How to Spot and Stop Phone Tracking Apps

5 important rules for eliminating or limiting phone tracking: Internet Scambusters #934

Phone tracking apps let people know where you are, and in many cases that may be okay.

But if you don’t know who these people are or why they’re doing it, that could spell trouble.

This week we’ll explain the telltale signs you’re being tracked and what you can do about it.

Let’s get started…


How to Spot and Stop Phone Tracking Apps


How much do you trust your cell phone? Is it respecting your privacy or running a phone tracking app that lets others know where you are and what you’re doing? And your phone knows an awful lot about you.

Phone tracking software is legally available for both Android and iOS (Apple) devices in the companies’ official stores. It can have a legitimate purpose. For instance, it can be used by parents to keep track of their youngsters.

But the same software also has less savory uses, such as spying on a partner or an employee. In some instances, it does more than just track the device; for instance, it might record phone conversations.

And beyond this simple monitoring software, there’s also off-store malware capable of stealing just about everything on your phone, if you let it.

As well as all these dubious activities, countless apps are legitimately capable of gathering location and even personal data — with your permission (which they told you about in those Terms & Conditions you didn’t read!).

But don’t panic. There’s a lot you can do to spot and remove location spyware and to limit the extent to which your movements can be tracked.

Even so, it has to be admitted that the only way to guarantee your phone isn’t being tracked is to switch it off — as in powering down completely.

And the only way to be 100% certain you don’t have spyware is to return your device to its factory settings.

Fortunately, you don’t need to take such drastic actions to avoid most of the dangers.

Signs You May Have a Spy in your Phone

In most cases, spying on a phone’s location requires someone to install the tracking software on the victim’s phone. However, at least one tracker can work solely from a browser on the perpetrator’s device. See How to Track a Cell Phone Location Without Them Knowing.

That apart, it’s not otherwise easy to install the phone tracker. The other person has to have access to the victim’s phone — either directly or via hacking and malware — and know how to get around built-in security controls. The malicious app has to be concealed so the user doesn’t spot it.

But if you are one of the unfortunate ones to fall victim, or suspect you may be — and more than one in a hundred phones are said to be compromised — you can usually tell from increased activity on your device.

You may also hear unusual background noise, like clicking and buzzing, although this is less common as tracking software has become more sophisticated.

It may start to slow down or overheat, and the battery drains quickly. In some cases, it might keep rebooting itself or take ages to shut down. You might even spot an app, often with an innocent sounding name, that you don’t recall installing.

Or if your monthly data bill is inexplicably and sharply higher than normal, that’s a powerful sign your phone is doing something you don’t know about.

How to Remove Tracking Software

If you can’t see the phone tracking app, you’re probably not going to be able to uninstall it easily. But if you have security software on your phone, this might be able to identify it and remove it.

Furthermore, some simpler tracking apps rely on your phone being continuously switched on, even when in standby mode. In this case, simply rebooting your device may actually flush out the tracker.

Some newer apps claim to be capable of detecting and removing trackers, but we haven’t tested any of these so far.

Otherwise, you either need to take your device to a tech expert or, as mentioned earlier, reset it to its factory state. Restoring your apps can take some time unless you have a backup that you made before the “invasion.”

If you can actually identify the culprit app, you often can find specific uninstallation instructions online.

How to Avoid or Control Phone Tracking

The five most obvious ways or protecting yourself from phone trackers are:

  1. Protect your phone. That is, keep it out of others’ hands and be wary when using it on a public Wi-Fi network. Ensure access is password protected and keep your operating system up to date.
  2. Install security software. You need to do this on both Android and iOS phones, although the latter are generally more secure. In addition to traditional security programs, you can install apps that warn you when a new program has been installed. And don’t click on unfamiliar links, especially on social networks.
  3. Don’t “root” or “jailbreak” your phone. This tactic, which enables users to install unapproved or unofficial apps, is also one of the most common ways to circumvent device security.
  4. When you install a new app, take the time to read through the Terms & Conditions so you know how much information the app is going to read, store, and even transmit.
  5. Know how to limit the ability of legitimate apps to track you. Learn how to switch off tracking for each individual app and for your entire phone (though you likely can’t totally eliminate it without affecting programs like mapping and weather apps).

Of course, your phone service provider always knows which communications tower you’re using, unless, as we said before, you actually switch the device off, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of having the thing in the first place!

Alert of the Week

If you’re a customer of financial services group Chase, watch out for a sneaky phishing trick masquerading as a notification about new authentication procedures.

It looks like the real thing, but a “Get started” link is a dead giveaway. Banks simply don’t send security emails like this. Even if they did, you should never click on links like this or be taken in by the use of a genuine logo. And if you did click the link, you’d be taken to a fake sign-on page.

You can safely delete this piece of spam. But if you’re worried it might be right, visit Chase’s Fraud: What is Phishing?

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!