Tracking your phone before you lose it
If you’re here just to prepare for the day that you lose your phone (which is inevitable, really), then you’re ahead of the game. If you’ve got a smartphone, consider installing the apps listed below
For smartphones of any kind, we recommend Prey. It’s a free and open-source anti-theft application that can be used for both computers and mobile phones. After you sign up for the service, you simply sync your devices with it, sit back, and relax. The day that your phone goes missing, all you’ll have to do is find a computer, log into your account, and start tracking. It runs discreetly in the background and won’t track your phone’s location until you tell it to, so there’s no need to worry about your privacy while the phone is in your possession. We recommend this for any Android or iOS device, as well as any Mac, Windows, or Linux PC.
For non-smartphones that can’t run apps or connect to the web, we recommend using Google Latitude. It’s a free service that uses your phones built-in GPS to track the location of your phone. Most modern cellphones are GPS enabled, so as long as your phone isn’t over eight years old, you should be fine. When the day comes that you can’t locate your phone, just log in to Latitude from any computer and it’ll immediately show you the location of your phone.
Tracking your phone after you lose it
If you didn’t have the foresight to install a device recovery app on your phone before you lost it, don’t worry. There are still some easy ways to get it back.
Android users can download an application called Plan B. Even though your phone is gone, you can log into your Google account on any computer install the app from Google Play. When you click install, the app will begin downloading to your missing phone, and when the download is complete it will send your phone’s location info to your Gmail account. To retrieve the phone’s whereabouts again when you’re away from a computer, just text the word “locate” from a friend’s phone and you’ll receive a text with location info.
iPhone users can download the infamous Find My iPhone application. If you’re rocking a phone with iOS 5 or later, then this app will come pre-installed on your device. If not, just borrow a friends iDevice, install Find My iPhone on it, and log in with your Apple ID. Once you’re all logged in, the app will display your phone’s location on a map. You can even remotely trigger your phone to make a loud noise for two minutes, which makes pinpointing it a snap when it’s nearby.
Non-smartphone users are a bit out of luck in this case. If you didn’t register your phone with Google Latitude or any other service, you don’t have many options other than calling your service provider and hoping they can help. Most providers offer GPS location services for a fee, and if your phone is GPS-enabled, finding it is sometimes just a matter of activating the GPS chip.
Tracking someone else’s phone with their permission
If you want to track somebody’s phone with their permission, there’s always the option of calling them and asking where they are. No fancy GPS apps are necessary if the person doesn’t mind you knowing where they are. Then again, if you do it this way there’s always a chance that they could lie to you. So if you can’t always trust the word of the person you’re trying to locate, then we recommend using Google Latitude. After you’ve installed the app, just add your friends’ phone numbers and Google will send them an invitation to start using the service. They have to approve the request first, but once they do you’ll have complete access to their whereabouts on Google Maps. This option is especially useful for parents who need to keep an eye on their kids.
Tracking someone else’s phone without their permission
It’s best to be upfront about tracking somebody and respect their right to privacy, but if you absolutely must track a phone without the owner’s consent or knowledge (if you’re a parent), here are a few tips how to do it.
Tracking a smartphone user is relatively simple. The easiest method is to install a tracking app on the person’s phone whenever you get a chance to do so discreetly. Do it when they’re sleeping or they leave to go somewhere – and don’t forget to hide the icon of whatever app you install. You can place it in an obscure folder and hope they don’t notice it too soon, or you can also install an app hider program (like Poof for example) to make the icon disappear entirely.
Non-smartphone tracking can be a bit more difficult. If the phone is GPS-enabled, it’s the same drill as above – just wait until the person leaves their phone unattended for an extended period of time, and send them an invite to use Google Latitude from your phone. Approve the request on their phone, and hide the evidence as best you can.
If the phone you’re trying to track isn’t GPS-enabled, however, you’ll have to pull a James Bond maneuver and install a GPS chip on the phone before you can pinpoint its location. This might be a bit of an arduous task, as you’ll have to figure out which particular archaic model of phone they have, find and purchase a GPS chip that’s compatible with the device, and then successfully install the chip without their knowledge. Try going to a specialty electronics shop or spy gear retailer to find the right hardware. The other option is locating the phone in question via triangulation, but doing it this way means gaining access to cell phone tower data – and the feds probably wouldn’t approve of that.
We know that there are tons of other great tracking apps we didn’t mention here, so we invite you to comment on your experiences.
Our Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.
As always, stay safe.
- Historically Speaking: The Cell Phone Turns 40 (hackcollege.com)
- How to Track a Cell Phone Location using Google Earth (techwench.com)