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Can someone track your location from a text?

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  • 4 min read

As convenient and well-integrated as smartphones are in our everyday lives, they’re also massive security issues. Stories of phones being hacked to reveal the owner’s personal information aren’t uncommon, making the everyday user nervous about whether or not an unknown threat actor is tracking them. 

The truth is, there are many ways someone can remotely infiltrate your phone. One of the easiest things to extract remotely is your phone’s location — often by sending a simple and, in some cases, hidden text message. 

In this article, we’re discussing whether someone can track your GPS location from a text and what you can do to prevent such intrusions. 

Also read: How your Android phone can be hacked in under 2 minutes


Can a phone be tracked via text?

The short answer is yes; your phone can be tracked via SMS or text. 

However, this is a rather complicated process and often depends on the kind of text message in question. Inherently, the SMS protocol doesn’t transmit GPS location data, meaning you’re safe if you’re sending a regular text message to a contact on your phone. 

That said, unsuspecting users can be tricked into revealing their phone’s GPS location by unknowingly tapping on a malicious link in an SMS or MMS message they receive.

Additionally, if you’re sharing links that include your location information or an MMS with location data, the recipient can reverse engineer these messages to reveal, at the very least, an approximate location of your device. 

Messages from other apps that include metadata can also reveal your location information, provided the app includes location data in the message. These messages aren’t always the easiest to decrypt, though, and when using an end-to-end encrypted app like Signal or Whatsapp, it’s nearly impossible for any third-party intruder to access the message and any related information. Even linked contacts on your phone can be used for spying

Tracking apps can also trace a phone’s GPS location by sending a hidden text message to the target device, prompting it to return its location in response. These messages aren’t generally shown to the recipient. However, locations acquired via this method aren’t always accurate. 

Lastly, cell phone companies can always locate their customers using triangulation. This involves measuring signal strength on a device from three or more nearby cell phone towers and using it to determine an approximate location. However, this method is rarely accessible to threat actors and is mostly used by law enforcement agencies. 

Also read: How to identify phishing scams?


How to know if someone is tracking your phone?

If your phone starts showing unusual behaviour like significantly faster battery drain, weird browser history or increased data usage, these could be signs that you’re being tracked. We’ve already covered seven ways you can tell your phone is hacked or how you can untap your phone.

The best way to protect yourself against malware, spyware and being tracked is exhibiting common sense. Here are some things that you can do to prevent being tracked:

  • Use strong passwords: a strong password that mixes characters, alphabets, and numbers is your first defence against unwelcome intrusions. The more unique your password, the stronger it is and, hence, the harder it is to crack for hackers.
  • Two-factor authentication: Using two-factor authentication means that even if your password gets compromised, you’re still relatively safe. The intruder will need a one-time password sent to your phone or email to log into your accounts.
  • Update your phone and apps regularly: Both Apple and Android manufacturers regularly release updates that continue to fix any security issues, bugs or vulnerabilities in your phone’s operating system. Keeping your phone updated means you’re protected from most known attacks. The same goes for app developers.
  • Don’t open links from people you don’t know: Be very careful when opening links you’ve received from an unknown person. They can often lead you to phishing pages that might compromise your digital accounts or extract your phone’s location.

Also read: Can your WiFi get hacked? Is sharing WiFi passwords a bad idea?

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: yadullahabidi@pm.me.

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