How you can be tracked even with your GPS turned off

GPS has become such an ingrained part of our culture that many of us don’t even think about it anymore. If you want to go check out a new restaurant but don’t know where it is, search for it in Google Maps. Want to map your running route? There are tons of apps that use GPS to do that. Don’t want to be tracked at all? Just turn GPS off.

But, what if I told you that you could be tracked without using GPS? What if there was a way for an app to narrow down exactly where you are, how fast you’re traveling, and what kind of vehicle you’re in— all without accessing your GPS location or you being aware? That’s pretty scary, right?

How does it work?

This new tracking method comes from researchers at Princeton University. The team was able to create an app and place about 2,000 lines of code in it to detect information from sensors that it doesn’t need special permission to access. These include the accelerometer, magnetometer, and barometer. It also identifies your device’s IP address, time zone, and network status (connected to either mobile data or Wi-Fi).

The trick in accurately tracking a person with this method is finding out what kind of activity they’re performing. Whether they’re walking, driving a car, or riding in a train or airplane, it’s pretty easy to figure out when you know what you’re looking for.

The sensors can determine how fast a person is traveling and what kind of movements they make. Moving at a slow pace in one direction indicates walking. Going a little bit quicker but turning at 90-degree angles means driving. Faster yet, we’re in train or airplane territory. Those are easy to figure out based on speed and air pressure.

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