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Tracking Mobile Devices

Posted by Team Copperhead on August 20, 2021

Tracking mobile devices in the modern age

On our smart phone devices, we tend to download a collection of different applications and generally do not pay much attention to the settings or properties within our phones that these apps tap in to. In many cases this puts the integrity of a devices privacy at risk and begs the question: are applications tracking my location? The simple answer is YES.

Today personal data is becoming increasingly valuable as we rely more on smart devices. Outside of traditional applications and GPS assistance, other risks to your data like spyware applications and hackers threaten the privacy of your devices. This stresses the importance of data privacy and understanding how your device data is being accessed so you can protect yourself.

Is your device GPS-Enabled?

Today, all smart phone devices include a GPS feature that is used to improve the accessibility of your device. The GPS creates geolocation data to provide navigation and a user experience tailored to your location. The built in GPS on our smartphones is enabled even when disconnected from the internet, giving access to your whereabouts any place and any time. For many this convenience is a benefit to the features they use every day, but for others the idea that their location is constantly being tracked is somewhat unsettling. In the United States, the FCC has treated the sale of location data by mobile carriers as a violation of federal law. The application of such laws may be arbitrary, and many entities with access to location data act outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

How can I see what applications are tracking my location?

More often than not, applications are regularly tracking your location. With the advancement of digital technology, our personal data has become a valuable resource for these companies. For many applications, tracking your location adds value to their service creating a more tailored experience and additional features for the user. For others is simply acts as a means for monetization.

Many applications tap into this information as a sort of trade-off for using their free app. This serves as a way for these developers to profit from your information, tracking where you go and how long you go there and selling it to different companies. So how can you see what applications are tracking you and how can you disable it?


Find the apps that access your phones location

  1. Swipe down from the top of your screen
  2. Touch and hold the location symbol
  • If you do not find the symbol, enter settings, and add location to your quick settings
  1. Select App permission
  2. There will be three options that you can find the apps that use your phone’s location:
  • Allowed all the time – the application will access your location at any time.
  • Allowed only while in use – the application will access your location while you are using it.
  • Ask every time – the application will ask permission to track your location every time you use it.
  1. Recognize that any device with Google installed can provide information about your location even when disabled

See how an app uses your location

  1. Touch and hold the app icon from your home screen
  2. Select App Info
  3. Tap Permissions > More > All permissions
  4. Under Location you can see how the app has requested to track your location
  • Approximate location – the app can see your approximate location within a few hundred meters.
  • Precise locations – the app can view your device’s exact location.
  • In the foreground – the app can access your location only while you are using it.
  • In the background – the app can access your location at any time.

Manage location preferences of an application

  1. Touch and hold the app icon from your home screen
  2. Select App Info
  3. Tap Permissions > Location
  4. Select an option:
  • Allowed all the time – the application will access your location at any time.
  • Allowed only while in use – the application will access your location while you are using it.
  • Ask every time – the application will ask permission to track your location every time you use it.
  • Deny – app cannot access your device’s location


  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Privacy
  3. Enter Location Services
  4. From here you can see the applications that access your location and manage them based on three options.
  • Never – the app cannot access your location
  • When using the app – the app can access your location while you are using it.
  • Always – the app can access your device’s location at any time.

How to disable location tracking on your device


According to Google, when you turn off the location on your phone applications and other services will not be able to access your phone’s location, but you may still receive local results based on your IP address.

  1. Swipe down from the top of your screen
  2. Touch and hold the location symbol:
  • If you do not find the symbol, enter settings and add location to your quick settings

Location Settings in Android


Within Apple’s settings, you can disable location services completely or toggle location permissions for certain applications.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Privacy
  3. Enter Location Services and select switch > Turn Off

How does Google track a device?

Devices with Google Apps installed provide a vast array of tools for reporting data to Google. WiFi location, SIM card location, browser history, application usage (Gmail, Google Maps) and even application push notifications are all sent to Google for data harvesting. Google can even track devices with location data off. 3rd party Android OS's with microG enabled also face the same level of privacy invasion.

