I was looking into how easy it would to have your location tracked on your cell phone, would any of these types of phones offer more protection? (assuming you couldn't turn off your location on a smart phone ).


All mobile phones transmit, so an IP phone connects via wireless networks, a cell phone connects via towers and a satellite phone connects, well, via satellites. Which means signal is traceable. If you are important enough, you can be tracked.

All of these services have location facilities - but how useful they are can depend on who is trying to find out the location.

Mobile phone service providers have triangulation data from cell towers, and law enforcement can generally gain access to this data (in disasters, other groups may also be given access). It is reasonably accurate (to within a few metres)

Satellite phones are not as simple to locate, but locations can typically be worked out in a similar way to the efforts to find Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The last transponder communications gave search organisations an arc of possible locations. In that case, because there were only a couple of pings, the arc was incredibly long, and across inhospitable ocean, so finding the wreckage was very difficult. If your communication was targeted, it would be possible to narrow down the arc considerably, and if you had to connect to multiple satellites, each one would give a different arc - locating your general area to greater and greater precision over time. Short calls could provide protection here.

IP phones leak routing data, which could be used to locate you to within WiFi range, and with some analysis of data, range from the wireless access point is possible. Routing through a number of networks, and obfuscating where possible will help - although calls suffer badly when this is too extreme.

  • as a quick explanation on why mobile and satellite phones know where you are. There are limited channels for the phones to send on and the receiver can only receive one signal per channel so the way you can put multiple phones on one channel is by giving them a time slot for their signal to get to the receiver. The signal takes time to get from the phone to the receiver which is dependent on the distance between them this needs to be calculated so as to send the signals at the right time and avoid interference. – Topher Brink Oct 10 '16 at 13:52
  • So if phone A's signal takes 10ms to get to the receiver and phone B takes 12ms and each phone gets 10ms of receiver time it would look like this. 8ms of just A sending, 2ms of both, 8ms of B, 2ms of no sending. Because of B being 2ms further away the signals get to the receiver one after the other without any overlap. – Topher Brink Oct 10 '16 at 13:57
  • Topher, no, actually mobile phones are most accurately located by triangulation. Part of the key handoff protocols between towers require signal strength measurement, so this is built in. – Rory Alsop Oct 10 '16 at 16:09
  • triangulation requires a distance measure from 2+ different receivers (the more the better). Signal strength will not tell you distance, it could be implied but you need to account for variables eg buildings. Yes signal strength is part of the cellular handover but that is due to signal strength is a vital part of deciding what receiver is handling the data whereas distance is not. I could have receivers 1Km and 2Km away but the 1Km has buildings between me and it, the 2Km one has direct line of sight, I could easily have a better signal from the 2Km one – Topher Brink Oct 10 '16 at 16:40
  • that may be true, but it works pretty well. And with the advent of microcells in cities, it works even better there too. – Rory Alsop Oct 10 '16 at 16:59

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