Cell phone tracking costs as little as $0.04 an hour, say privacy researchers

cell phone tracking costs little 0 04 hour say privacy researchers spy

Two privacy researchers have lifted the lid on how much it costs to keep us under surveillance, offering up a handy comparison chart that shows just how cheap modern-day spying techniques are when compared with the old-fashioned foot and car pursuits of the past.

Should you want to park a suspicious-looking van at the end of someone’s street, for example, you’re looking at a bill of around $275-an-hour for several weeks. By comparison, the cost of tapping someone’s cell phone over the same period could be as little as $0.04-per-hour.


Kevin Bankston and Ashkan Soltani published their work in the Yale Law Journal, in response to the landmark 2012 US vs. Jones Supreme Court decision that found that GPS tracking had to be classified as a different kind of tracking to the traditional foot and car methods. The researchers weighed up both the cost of the technology and the cost of keeping agents on the ground, and have even broken down cell phone tracking by network: over a month, T-Mobile is the most expensive ($2,800), AT&T the second most expensive ($800) and Sprint the cheapest, by a long way ($30).

The fact that the police or FBI can now fix a GPS transmitter to the underside of your car rather than having to keep two agents and a vehicle on your tail means that more people can be tracked for a fraction of the cost. “You have such a drastic reduction in the cost to perform the surveillance that they’re different not just in quantity but in kind,” Soltani told Forbes. “It would be humanly impossible to track the number of people [law enforcement agencies] are currently tracking without this technology. And that’s why it’s such a game changer.”

“When it was physically impossible to track everyone at the same time, you didn’t need a law for it. What we’re saying is that technology changes what’s possible, and as a result, we may need to add legal barriers to compensate for those changing technical barriers.”

In the US vs. Jones case, warrantless GPS tracking was found to be more of a potential privacy violation than following someone in a car, even though the two methods achieve broadly similar results. As yet, no such definitive ruling has been made regarding tracking cell phones without a warrant, and it’s this issue that Bankston and Soltani are hoping to draw attention to.

[Image courtesy of Marcin Balcerzak / Shutterstock]


Encryption-busting law passed in Australia may have global privacy implications

Controversial laws have been passed in Australia which oblige tech companies to allow the police to access encrypted messages, undermining the privacy of encryption with potentially global effects.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.

The best weather apps for the iPhone

Don't rely solely on your local meteorologist to stay up to date on the weather. Take matters into your own hands with one of these weather apps, each of which brings something unique to the table.

Google’s updated Santa Tracker entertains and teaches coding throughout December

Google's Santa Tracker is in its fifteenth year and is back again with even more features. You can have fun with more than 20 games, learn about different holiday traditions around the world, and enjoy some festive animations.

The $200 TicWatch C2 smartwatch is now being sold in the U.S. and U.K.

Digital well-being and disconnecting from your phone is one of 2018's big trends. Mobvoi wants you to think about its TicWatch C2 smartwatch as a great way to help you use your phone less.

The Palm has been revived, and is now available in the U.S. and U.K.

A reboot of the classic Palm is finally here and it's tiny. It syncs to your phone and acts as a secondary device -- with a feature to help you disconnect from technology. The Palm will be available exclusively through Verizon for $350.

Yes, we really are getting a special McLaren edition of the OnePlus 6T

OnePlus has announced a partnership with McLaren F1, emphasizing a shared interest in speed. The phone company is known for producing special edition devices. Here's what we know about the OnePlus 6T Mclaren Edition.

Simplify your life with one of these wireless smartphone charger deals

Banish nightly cable fumbling with a wireless smartphone charger. If your smartphone is compatible with wireless charging, the simplicity of placing it on a pad is a beautiful thing. Wireless chargers are also excellent gifts for coworkers.

Microsoft Outlook for iOS gets big redesign, with Dark Mode coming soon

Microsoft has deployed a huge redesign for its Outlook for iOS app, which includes new blue branding and some quality-of-life improvements. Dark Mode isn't included, but it's coming soon.

Our favorite Windows apps will help you get the most out of your new PC

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.