Plan B – Find my phone app for Android

Plan B is an Android locating app released by the mobile security company Lookout to find your lost Android mobile device. It says it’s the only mobile tracking app with which you do not need to download and install before you lose your handset.

If you own an Android Smartphone and it goes missing without any mobile security app installed, you do not have to be panic. Simply go to Android market and sign in using your Google account, then search for plan B. Then you can download and install it into your lost phone, and it will run automatically. Keep in mind that Android does not allow you to install any apps from the web by default, you need to enable it beforehand, otherwise it’s a misery and even Plan B could not help you locate your handset.

Once done, you can sign in to Gmail from PC or mobile device using the same account and you will find Emails sent from Lookout Plan B showing the location of your lost Android mobile phone on Google Maps. You can click on the link to load Google Maps to zoom in or zoom out so that you will see the more accurate location.

Plan B sends location Emails to you in the following 10 minutes updating the location of your handset. After 10 minutes or if you do not receive any Email from them, you can use another handset to send a SMS with the word locate to your missing Android device to activate it again, then you can check your Email inbox.

Plan B uses GPS and cell sites to determine the location of your handset, which means the it is not that accurate if GPS is not on. But at least you can view the rough location which may help you find your device. In general, the accuracy is about some twenty meters which is acceptable.

Unlike other mobile tracing apps, Plan B uses your Google account in stead of IMEI number to locate your Android handset. If the thief makes a factory restore, you will not be able to install Plan B into your phone as your Google account will be removed. Also if the SIM card is being taken out, or the battery is dead or there is no network coverage, you are unable to locate your missing device. Well Plan B is not to blame for this as other mobile locating apps have the same issues.

What’s missing in plan B is the capability of remote lock and wipe, which is vital and widely seen in other mobile locating services like Find My iPhone and BlackBerry protect. Furthermore, it does not allow you to view live location information on a map and you can not refresh the map. There is still a lot of room for improvements, however it does give us a new idea that mobile tracking app can be installed after your phone is missing.

Plan B is now available in USA with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, it requires Android 2.0+ (exclude 3.0+).

Update, remote lock and wipe are only available to paid version.

2011-May-Thu | Category: Cell phone tracking | Tags: , ,

Apple says location data are used for better service

Apple said on Tuesday at a Senate hearing that they are collecting location data of cell sites and WiFi access points to improve their location services, not tracking user location. Apple emphasized again that the data recorded and sent back to their server are all anonymous.

This is the latest progress since Apple released iOS 4.3.3 to fix the location issue. In the update, Apple reduced the cache of the location data which will not be transferred to iTunes when users sync their iOS devices, and users can switch it off completely by disable the location service.

Apple previously said the not encrypted location file was a bug. It now seems to me what Apple said was true since sometimes the base stations logged are miles away from iPhone. It’s more likely Apple is using its iOS devices to collect as many cell sites and WiFi hotspots as possible to provide location based services. As a matter of fact, Google has been doing the same constantly as well, that is why Google Maps could calculate your handset’s location even it’s not GPS enabled.

There are a few advantages in doing so. GPS yield the most accurate location results, but it takes from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on you have a cold start or not, while it’s much faster using base stations and WiFi hotspots. What’s more, in places like streets, garage and tunnels there could be no GPS signal but cell towers and wireless access points work fine. So GPS is not always that reliable. Skyhook wireless became the first to realize that and they had drivers surveying WiFi hotspots to build their WPS system which is much quicker and more accurate. This is followed by Google. Since Google has its own popular Android OS and online mapping service Google Maps, the whole process is much easier.

Apple ditched Google Maps in iPhone a while ago; I sensed at the time that Apple was planning to develop their own mapping service, this is proved by the fact that Apple started to hire maps developer. So it came as no surprise that Apple had been logging cell sites and WiFi access point to build their own location database, which is essential for online mapping service.

Foursquare already pioneered the location service industry. Google also has some terrific yet not-so-popular location products, like Google Latitude, Google Maps and Google Earth. As the world’s most popular Smartphone maker, Apple wanted to catch up considering the huge potential market.

