Precise cell phone tracking
Many of the service's new customers will undoubtedly have been persuaded to sign up because of the Soham murder trial.
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A vital piece of prosecution evidence was provided by mobile phone records that pinpointed the location of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman outside the home of murderer Ian Huntley. But despite such high-profile successes, there are question marks over the accuracy and security of the data provided to users. The location information comes from the mobile operators and, specifically, relies on which base station a phone is using to connect to its network. For a switched-on mobile phone, whose owner has given permission, the networks will provide location data with up-to-the-minute accuracy - for a price.
You will be able to see the precise location of the base station they are using, and a circle of accuracy within which the network believes the phone to be located. If the person being tracked uses the Vodafone network, you can even retrieve the last base station used by a switched-off phone, and the time of disconnection. The problem is that base stations are sited to provide the best coverage, not to track the location of users. The circle of accuracy can have a diameter of a few hundred yards in a city centre, but several miles elsewhere. Vodafone and O2 use base stations with a maximum range of 35km 22 miles , and Orange and T-Mobile stations the network used by Virgin Mobile have a 17km range.
However, the geography of an area can cause strange readings. Richard Cox, a forensic expert in the field of mobile phone location, says he has seen a phone in Weston-super-Mare connect to a base station in Penarth, just south of Cardiff, despite much closer stations in north Somerset. Online found this effect when testing such a service using an Orange mobile phone.
In the readings provided, the phone was within the circle of accuracy - but it was sometimes a rather large circle. A test from Saltash, a sizeable town in Cornwall, showed the phone connecting through a base station in St Budeaux in west Plymouth, almost twice as far away as an Orange base on the Saltash side of the Tamar Bridge. However, there is a clear line of sight from the test location to that part of Plymouth. The resulting accuracy circle was 4. The size of the accuracy circle is generated by the signal strength, which allows an estimate of the user's distance from the base station.
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But it is not that accurate, and as a result one cannot say where the tracked phone is in circle. Despite the accuracy circle's radius of 2. A separate test in north Somerset, with a phone 1. The service tested was Mapaphone by Mapbyte, although all use the same data from the phone networks.
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Localization may be effected by a number of technologies, such as using multilateration of radio signals between several cell towers of the network and the phone, or simply using GPS. To locate a mobile phone using multilateration of radio signals, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call.
Mobile positioning may include location-based services that disclose the actual coordinates of a mobile phone, which is a technology used by telecommunication companies to approximate the location of a mobile phone, and thereby also its user. The location of a mobile phone can be determined using the service provider's network infrastructure.
The advantage of network-based techniques, from a service provider's point of view, is that they can be implemented non-intrusively without affecting handsets. Network-based techniques were developed many years prior to the widespread availability of GPS on handsets. The technology of locating is based on measuring power levels and antenna patterns and uses the concept that a powered mobile phone always communicates wirelessly with one of the closest base stations , so knowledge of the location of the base station implies the cell phone is nearby.
Advanced systems determine the sector in which the mobile phone is located and roughly estimate also the distance to the base station. Further approximation can be done by interpolating signals between adjacent antenna towers.
Qualified services may achieve a precision of down to 50 meters in urban areas where mobile traffic and density of antenna towers base stations is sufficiently high . Rural and desolate areas may see miles between base stations and therefore determine locations less precisely.
GSM localization uses multilateration to determine the location of GSM mobile phones, or dedicated trackers, usually with the intent to locate the user. The accuracy of network-based techniques varies, with cell identification as the least accurate due to differential signals transposing between towers, otherwise known as "bouncing signals" and triangulation as moderately accurate, and newer "advanced forward link trilateration " timing methods as the most accurate.
The accuracy of network-based techniques is both dependent on the concentration of cell base stations, with urban environments achieving the highest possible accuracy because of the higher number of cell towers , and the implementation of the most current timing methods. One of the key challenges of network-based techniques is the requirement to work closely with the service provider, as it entails the installation of hardware and software within the operator's infrastructure. Frequently the compulsion associated with a legislative framework, such as Enhanced , is required before a service provider will deploy a solution.
The location of a mobile phone can be determined using client software installed on the handset. In addition, if the handset is also equipped with GPS then significantly more precise location information can be then sent from the handset to the carrier. Another approach is to use a fingerprinting-based technique,    where the "signature" of the home and neighboring cells signal strengths at different points in the area of interest is recorded by war-driving and matched in real-time to determine the handset location.
This is usually performed independent from the carrier. The key disadvantage of handset-based techniques, from service provider's point of view, is the necessity of installing software on the handset.
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It requires the active cooperation of the mobile subscriber as well as software that must be able to handle the different operating systems of the handsets. Google Maps. One proposed work-around is the installation of embedded hardware or software on the handset by the manufacturers, e. This avenue has not made significant headway, due to the difficulty of convincing different manufacturers to cooperate on a common mechanism and to address the cost issue.
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Another difficulty would be to address the issue of foreign handsets that are roaming in the network. The type of information obtained via the SIM can differ from that which is available from the handset. For example, it may not be possible to obtain any raw measurements from the handset directly, yet still obtain measurements via the SIM. Crowdsourced Wi-Fi data can also be used to identify a handset's location. Hybrid positioning systems use a combination of network-based and handset-based technologies for location determination.
Both types of data are thus used by the telephone to make the location more accurate i. Alternatively tracking with both systems can also occur by having the phone attain its GPS-location directly from the satellites , and then having the information sent via the network to the person that is trying to locate the telephone.
In order to route calls to a phone, the cell towers listen for a signal sent from the phone and negotiate which tower is best able to communicate with the phone. As the phone changes location, the antenna towers monitor the signal, and the phone is "roamed" to an adjacent tower as appropriate. By comparing the relative signal strength from multiple antenna towers, a general location of a phone can be roughly determined. Other means make use of the antenna pattern, which supports angular determination and phase discrimination.
Newer phones may also allow the tracking of the phone even when turned on and not active in a telephone call. This results from the roaming procedures that perform hand-over of the phone from one base station to another. A phone's location can be shared with friends and family, posted to a public web site, recorded locally, or shared with other users of a smartphone app. The inclusion of GPS receivers on smartphones has made geographical apps nearly ubiquitous on these devices.
Specific applications include:. In January , the location of her iPhone as determined by her sister helped Boston police find kidnapping victim Olivia Ambrose. Locating or positioning touches upon delicate privacy issues, since it enables someone to check where a person is without the person's consent.
In Malte Spitz held a TED talk  on the issue of mobile phone privacy in which he showcased his own stored data that he received from Deutsche Telekom after suing the company. He described the data, which consists of 35, lines of data collected during the span of Germany 's data retention at the time, saying, "This is six months of my life [ Spitz concluded that technology consumers are the key to challenging privacy norms in today's society who "have to fight for self determination in the digital age.
Chinese government has proposed using this technology to track commuting patterns of Beijing city residents. In Europe most countries have a constitutional guarantee on the secrecy of correspondence , and location data obtained from mobile phone networks is usually given the same protection as the communication itself.