Can my cellphone be located when I use X/Y/Z?
As long as it manages to reach any cell network, yes it can be located, and what you use on it will never change anything to this (no matter if it is GPS, VPN, or any other technology or software).
Your cellphone needs to contact nearest cellphone masts in order to reach the network, and once it's done the operator knows where your phone is located (and you're right, "Big Brother" seems indeed to use and abuse such kind of tracking).
The only ways to bypass this are to use:
- A satellite phone. This is the most practical solution. According to Wikipedia, while it remains possible to locate such a phone it would be "inaccurate by tens of kilometers". Moreover most of terminals seem to support the manual entry of arbitrary GPS coordinates, avoiding any location relying on such information.
- A single-use disposable phone bought in a brick-and-mortar shop and kept off until the first and single use.
Such solutions may seem overkill, but if for some reason you really fear of Big Brother tracking you personally then using a regular cellphone is definitively a no-go. Otherwise, you can just choose to accept the risk.
Yes, but what about the VPN and my IP address geolocation?
First, you must understand that IP geolocation works on your desktop PC because your Internet access point, ie. ISP's hardware providing the IP address is located roughly nearby your current location.
In the mobile world, this is not true anymore. To access the Internet, all mobile devices go through central operator's gateway operating as NATing device.
When geolocating a mobile device IP, what you will locate is actually this central operator's gateway, it will be tight to your subscription and completely unrelated to your current position: you may even even be abroad, the "geolocation" will still show the very same gateway from your original country.
Moreover, the same IP address being shared between hundreds or possibly thousands of unrelated mobile devices, the IP address does not allow to identify or track any particular device too.
At last, regarding the VPN thing, it will have exactly the same uses and restrictions as on a standard computer system:
- It will hide your IP, allowing you to hide things like your original country, provider, etc.
- It will hide the exact content of your data communication to your cellphone operator (it will not protect calls, unless you use some third-party VoIP service).
As per avoiding cellphone geolocation, using a VPN is just completely unrelated: bearing a tinfoil hat or a rabbit foot will be as effective.
And about emergency calls? How do they find me?
It largely depends the country you belong.
In France, when calling an emergency number the operator are mandated for years to provide user's location (includes user's postal address and location according to cellphone mats for mobile devices) in a secure, standardized and automated manner to the emergency services right from the beginning.
In the US, in the name of freedom, basically they do not find you. The operator seem to have the right to respond to a request coming from emergency teams by providing the information they have (location according to cellphones mats), but it is not mandatory and as far as I know there is no standardized, automated and secure way to do this in a time efficient fashion.
Law proposals seem to be on their way to allow emergency teams to "ping" your phone in order to fetch GPS location data. However, this raises privacy concerns on users side, and effectiveness concerns on emergency sides since such kind of location may remain ineffective indoor.
How can I reliably block GPS or this "pinging" thing?
You can you a GPS jammer, but its use may be forbidden in your country. Moreover, depending on your phone's location API implementation when no GPS location is available it may fallback to third-party location solution (mainly nearby WiFi and cellphone mats cell-id), making the GPS jamming solution both risky and unreliable for such use.
To target precisely the cellphone's GPS issue, on Android (at least) you have the possibility to inject fake GPS location. This will be effective for all application relying on a traditional location API.
At last, if you want to be certain that your phone doesn't send or receive any data (in your comments you seem to show some concerns regarding the reliability of the "plane mode"), then the simple yet effective solution is to wrap your phone in a heavy-duty aluminum foil.