Apple’s only fault is logging user location without prior permission and leave the location file not encrypted, which finally made itself under fire.

2011-May-Wed | Category: Cell phone tracking | Tags: , ,

Track your BlackBerry phone using BlackBerry Protect

Apple, the mobile device industry newcomer yet the most successful Smartphone maker launched its iOS device lost and found service and app Find My iPhone long ago. Microsoft also released its own data sync and location service My Phone for its not so successful Smartphone Windows Mobile. But RIM, the famous business brand has not announced related security service for its devices until last June. It’s not called Find My BlackBerry, however. Its name actually is BlackBerry Protect. Although the name is quite different, but the features are more or less the same as Find My iPhone.

BlackBerry used to be the best option for businesses, and security is vital for its mobile devices. As a matter of fact, BlackBerry devices are famous for its high security features. BlackBerry Smartphones are widely used in US government and congress, president Obama also use BlackBerry for sending Emails. For the same reason, BlackBerry devices became the primary target of mobile device thefts. So RIM needs a security solution urgently for its consumers and businesses to address the concerns.

Amid the various needs, BlackBerry Protect is intended to provide data backup, location and remote wipe out services to families and small businesses.

Backup and restore your data

BlackBerry Protect backups your contacts, text messages, bookmarks, memos and other data automatically every day, or every week or every month depending on your preferences. If you already make a backup, the next ones only backup data changed since previous backup. If you lose any information or purchase a new BlackBerry phone, you can restore your backup easily.

Track your BlackBerry mobile phone

If you misplace or lose your device, you can sign in to their website using your BlackBerry ID and locate it. You can view the location on a map, play a sound or send and display a message remotely on your handset even in silent mode, which is like HTCsense. If unfortunately you could not find your handset, you can set a password to lock it, and wipe out your private information remotely.

If your handset has built-in GPS, the location information will be much more accurate than using cell towers. Well it’s not hard to understand. However as more sensors like accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope are integrated into Smartphones, it can return more accurate results as those sensors can obtain information about where the user is heading and the speed etc.

To be honest, all these features seem very similar with Find My iPhone. However it’s provided to customers at no cost, while Apple used to charge $99 for a full year although now free for iOS 4+.

BlackBerry Protect is now available in North America, EU, Australia and New Zealand etc. If you have BlackBerry cell phone, you can download it here and start to enjoy Find My BlackBerry now.

Apple faces lawsuit for tracking user location

In the previous post I reported that iPhone and iPad with iOS 4 and later track user location secretly, well it seems that the issue has escalated. Last week, two Apple product users named Vikram Ajjampur and William Devito filed a lawsuit in Florida against Apple for violating privacy laws, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Apple has not responded to a request for comment for the time being.

Meanwhile, an iPOS user wrote a letter to Jobs asking for explanation on location tracking. He said he will turn to Android if Jobs do not give him a definite answer. Jobs did give a reply saying Apple never track its users location, the media just misled users. He also accused Android of tracking user location.

Apple previously said the location data they collected are anonymous and users can disable location service to stop iPhone from recording user location information.

On the contrary, an experiment done by Wall Street Journal on this matter indicated that iPhone continues to track user location even if people disable its location service which is on by default. They used an iPhone with the latest iOS version and restored to factory settings, then took the test iPhone to various places and found that even if you turn off location service, iPhone continued to record user location include GPS coordinates with time stamps. However the location recorded was not that accurate as it could use cell towers and Wi-Fi access points to determine the user location.

An independent researcher and consultant called Ashkan Soltani later confirmed the test by Wall Street Journal.

It seems iPhone did use a few ways to determine and store user location data. So I am not surprised that it continued to obtain coordinates without GPS. Even if the location recorded are actually the coordinates of the cell towers and access points, and in some cases the error could be a few miles, users still have reasons to worry about why Apple is collecting user location data, how do they use it and to whom they will share the data. The most important thing is Apple did this without informing its users and obtaining user permission.

The Apple location tracking issue also caused concerns among the government. The Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked on Monday Google and Apple executives to have a meeting together to explain why and what data they are collecting via mobile devices, how long they will store the data and how to disable the location service.

