Can You Track a Cell Phone? Let’s Consider the Options!

  • cpstadmin,
  • May 22, 2018 7:05am

When most people think of tracking a cellphone, they typically draw associations to the flashy scenes popular in modern movies, where a character is typing furiously on a keyboard as a screen keeps zooming in on the device’s location.

And while many consider this to be a sci-fi concept, popularized by movies because it simply fits the plot well enough in most cases, the reality is quite the opposite. Not only is it possible to reliably track a modern cellphone on a constant basis, but one doesn’t even have to be that experienced with computers or technology in general to do that. There are many apps that can simplify the process and streamline it to literally pushing a few buttons, and all it takes is knowing how the market for them works, and what’s available.

Built-in Tracking Solutions

Every modern smartphone offers some built-in tracking capabilities within its operating system, but these are usually quite limited in what they can offer you, especially if you need to track someone else’s device and not your own. While you might be able to see a complete location history, narrowed down by the hour in some cases, it’s often not a completely reliable method of keeping someone in check, especially if you don’t have access to the accounts they have tied to their device. Even if you do, using those accounts for such purposes might cross some legal lines that you may not want to cross.

This is also valid in cases where the device is provided by you in some capacity (e.g. a business phone), but the person is allowed to link their own personal accounts to it, which may override the tracking settings depending on how the phone has been configured. Overcoming this problem typically comes down to proper configuration from the IT department, so if you’re concerned with the tracking capabilities of the devices you’re handing out, make sure to talk to them early enough. Keep in mind that even they might have their hands tied depending on what exactly you’re trying to do though, which is where more advanced solutions can come in play.

Tracking Apps

There are specialized tracking apps on the market that can make it significantly simpler to go about this, and they can also provide you with more detailed information about the people you’re tracking, including reports of specific activities that you’ve chosen yourself. This can be very useful for parents who want to keep their kids in line, as well as employers who are not sure what their workers are doing with their time on a regular basis.

The only caveat here is that you should familiarize yourself with your own local laws and regulations regarding the use of such tracking apps, as they might not always be permitted by default. In most cases though, you’ll just need to obtain the consent of the person being tracked in some form, and you’re good to go from then on. A common strategy with regards to this is to include a notification about the tracking in terms and conditions that the person has to agree to in order to use the device.

In general, using a tracking app is preferred in most cases as it brings several hard to beat benefits to the table:

  • It’s small and leaves a barely noticeable footprint
  • It’s more reliable than traditional methods
  • Less intrusive (on average)
  • More user friendly on both sides

You’ll just have to find an app that works for you in terms of pricing structure, as that’s the only true downside to this option – you’ll need to invest in an additional product in order to get those benefits. But in most cases, that investment is more than worth it in the long run, especially when the tracking is done for business purposes.

External Hardware

If you want to make things slightly more advanced, it’s also possible to track a cellphone with a small device integrated into the phone itself. The advantage to this system is that it’s not tied to the state of the device itself – even if the phone is turned off, you’ll still get regular reports. On the other hand, you’ll typically be more limited in terms of what information you can collect, and how often it can be reported. After all, your tracking device has to draw its power from somewhere, and connecting it to the main battery of the phone means that it will kill the phone’s power much more quickly if you’re not careful with the way you’ve configured it.

The legality of using external hardware to track a smartphone is also questionable in some places, so make sure you familiarize yourself with how things work in your specific area before even considering this option. You don’t want to find yourself in hot water just because you wanted to keep your kids safe, and unfortunately this happens more often than you might think to careless parents and employers who don’t know what their true privileges and responsibilities are.

Substitute Device

Last but not least, there’s also the option of replacing the device completely with an identical one which has tracking capabilities built in. This may or may not be possible depending on your situation, and it can additionally be quite difficult to pull off. However, there are cases where it’s pretty much your only viable option, and you may need to study it in more detail if things ever get to that. The only advice we can give you in this case is to leave things to an expert if you’re not confident in your own abilities to handle the procedure, as it can be much more difficult than you might initially think. Small details matter a lot, especially when it comes to the configuration of the operating system itself.

Even users who’re not that tech savvy will immediately notice that something is off in the way they’ve structured their apps and other settings, and that’s something you’ll want to pay extra special attention to.


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