You ARE Being Tracked. What are Your Options?

Your Internet activities and your devices tell a lot about you. But is that a bad thing? | 10/15/2020

If you are located by your cell phone after an accident, you are happy.

If you use "find my iPhone" to recover your device, you are happy.

But if your movements are tracked in other ways, you scream "invasion of privacy"

You can't have it both ways. 

That is just one example of many. During the pandemic crisis, plenty of people complained that they might be tracked to understand the spread of the virus. But knowing that information helps save lives. If you want to live in the world today, you are going to have to accept that your ability to maintain privacy has changed. 

Cellphone serial numbers have a lot in common with radios and bands that we clamp on birds. Watch this video to see how 2020 Spring Break revelers traveled from the crowded beaches of Florida to multiple states. ALL of this information is available without violation of the fourth Amendment.  View the tracking video here.

Then there is the matter of investigations by law enforcement agencies. There are two types of warrants that do not technically violate the fourth amendment and do not qualify as wiretapping. One is a geofence warrant and the other is a keyword search warrant. Used carefully, they are great tools. Used badly, people get hurt. 

geofence warrant is a request for general location information about devices connected to hotspots and cell towers in particular areas, at particular times. A keyword search warrant is a request for everyone who is searching for particular words in particular areas and at particular times. Note that our current administration has pushed to do more keyword searches, and concern has been mentioned over use for political reasons.

Three examples:

The first story is a geofence warrant that was mishandled. 

A man is wrongly arrested based on Google tracking that was known to be unreliable.

The second story is a keyword search warrant that was seemingly used correctly.

The Forbes article raises some important concerns. Consider the statements under the headings Chief Critic and Crucial Quote.

The third is a vastly broad keyword request that is poorly scoped, and could cause more trouble than good.


Let's be clear as you read on that I always suggest to respect and stay within the law. So the following is standard technical analysis without any assumption.

Keep in mind that , you were already tracked for decades. Traffic cameras, Cable TV Boxes, E-ZPasses, store CCTV and so on were already there, sometimes used well and sometimes not. So being tracked by technology is really not a new thing.

However, the Internet and our connected devices  have certainly expanded the information that is available about you. There are limited options today to avoid "being found" and tracked. A few examples:

You could stop using cell phones. It's obvious that cellular device locations are fully trackable. Burner phones bought with cash are not a solution when you have nothing to hide.

You could stop using public hotspots, e.g. guest Wi-Fi. Even if you have tried to block every potentially detectable source of device identity.

You can install an anonymizing VPN on your devices. But if you want to really be hard to trace, you will have to learn some technology, pay for it, and configure it for multi-hop routing. Actually there are some good reasons to consider a home VPN, because your ISP really does have a record of literally every place you visit on the Internet. That might concern you even if you have nothing you want to hide, so on principle a VPN becomes interesting. If you want to experiment, you can get a free 10GB plan from a company called Windscribe. Two points. First, I mention this company only because of the free starter plan. Second, 10GB won't last long. An hour of watching an online movie can easily consume one to three GB or more.  It makes better sense to turn on the VPN while shopping or doing research but otherwise save the bandwidth.

If the above thoughts are really worrying to you, keep a record of the places you go, and hang on to receipts that prove where you traveled. And watch Sandra Bullock in the 1995 movie, The Net. I admit this will make you even more uncomfortable. But everything in that movie is coming true, including attacks on hospitals that cause patients to die.  You are better off to not be anonymous.