Meanwhile, Korean Communications Commission said on Monday that they will look into the iPhone location tracking issue. Meantime, Germany, France and Italy government started to investigate if Apple is in violation of their privacy laws. Germany government has very strict laws about privacy; it formerly investigated the Google street view case for collecting Wi-Fi hotspots and peoples’ Email content and password.

If you are an Apple user and are worried about it, there is a Canadian company named Edmonton developed an app to help iPhone and iPad users to clean up the location data recorded to avoid being tracked by Apple.

The app is called “Untrackerd”, it removes the location data from consolidated.db automatically every half an hour, and it’s free to use at the moment. You can download it here http://macte.ch/VQXWV.

2011-Apr-Tue | Category: Cell phone tracking | Tags: ,

iPhone 4 track user whereabouts silently

Two security researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan recently discovered that iOS 4 devices include iPhone and iPad are watching users secretly and silently. I also read somewhere that this happened to some iPhone 3GS and iPad as well, but it’s not confirmed.

The two researchers found that iPhone and iPad running iOS 4 and later record users’ location information include latitude and longitude in a file called consolidated.db with timestamps even if users do not use location based services. This has all been done without users’ permission and notice in advance. When you sync your iPhone with iTunes, the file will be transferred to your PC. What’s worse is that the file is not encrypted and unprotected at all. So anyone with access to your handset or PC will be able to read the file and show your locations on a map. If your iOS device was lost or stolen, the thief will know where you are working, where you eat, and where you have been.

According to the recorded data, iPhone 4 has been recording the GPS coordinates since iOS 4 was released last July. If you buy an iPhone 4 at the time or upgraded to iOS 4 or later, it recorded your whereabouts over the past year.

It’s still unclear why Apple was doing this; some speculated that Apple was testing some new features that may be added to iPhone 5. But since Apple did not upload the file into their own server, I do not see how this information will turn useful to Apple. They need to analyze the data first in order to take advantages of users’ location data. Meanwhile, Apple’s location service Find My iPhone can be used to achieve this goal easily as well.

It’s unknown how iPhone or iPad record the location data, either via GPS or cell  towers. So we do not know how to disable it at the moment. However, since the GPS coordinates are recorded, it indicates Apple was able to use GPS or other location database to determine the location. If they use cell towers, there is nothing we can do unless you turn off your mobile device.

Apple declined to comment on this matter so far.

If you are concerned about your privacy, there was an open source app called iPhone tracker made by Pete and Allan can help you to detect and locate the location file. You can download the app here; they also have a tutorial about how to use it and other information.

As I do not own an iOS device, I am not able to test it myself. But it’s said Android device have the same issue, and they upload your data to Google servers, which is really worrisome.

Update, Senator Al Franken and Representative Ed Markey have sent letters to Steve Jobs asking to explain the matter.

Update, iOS 4.3.3 was released to fix the “bug”. The new iOS will not sync the location file to iTunes and the size is reduced as well. What’s more important is that the file will be removed when the location service is turned off.

Locate cell phone or PC online using my online tools

In an effort to help our readers to get a better understanding of how cell phone tracking works, we developed a few tools called profone trackers which enable people to track cell phone or laptop online via GPS, cell phone tower, Wi-Fi Access Points and IP address. These tools include GPS / GSM / WiFi / IP tracker. Here is a tutorial about how they work and how to use them.

Profone tracker

This is the very latest tool I created. It’s actually a combination of below mentioned GSM/WiFi tracker, the biggest difference is that you need two WiFi APs and the signal is also used to calculate the position of a mobile device.

In case you do not know how to find the relevant information, I also introduced a few apps there. Check it out here.

Profone GSM tracker

My tool is built using PHP. In order to use it, you have to obtain your location area code (LAC) and CellID, while MNC and MCC codes are not required. We have introduced a few apps for Symbian and Windows Mobile intended to get your LAC and CellID in another post. At the moment, we still lack information on how to get these data from iOS and Android. While the latter is relatively easy, we figured out how to develop a little app running Android to acquire and record LAC, CellID, MNC, and MCC. Anyway hopefully we will post a new post about iOS and Android soon.

