of embedded hardware or software on the handset by the manufacturers, e. This avenue has not made significant headway, due to the difficulty of convincing different manufacturers to cooperate on a common mechanism and to address the cost issue. Another difficulty would be to address the issue of foreign handsets that are roaming in the network.
The type of information obtained via the SIM can differ from that which is available from the handset. For example, it may not be possible to obtain any raw measurements from the handset directly, yet still obtain measurements via the SIM.
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Crowdsourced Wi-Fi data can also be used to identify a handset's location. Hybrid positioning systems use a combination of network-based and handset-based technologies for location determination. Both types of data are thus used by the telephone to make the location more accurate i. Alternatively tracking with both systems can also occur by having the phone attain its GPS-location directly from the satellites , and then having the information sent via the network to the person that is trying to locate the telephone.
In order to route calls to a phone, the cell towers listen for a signal sent from the phone and negotiate which tower is best able to communicate with the phone. As the phone changes location, the antenna towers monitor the signal, and the phone is "roamed" to an adjacent tower as appropriate. By comparing the relative signal strength from multiple antenna towers, a general location of a phone can be roughly determined. Other means make use of the antenna pattern, which supports angular determination and phase discrimination.
Newer phones may also allow the tracking of the phone even when turned on and not active in a telephone call. This results from the roaming procedures that perform hand-over of the phone from one base station to another.
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A phone's location can be shared with friends and family, posted to a public web site, recorded locally, or shared with other users of a smartphone app. The inclusion of GPS receivers on smartphones has made geographical apps nearly ubiquitous on these devices. Specific applications include:. In January , the location of her iPhone as determined by her sister helped Boston police find kidnapping victim Olivia Ambrose.
Locating or positioning touches upon delicate privacy issues, since it enables someone to check where a person is without the person's consent. In Malte Spitz held a TED talk  on the issue of mobile phone privacy in which he showcased his own stored data that he received from Deutsche Telekom after suing the company. He described the data, which consists of 35, lines of data collected during the span of Germany 's data retention at the time, saying, "This is six months of my life [ Spitz concluded that technology consumers are the key to challenging privacy norms in today's society who "have to fight for self determination in the digital age.
Chinese government has proposed using this technology to track commuting patterns of Beijing city residents. A app that tracks a phone's location is simply a GPS program that connects to another user's phone so that they can monitor the other phone. Usually, the location sharing goes both ways so that both phones can track the other.
Life and Google Maps are great for long-term phone tracking. To track a cell phone location temporarily like during a trip or for just a couple hours, try Glympse or a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Find My Friends is another phone tracker just for iPhone. See these Find My Friends alternatives for Android for similar options for that platform.
If you phone has been stolen and a location tracker isn't installed on the device, you might have luck locating the phone using a built-in mechanism, such as Find My iPhone or Find My Device for Android. This is completely legal and a good way to keep track of kids or family members while they're away.
Mobile phone providers generally use cell phone towers to triangulate the geographical position of a phone. This technology doesn't require a GPS facility and can, therefore, work just fine even on basic cell phones. A cell phone number tracker is different from an actual device tracker.
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Tracking a cell phone number involves looking into the number itself to see who owns it or which country the number is registered in. For that, you need a reverse phone number lookup service, something you can do with Google. Another option is a website like Whitepages or Truecaller , which can show the city and state the number is registered in and who the current owner of the phone number is.