Does Airplane Mode Prevent Location Tracking?

Discussion in 'privacy technology' started by wsfmojosam, Sep 10, 2016.

  1. wsfmojosam

    wsfmojosam Registered Member

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    Howdy. I'm disturbed by the fact that cell phones are constantly pinging the cell tower, and this information is stored by the phone company indefinitely.

    I don't use my phone for much (I'm a bit of a Luddite). I'm already in the habit of ignoring texts until later in the day. I do get the occasional phone call, but most of those can also be ignored until later in the day.

    If I keep my phone in airplane mode whenever I'm out of the house, does that prevent the phone company from tracking my whereabouts? I can always take it out of airplane mode on the rare occasions that I actually need to make a call or check texts. Yes, the phone company then gets a bead on my position, but they've still missed the bulk of my movements.

    I know that cell phones supplement their geolocating by looking for nearby wifi access points. I think this has to do with the 911 system, since cell-tower data is imprecise. Does the cell phone keep a log of my travels via its wifi sniffing, which it then uploads the next chance it gets?

    Or is there yet another way that these things track us that I'm missing?
     
  2. wsfmojosam

    wsfmojosam Registered Member

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    I should clarify. I keep wifi off most of the time, so presumably it can't triangulate that either. I guess what it boils down to, is there some non-obvious way that they can still track me? I had heard there is a maintenance mode that occasionally pings the tower or reports to Apple, but I'm assuming that is off in airplane mode.

    (I also have the GPS turned off.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  3. TheWindBringeth

    TheWindBringeth Registered Member

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    I think you get this, but just to clarify: Any RF interface that *transmits* a unique identifier might make your device's presence known to an in-range receiver. Any RF interface that *receives* a unique identifier from an in-range transmitter would learn of the transmitter's presence. So both transmit and receive are potential problems. What RF interfaces does your phone have? Cell, WiFi, Bluetooth probably. NFC too? Plus there is GPS proper which should be receive only.

    Researching FAA/aviation requirements would shed light on what is supposed to be turned off in airplane mode. However, it might not answer all questions. The only way to really know what is fully turned off, and also what is logged/phoned-home, is to know the software/hardware. So you might want to search for articles/presentations/discussions by people who specialize in the firmware your phone runs.

    As for other things that could potentially be exploited: Camera, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, microphone, accelerometer/gyroscope, compass, barometer, display, speaker, vibrator. Possibly more, you'd have to research what your phone supports. While some obviously have greater potential for location related uses, we may not realize all the ways these things can be leveraged.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2016
  4. Krusty

    Krusty Registered Member

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    Why not just turn the phone off until you need it?
     
  5. EASTER

    EASTER Registered Member

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    Pull the battery, press the ON to drain the capacitors. Dead device.

    No signal unless it has something else in it to send/receive radio waves.
     
  6. zapjb

    zapjb Registered Member

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    Unless it's an older dumb phone. Smashing it to bits is the only thing that'll work.
     
  7. Krusty

    Krusty Registered Member

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    What about taking the battery out, draining the cap's and leaving the battery out?
     
  8. wsfmojosam

    wsfmojosam Registered Member

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    It's an iPhone, so it has all of those except NFC. I keep all of those off except on the rare occasions that I need them.
    You're probably right. The thing about cell phones is there's the OS that we think about (IOS or Android), and then there's the OS/firmware that runs the radio and handles the protocols, etc. It's that lower-level OS that's harder to dig into. That's probably my main concern. What sort of things go on at that level? There could be various communications going on for all sorts of status/update/maintenance/network purposes. I'm assuming that they all go out on the cellular antenna. I'm also assuming that airplane mode shuts off the cell broadcasting entirely. I was hoping to find an expert who works down at that level who could tell me.

    So at the moment, all of the transmitters that I'm aware of are turned off.
    Because I've heard stories that they're never completely off. I don't know if that's true. Maybe if I turn off all of the transmitters and then shut it down, it would be safer.

    The other reason I don't keep the phone off is that's where I'm hoping to draw the privacy vs. convenience line. It takes a bit of time to power it up. I'd prefer to not have to wait for that.

    Another option, of course, is to get a Faraday bag. I've read that some of them work better than others. I have a holster that I'm happy with, and accommodating a Faraday bag would get inconvenient.

    So you see that I do want some convenience. I was hoping that by just turning off all of the transmitters that I'd be safe from having my travels about town recorded by the phone company
     
  9. wsfmojosam

    wsfmojosam Registered Member

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    It's an iPhone, so I can't take the battery out! But anyway, as I stated above, I'd like to have some convenience. I'm trying to figure out if the place where I'm choosing convenience over privacy is nevertheless giving me the level of privacy that I think it does.

    I'm not massively paranoid. If I were, I wouldn't have one of these phones at all. I just want to reclaim some of my privacy.
     
  10. EASTER

    EASTER Registered Member

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    I'm beginning to think that these handset makers have transitioned to non removable batteries on purpose just to make the blasted things always reachable in some capacity.

    Not a good ideal at all. And not just for that reason alone.
     
  11. zapjb

    zapjb Registered Member

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    Some have a hidden battery or power storage. After all, ALL the multi-billion $ companies are compliant with the *** et al. Even if they assert differently.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2016
  12. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    Use a Faraday bag :)
     
  13. Umbra

    Umbra Registered Member

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    This thread is pure paranoia ! :p

    btw, even Snowden uses a phone...
     
