A large number of smartphone users are not aware of their dependency on GPS in the modern-day scenario.

For most users, it’s just another function to toggle off/on whenever prompted by any related service such as cab-hailing apps, maps, location finder apps and many more.

For many years, researches have been perfecting the global positioning system commonly known as GPS and the end-product is integrated into every top-notch smartphone available in the market for people to use as well as test for performance related issues.

How Did GPS Become an Everyday Necessity?

GPS has now integrated into modern day society with applications such as

  • Social activities such as cross-country cycling, skiing, hiking, geocaching have incorporated the services of a reliable GPS
  • Parents can locate their kids easily with the help of portable GPS and help them feel secure in dire situations.
  • GPS is also being used to keep a watchful eye on the elders who do not want to be monitored at all times. GPS can help in such cases if an elderly requires medical assistance.
  • People who dare to go on solo trips feel more secure and are guided by their phone’s GPS which helps them send distress signals at the time of need. Emergency services are now easily accessible due to GPS.
  • With live tracking, many invaluable items such as artworks, archaeological artifacts and other such things are incorporated with GPS tracker to ensure its safety.

The Discovery of the Problem

At the beginning of the year 2018, many researchers across U.S state began their studies to find out whether “toggling off” the GPS button or whether switching off one’s phone “disable” GPS completely or not.

After months of rigorous study, it was revealed by both Princeton and Northeastern researches that GPS is capable of tracking an individual’s phone even if it is ‘disabled’ and the user wouldn’t know that he/she are being tracked.

Obviously, the revelation caused an uproar in the real world where everyone holds their ‘privacy’ sacred and what GPS does seem more like a security breach and it raised concerns regarding how ‘private’ every phone user’s data really is.

The team of researchers of the Northeastern University found a method to track someone’s smartphone despite their GPS being switched off and the user.

How Is It a Problem?

Privacy is the main concern of smartphone users these days and to be able to track position and location of a device can cause a huge dent in the trust factor which exists between GPS service providers and millions of users.

Researches have revealed a technique called “PinMe” that can easily track a smartphone device if it’s GPS as well as Wi-Fi services have been disabled.

Despite the fact that online transparency keeps growing in our society due to various notable social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but the fact is refutable that people still keep a part of their lives, personal and private for example the places one visits at a particular time is not meant to be shared involuntarily.

Nobody wants their privacy being invaded through their own device and by a service which they used almost knowingly every day.

How Does a GPS Track a Switched Off Phone?

The aforementioned app called ‘PinMe’ was exclusively developed to find out the vulnerability and breach in one’s GPS feature.

According to the Northeastern University team it’s a piece of cake to track the live location of an individual with the help of data collected from various sensors that are placed all around the body of a smartphone.

The data collected from the sensors listed below can be accessed without the requirement of user’s permission;

  • Accelerometer
  • Magnetometer
  • Barometer

Based upon the collected data which may include a device’s IP address, time-zone and even network status can reveal the present location of the same device at any given time.

But it gets creepier than that because accelerometer can indicate whether you’re walking or running, kind of movements you’re making, your speed, kilometers you’ve walked and even your direction with the help of magnetometer.

It may then relay that information without the user’s consent and with the help of all this information gathered, the PinMe app can run some tests and matches across the globe with the help of Google Maps and figure out the exact location of a device.

The Solution

As an individual who does not want his device to leak their location to a third party without their permission, they can go through the following steps to ensure your own safety;

  • Be careful of what sort of apps you download in your smartphone and always pay attention to the company who made those apps. Most of the young smartphone users love having an app for different things but sometimes that simple “install” could invite many serious and threatening malware in your device.

To prevent such ‘forbidden’ tracking, users need to go through their ‘permissions’ which they offer to each of their previously installed and widely used applications.

By checking what we “allow” each application, we can minimize the chances of an app ‘spying’ on us with the help of the sensors data.