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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Phone-tracking apps keep telling people (and cops) that their missing smartphones are in this couple’s house in a suburb of Atlanta.

"The ubiquity of the technology may leave the impression that location tracking is always reliable, experts say."

Interesting article at, which sounds like the plot from a TV crime series. Excerpts below:
It started the first month that Christina Lee and Michael Saba started living together. An angry family came knocking at their door demanding the return of a stolen phone. Two months later, a group of friends came with the same request. One month, it happened four times. The visitors, who show up in the morning, afternoon, and in the middle of the night, sometimes accompanied by police officers, always say the same thing: their phone-tracking apps are telling them that their smartphones are in this house in a suburb of Atlanta.
The couple, who are in their 20s, she a journalist and he an engineer, worry the police will kick down their door one day, a scenario that has happened before based on faulty Find-My-iPhone tracking.

“It really drives home how unsafe and fallible some of this technological evidence is,” said Saba by phone.

The missing phones don’t seem to have anything in common. Some are iPhones. Some are Androids. They’re on different carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Boost Mobile. Saba and Lee don’t know who can fix it because there’s no obvious guilty party. They filed a complaint with the local police department but that hasn’t helped. 

They’ve already had two visits in 2016.

The Washington Post has more:

So why is it happening? So far, nobody is entirely sure; but several theories have been floated by experts.

A Las Vegas resident with a similar problem hoped that signs might help.
To grasp the problem, it helps to rewind history to the mid-1990s, when cellphone companies were forced to create a way to locate cellular devices so that their coordinates could be sent to police dispatchers... Nearly two decades later, the number of calls to dispatchers from cell phones has increased to 70 percent; but in many cities around the country, the technology has not always kept pace.

The ubiquity of the technology may leave the impression that location tracking is always reliable, experts say.

Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert from Surrey University, told the BBC that trackers rely on GPS, which isn't available in many locations.

Without GPS, he noted, phone trackers rely on a less accurate process of determining location known as "triangulation."

"All triangulation does is draw a line equidistant between three cell towers and if your house is on that line you'll get visits," Woodward said. "I don't have enough data to know exactly what's going on but I wouldn't be at all surprised [if it was a triangulation error]."

More at USA Today on the difficulty of locating cell phones.

No offence, you guys, but better you than me.

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