  14. wsfmojosam

    wsfmojosam Registered Member

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    That might be where I end up. I'd just prefer to not have to deal with that. (I'm very happy with the holster I'm currently using. A Faraday bag wouldn't fit. It's such a giant phone that I had trouble finding a holster to begin with.)

    I'm not trying to be impossible to trace. I just don't like the idea of the phone company having a complete record of my travels. If I can stop that, I'd be satisfied.
     
  15. TheWindBringeth

    TheWindBringeth Registered Member

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    Right, and since it is theoretically possible for a device to gather location related information via receive-only... storing it and/or phoning it home after you've re-enabled a transmitter or other network interface... you may need to know what is going on at all times.

    I think that would be most likely due, in part, to that connection being more difficult for users to sniff and/or tamper with. However, since ANY route to the Internet would suffice to phone home data, other interfaces would warrant coverage.

    Do what you can, right? BTW, I searched for something related and discovered Airplane Enhancer. You are probably aware of it, but if not, take a look.

    Would that interfere with an inertial navigation system? Would that interfere with location information derived from audio watermarks? Is the user periodically removing the bag and allowing the phone to update its position (and phone home)? No need to answer... there are clearly *some* issues and I think it would take us further away from the more balanced "what is the best I can do while keep my phone convenient to use" goals of OP. Just food for thought.
     
  16. Palancar

    Palancar Registered Member

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    When I clicked on this thread I was going to post the exact same thing. I am getting slow!!
     
  17. hawki

    hawki Registered Member

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    For the truly paranoid or realistically aware who value their privacy and do not want to have to remove the batteries from their phones when they travel.

    A costly solution.

    In addition to your regular phone buy two "pay lo" phones from a popular no contract carrier at a cost of $19.95 each.

    Then subscribe to their "pay lo" monthly plan (400 minutes) for a cost of $20/month.

    Make a few calls to numbers you frequently call such as a pizza delivery service and your place of employment since "they" undoubtedly already know it

    Get two magnetic holders and securely attach each pay lo phone underneath a neighbor's car.

    Frequently rotate the neighbor's cars you choose, since some peeps do get their car's washed and have them in the shop for maintenance.

    Then sit back and cool your heals with a smile on your face, knowing that if anyone is tracking you, your plan is literally driving them crazy :)

    (Best to attach the phones to a neighbor with a frail physical build who already doesn't like you cuz when/if they find out they might not react in a positive way. I do not believe that this plan would meet the definition of "stalking" in the various state Anti-Stalking Laws. But to be on the safe side, in addition to the cost of the phones and monthly service fee, set aside a minimum of $20,000 as a possible retainer for a good criminal defense lawyer. Privacy does not come cheap these days.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
  18. TheWindBringeth

    TheWindBringeth Registered Member

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    Sounds like a good way to ruin a relationship. Your SO starts to wonder after seeing Facebook recommend you friend your attractive neighbors, then knows something is up when your device keeps showing ads for swingers clubs and/or divorce attorneys.
     
  19. hawki

    hawki Registered Member

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    "Oliver Stone Goes Full Edward Snowden in New “Turn Off Your Phone” P.S.A."

    http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/08/oliver-stone-snowden-phone-psa

    In a surveillance state only the paranoid are sane. It's none of the NSA's business that I like pepperoni and mushroms on my pizza :)
     
  20. haakon

    haakon Registered Member

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    Good tip.

    ------------------

    As well, I think some one makes Faraday cases for popular devices, too. Less bulky than the bag. Yes, you have to slide it out of the case to tweet and do teh faecbook.

    A microwave oven works to that effect, too.

    Just make sure you use one you scarfed up at thrift shop or yard sale and cut off the power cord.

    I have a friend who uses that; he even gutted it to reduce weight.

    You can use the one in the kitchen but you might find your device getting cooked with the microwave dinner. :eek:
     
  21. zapjb

    zapjb Registered Member

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    Are they responsible for my bodies strange reaction to pizza in the last few months? Four to twelve hours later it's not a good idea for me to leave the house. Thanks a lot *** for making me addicted to pizza & saving one type of gas for 12 hours.
     
  22. TheWindBringeth

    TheWindBringeth Registered Member

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    If interested in a Faraday bag/case, this may be a good thread to read first:

    http://www.forensicfocus.com/Forums/viewtopic/t=3914/

    Puts you in the right frame of mind I think. If you are going to buy something, do some research and buy something decent.

    I was particularly amused by the quoted claim: "the F.B.I. tried to build a Faraday room in a building that they later discovered Verizon had put up a cell tower on it, and that cell tower put out a strong enough signal to go right through the Faraday room". Also:

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article...-cages-less-effective-than-previously-thought
    https://sinews.siam.org/DetailsPage...icleID/757/Surprises-of-the-Faraday-Cage.aspx
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
  23. Umbra

    Umbra Registered Member

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    maybe they wanna do a survey of american pizza eaters tastes :p
     
  24. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    About that Faraday bag, case, etc ...

    It's not really appropriate unless you're already using airplane mode, and have WiFi turned off. Otherwise, the device will freak, because it can't reach anything, and the battery will take a major hit. If the device will be shielded for very long, it should be turned off. If the device will be shielded for more than a day, the battery should be removed.

    To determine whether the device is effectively shielded, just call it.
     
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