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WiFi Location Tracking: How Does it Work

Your smartphone is letting WiFi networks track your location. Here’s how it happens.

Location Tracking is the use of technology to discover the location of things. It is commercially viable in various scenarios. One example is the GPS Location Tracking that logistics companies deploy to track their vehicle fleet

Today we’re going to look at Location Tracking using WiFi instead.

What is WiFi Location Tracking?

WiFI Location Tracking uses known WiFi networks to approximate your location. Compared to GPS tracking, WiFi Location Tracking is more useful in urban areas with many WiFi networks nearby.

How WiFi Location Tracking Works

WiFi Location Tracking works by using WiFi networks to approximate the location of connected devices. Connected devices like smartphones will periodically scan their vicinity, allowing nearby WiFi networks to see them.

Since various networks will detect the device, you can approximate distance via several methods. There are several standard techniques of implementing WiFi Location Tracking, including:

  • RSSI Multilateration uses fixed WiFi sensor positions
  • RSSI Fingerprinting measures signal strength to known nearby access points
  • Time-of-Flight uses the calculation of signal time between devices
  • Angle of Arrival takes advantage of MIMO Technology

Should You Worry About Location Tracking?

Yes, you should. There are many reasons why it’s bad that your location is being constantly broadcast. Stalker tendencies aside, there were several cases where mobile phone carriers were caught selling user location data.

Among offenders discovered were AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. These companies sold user location data to brokers, who in turn sold the data to other parties. What’s worse was the paltry fines imposed on the companies by the FCC when they were caught.

How to Stop Location Tracking

Unfortunately, it might be impossible to stop Location Tracking. In this age of constant connectivity, almost all apps on your devices will constantly require a long list of permissions (including request location permission) to do things.

While you can deny some of these requests, in many cases it’s likely to break or lower the quality of your user experience with those apps. Plus, there are also things you can’t control, such as network scanning for carrier access.

Regardless, some things you can do include;

  • Disabling location requests for apps
  • Denying services like Google the ability to record your location history
  • Turn off your WiFi and cellular radios when not in use

Final Thoughts on Location Tracking

Location Tracking is another example of useful technology that’s been overexploited at consumers’ expense. What could be something great instead turns into more ways for companies to profit off our privacy. Until more legislation is implemented and enforced, pay more attention to your privacy and digital security.

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