Mobile Phone Tracking

by Joe Mueller on February 4, 2011

There are a lot of options out there for people looking for a mobile phone tracker. It seems as though everyone has some reason to know the location of a cell phone – either their own or someone else’s. A lot of the reasons are good and straight forward. Other reasons are often less than noble.

You could be the parent that is trying to make sure that your family is able to stay in contact with each other and keep each other safe. Or you could be an employer who is seeking a solution to improve company logistics, reduce costs, and create revenue opportunities. Or you could be a creepy stalker trying to find out where someone is. Whatever your reason, there are some things that you should know about tracking a mobile phone.

What is mobile phone tracking?

Wikipedia defines it this way:

Mobile phone tracking tracks the current position of a mobile phone even on the move.

Simple enough. Another way to put it is this, it is the process where you use the natural working of the phone in order to tell the exact location of the mobile.

Anyone looking for ways to track a mobile phone probably already have an idea of what it is due to the countless number of times a cell phone is tracked on a TV crime drama. But what you see is a caricature of how it actually works. For starters, law enforcement does need to request the information from a carrier – they just don’t type into their computers and get the info. Heck, they may even have to get a warrant!

However, there is some truth to the way it is portrayed. Many tracking programs do have a web interface that will display the exact location of the person (give or take a few metres) that has already consented to having the tracker installed on their phone. This is really powerful stuff and all you need is a computer to now exactly where someone is.

How does mobile phone tracking work?

Without getting too technical, its magic. Just kidding. It can get pretty complex, but the tracking mechanics either use GPS satellites or cell towers to find out the position of the mobile. The technical name for the process is called trilateration, but some people refer to it as triangulation (which is wrong, technically, but works fine for most people).

What this mathematical process does is takes the position of some fixed objects – like satellites in space or cell towers on the ground – and draws big circles around 3 or more of them. The points where all the circles come together is the point where the phone is. Here is a pretty good video that explains it perfectly:


The guys voice is a little monotone, but he’s a scientist – so that makes it okay. Simple enough, right?

Are there free mobile phone tracking options?

Yes! There are tons of different free mobile phone tracking programs out there on all types of cell phones. The real question that you should be asking is which tracking program is right for me?

Unfortunately, the only one who is going to be able to answer that is you, but here is some things that you should consider. There are a few main types of tracking programs for mobile phones. There are social trackers, sport trackers, family trackers, and business trackers.

Social mobile phone tracking programs are designed to keep friends in contact with each other. Programs like foursquare and Gowalla allow users to share their position information with their friends to earn “cool points” from each other. A conversation could go something like this:

Dude 1:  Hey, man.  I just checked in at hipster bar #3.  I’m hip.

Dude 2: Dang bro, your the coolest.

Dude 1: Yeah.  I totally know.  That is why I posted it on the Internet.

Pretty deep stuff, I know.

Other social trackers, like Google Latitude, let your friends know exactly where you are whenever your phone is on and it is getting a good location from the GPS satellites. This is very creepy, but only if you give even mild friends access to know where you are at all times. If you just use it for family (and maybe very close friends) it is not that crazy.

Sport trackers can be used by the physically adventurous to record their exercising. It will do all the normal things that you might want a GPS to do for you. It will log the time when you started the run and then give you the time you stopped so you have the total time exercised. They are even good enough that they can add up all your time stopped at traffic lights or at duck crossings and find your actual run time.

In additional to this pretty rudimentary stuff they also give you an average speed, altitude changes, and peak speeds. All this information can be used to look at your exercising routines and determine where you can improve. Most people will just use it to keep track of their exercising.

Family mobile phone trackers are designed to help families stay connected and safe. Some family trackers are social trackers that have been hijacked for the purpose. Google Latitude is one such example. It is billed as something for friends to use – but it is really better for families.

Then there are apps like Life 360. This app is for families and pets and lets you keep track of your children. It also displays the known addresses of sex offenders as well as safe places to go if you feel like you are in danger.

Business mobile phone trackers still work like all the other tracking programs they just have specific business applications. Businesses might need dispatcher support as well as ways to push information out to the mobiles on the field. These programs are certainly not free, but they do provide businesses with powerful personnel command – making them leaner, meaner, and more productive.

Who can use mobile phone tracking?

Anyone who is smart enough to install it. You also have to have access to the mobile phone in order to install the tracker and get it working properly. This is all pretty easy. If you need some help you can check out our article on how to download cell phone tracking software for help.

Can you secretly track a mobile phone?

The answer is yes and no. If you are looking to do covert mobile phone tracking on someone else’s phone without their knowledge then the answer is NO! You should never, ever, ever, ever, ever track someone’s mobile phone without their consent. If the police find out about you will be faced with stalking charges. Private citizens have no power to secretly track someone else without their knowledge.

It also doesn’t pass the common sense test. Would you want just anyone to be able to track your mobile phone to know where you are?

But I did answer the question with a yes, but it is a qualified yes. The only way that you may (consult your attorney to determine what the law in your state is) is if you are the owner of the property being tracked. Businesses, spouses, and parents all potentially have the ability to track another individual without their knowledge or consent as long as they are tracking their own property.

For example, a business issues mobile phones to their employees as part of the job. Without the employee knowing the owners of the business can install tracking software on the phone to ensure that the employee is doing their job. Parents can also activate parental control tracking features through their mobile carrier without the consent of any of the lines on their plan. This could be a teen, a spouse, a friend, or even a boyfriend or girlfriend. As long as they are on your plan you have the ability to track them without their knowledge.

The real question is should you use a covert mobile phone tracker? Most cases probably don’t warrant it, but I know that some do. Tracking a cheating spouse is one that comes to mind.

Can I type in a number on a website and track a mobile phone?

GPS mobile phone tracking does not really work that way. Now there is a way if you are in Europe to do this, but you have to have the consent of the person for it work – and most people hardly will get the person they are trying to track to approve their request.

Now you can access a website and see the location of the phone if you already have the program installed on it. Just log in with your credentials and you will see exactly where the phone is, give or take a few metres.

If you have any more questions about mobile phone tracking just leave them in the comments below and we will be more than happy to do our best to get them answered for you. Thanks!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 wei February 15, 2011 at 3:37 am

To see . from China

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2 Teneal April 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

i just lost my cell phone and I remember it saying that it has gps tracking something or other on it, but i had no idea that I had to download software for it to work!!! (i just learned this from your article) so now I really need to know where my cell phone is, but no way to do it! Is there a way and HOW do I do it… short answer please! :)

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3 dusan May 25, 2011 at 11:42 pm

i lost my cell phone 2 weeks ago and now its probably without sim-card, has no gps tracking software installed. So i was wondering if there is any way how to track it down secretly (like using IMEI number or something) …
thx in advance

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4 Joe May 31, 2011 at 11:42 am

Hi dusan,

I know of no way to track a phone just by its IMEI number. A cell phone carrier can blacklist a phone that has been stolen by its IMEI number and they can track it too. They just won’t give that info out without a court order.

- Joe

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5 concerned about stalking June 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm

is there any way to disable a phone tracker, if you suspect, you are being a victim?
does turning the phone off or removing the battery, disable the tracking software?

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6 KEVIN August 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

There is at least one website where you can put in someone’s cell number and it will return you an email with their location in Google maps. There are applications that you can use to find your phone if you lose it but your GPS has to be turned on when you lost it.

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7 Joe August 30, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Hi Kevin,

What website would that be?

- Joe

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