The only way to fully disable Google tracking your device is to not have Google installed in the first place.

Can my phone be tracked without a SIM card?

There are other ways that you can disable the location tracking services on your smart phone outside of these traditional means. You may be wondering; can my phone still be tracked without a sim card or while my device is in airplane mode? The fact is, these actions will completely disconnect your device from any cellular and data reception. However, if you connect to a local Wi-Fi network your phone will transmit a location ping through the internet. Devices with Google Apps installed will report to Google.

Can flip phones be tracked?

What if you don’t have a smart phone? Could a flip phone be tracked? Most of these cell devices do not have nearly as many features or access to data and many are not built with a GPS as smartphones do. While your device is not constantly pinging its location for the use of different applications, if need be, any mobile device’s location can be tracked via nearby cell towers. Fortunately, this will only be done in the case of emergency or situations.

Tools to track your smartphone

On all smart phone devices there is a tool that can be used to track your device’s location if it is lost or stolen. These tools do this by continuously checking or "pinging" your device’s location back to the operators’ servers. Your location is then logged while giving you the ability to see your smart phone’s location at any given time. While these features are in place for the convenience and security of your device, it also raises concerns.

  • Google’s Find My Device
  • Samsung’s Find My Mobile
  • Apple’s Find My iPhone

Is someone tracking your phone?

Outside of traditional apps and GPS related services, other tracking apps and spyware exist that pose a serious threat to the privacy of the user. These stealthy apps can be installed on your device and practically track all your actions near undetectably.

Mobile spyware can access a variety of personal information including geolocation, contacts, call and message logs, photographs, browser history, and other data on your device. With a collection of different spyware tools it is possible that your device may be monitored by someone close to you, a hacker or other entity. So how do you know if someone is tracking your phone, and what can you do about it?

How to tell if your smartphone is being monitored

  • Poor battery life – these spyware applications run in the background continuously and will drain your devices battery unusually fast.

  • Overheating – tapping into the GPS location of your device, tracking your real-time location can cause your device to overheat even when you are not using it

  • Unknown or unrecognized applications – if you find apps on your device that you did not download yourself, this may be a sign that your smartphone is being monitored. Explore your phone’s folders and directories and look for usual files or applications.

  • Increased data usage – In the case that your phone is being monitored by a third-party, it will likely be using your mobile data to send your information remotely. Be aware of unidentified spikes in your data usage.

Ways to protect your phone from being tracked

  • Password protect your device – in many cases if your phone has some kind of spyware application installed, physical access to the device is needed. Ensure that your phone is password protected with a secure code to safeguard your device.

  • Factory reset your smartphone – Factory resetting your device restores your device to factory settings, deleting any data that has been installed. Be sure that you back up your device to preserve any valuable data. This is the easiest way to assure that any third-party spyware or tracking applications will be deleted.

  • Update your phone to the latest software – these spyware applications generally require your device to be ‘jailbroken’ to bypass rules in place to protect the privacy of the users. Updating your device to the most recent software will remove any unwanted systems. As before, be sure you back up your device prior to doing this.

  • Install mobile security protection – Mobile security software is designed to protect the security and privacy of your device. Copperhead OS is a mobile operating system for android pixel devices designed to provide a privacy-focused Google-free device, focused on mitigating the security risks that threaten your personal data.

How Copperhead Can Protect Your Android Device

Copperhead is a business created to provide private, secure mobile devices. The Copperhead business model allows us to help fund open source development and leverage the strengths of open source security software to be paired with industry leading client care. Copperhead’s customization and licensing allows you to take total control. Rest assured that your phone runs on the most up to date software available, secured against the newest threats.

Permissions are in your hands -- and only your hands

CopperheadOS provides a helpful option to determine which applications are using permissions. CopperheadOS also disables options by default on application start, providing an opt-in permission model (rather than opt-out).

Never worry about permissive default settings which leak your personal information.

Google is blind to CopperheadOS devices

Where is your PRIVATE data going?

CopperheadOS devices have no Google or microG integration enabled at build time. This provides no insight to Google on CopperheadOS devices even when using Pixel devices.