When you type your LAC and CellID, the GSM tracker will send these data to Google location server. Generally Google server will return location data include country, address, latitude and longitude etc, with which we will be able to show your location on Google Maps.

Profone WiFi tracker

Wi-Fi hotspots are widely spread around the world, as a matter of fact; you can easily set up a Wi-Fi hotspot using your laptop with built in wireless network card (WNC). Google used its street view cars to collect location data about Wi-Fi Access Points include MAC address, GPS coordinates and signal strength etc. These data are then sent to their location server for location based services (LBS).

This WiFi online query tool (click here) sends a query of MAC address and its signal strength to Google location server. Once get the GPS coordinates of a Wi-Fi hotspot, the tracker display its location on Google Maps.

Well not every query returns a location as some MAC addresses are not included in Google database. In this case, no result will be returned.

Profone IP locator

Our IP locator (click here) determines your location by using your IP address, it shows your location in default if you do not enter an IP address. If you input one, it will first map it to physical address. Then the data will be sent to Google address for GPS coordinates. If Google sever return the latitude and longitude, it will display the location of the IP you entered.

It’s worth noting that it’s not 100% accurate. As a matter of fact, if you use VPN, you will see your location in another city or country.

Privacy

We respect your privacy, and do not collect any information about you. My tools are intended for fun only. Cell phone tracing apps include all the capabilities of our online trackers in fact.

If you have any feedback or comment, just contact me via the about page, I will be more than happy to hear from you.

What makes a good cell phone locating app

Cell phone tracking app is useful because you can use it to record your trip, share your whereabouts with friends. Most of all, parents use it to keep track of their children, people use it to find their misplaced or lost mobile device. But there’s a few situations mobile tracing app could not work, if you read my blog often, you know what they could be. Although many people got their handsets back by using mobile locating software, but if someone gets your handset with knowledge of mobile tracing, you may not be that lucky.

So let’s see what could cause a mobile locating app stop working.

1 No network coverage of carrier to which the SIM card belongs.
2 SIM card’s being taken out.
3 Battery is dead.
4 Phone’s turned off.
5 Mobile tracing app account’s changed.
6 Mobile locating app’s disabled or removed.
7 A factory restore is performed.
8 Phone’s formatted.

So we can see here a few factors could affect the locating app. There is nothing we could do if No. 1 to No.4 happened as we have no control over it. However there’s something we can do to improve the tracing app so that the thieves could not destroy it easily.

There are two types of mobile tracing apps at the moment; one is developed by the cell phone maker. In this case, the locating app comes as part of the OS and it could not be removed. Even if you format the phone, it’s still there. Another type is made by third-party people, you need to download and install it on your mobile device, and you also need to register an account with them to make the app work. In this case, the thief can disable or remove it without an effort.

If you buy iPhone or HTC Android phone, they all provide their own cloud-based service include mobile location service developed by them. You need an account in order to use it, and they use the account to identify and track your handset. If someone delete or change your account, or format the device, you will not be able to locate it anymore. The solution is to enable it in default using the IMEI number solely as the account when the phone was made which in no way could be changed, and use a password to protect it. The password was generated randomly and printed on the use manual. So the thief could not disable or remove it without knowing the password and there is no way to change the account, he/she just could get rid of it even if the mobile device is being formatted and another SIM card is inserted. Every time the thief turns on the phone, it will identify the IMEI number send the location information to the server and you will be able to see its location and track it down.

If you are using any third-party locating software, someone get your handset could easily destroy it. But it does not mean there’s nothing we can do. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few things can be done and have already be done. For example, the locating app should not create any icon so that the thief would not notice it. If the owner of the handset wants to disable or change the settings, a code of number combination can be used. Once you input the code, the app will show up on the screen. The name of the app should not sound like any tracking app, and it would hide itself from any task killer. So the app will silently monitor and track your handset unless someone formats the mobile device.

I remember the days fighting the viruses and backdoor programs, some of them can regenerate even if you reinstall your OS. Maybe cell phone tracing apps could learn from it too.

2011-Apr-Sat | Category: Cell phone tracking | Tags: , ,

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