Heard about websites and tools claiming that you can track someone’s location just by typing in their phone number? Highly unlikely that such a thing can be done without physical access to the device or installing something on it. Read on to understand the reality, the risks, and ways to protect your privacy.
A cell phone location can be obtained by the technique known as “triangulation” to estimate the location based on the signal strength and other things known to the signal provider (let’s say AT&T, for example). However, these techniques require access usually available to law enforcement agencies and telecom service providers themselves.
If the tool really shows a location when you type in a phone number, it’s almost certain that they are simply providing location information based on the area code or city where the phone number was registered. This may be okay in some cases and can be useful for general knowledge of where a phone number belongs. It is not accurate enough to pinpoint someone’s exact location. So, regardless of the claims and hype, it’s unrealistic and inaccurate information.
Assuming you have already tried the IP Location Finder, you know it is relatively more accurate information if you have the IP address of someone and you use a geolocation tool like the one on this website. So, the next obvious question is how someone would know your phone’s IP Address to detect your location. And this technique is relatively easy for someone to target against you.
How others can find your IP address
..and potentially determine your location:
If you ever fell prey to people having found your location online, it has something to do with your IP address. Every time, from every device you connect to the internet, you are exposing your IP Address online. It is the rule of the internet and not a loophole or security risk. however, it can also be used to find your location.
- Tracking IP via Email: There are email service providers that allow the sender to track whether you’ve opened their email or not. And if you clicked on any links in there. The email-open tracking usually involves image pixels in the email so that their server knows your IP address when that image is requested from your device.
- Social Media and almost all websites: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in fact, almost all websites you visit get to know your IP address and potentially your location. This is how they serve you targeted ads and analyze visitor behavior across locations. It is unlikely that a good website would reveal your IP address to other users (some do though). Websites do have legitimate reasons to track and review your IP – e.g. to detect fraudulent activities or abuse.
- This technique is easily replicated by people interested in knowing your IP Address and geolocation. They would send you a link to their “harmless” website (which can really be harmless) to see an article a photo or to share a genuine file with you. You click that link on your phone and everything looks normal. However, as you guessed already, the server now knows your IP address.
- Malware and malicious software can also be used on your phone to obtain your IP address, but they actually can pose an extremely larger danger than just obtaining your IP address. That is not something I wanted to discuss here.
How can you protect your (phone’s) IP address and location exposed online?
While I do not want to cause paranoia to hide your IP Address, here are a few tips:
- Use a VPN: A VPN (Virtual Private Network) can help protect your online activity and location by channeling your internet traffic through a different IP Address (of their server).
- Disable Email Tracking/Images: Many email services have the option to disable email tracking. Try to use this feature if available – especially if you don’t want the sender to know you’ve opened their emails.
- Be Careful what you browse on the internet: Beware that your IP address may be exposed on some websites and social media platforms. Be cautious about links you receive over email, messenger, chats, WhatsApp, and whatnot.
- Use Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware: Goes without saying, do not leave your device unattended and protect your device from malicious software, and apps.
It may not be a risk at all if you did not want to hide your location or identity. And sometimes it is. Imagine you are on a secret holiday to the Bahamas and your location is exposed all over the internet!