Your cell phone and its apps collect a lot of data about your online activity, calls, and whereabouts.
Depending on your privacy settings, device manufacturers and app developers could access some of this information. Usually, this is for legitimate reasons – for example to improve user experience or resolve issues with their products.
But other situations are less clear-cut. For example, are you happy for advertisers to track your browsing history so it’s easier to sell products to you? Around 80% of all advertisers currently use third-party cookies to do this. How would you feel if they were also tracking your location?
Then there are situations where you obviously don’t want to be tracked. For example, when criminals or hackers put spyware on your cell phone to steal your data.
This article lists 12 tips on how to make your phone untraceable so you can ensure that you’re comfortable with the data others can track from it.
12 Tips for Making Your Phone Untraceable
1. Turn your phone off
The most effective way to stop your phone from being traced is probably the simplest: turn it off when you’re not using it. Simply hold down the power button for a few seconds and then use the “slide to power off” slider on iPhone or tap the “Power off” button on Android.
You may also wish to remove the battery (if possible) to ensure all tracing systems are disabled. However, even this isn’t completely bulletproof. Your phone could still be traced based on its last known location using:
- Cellular data
- GPS tracking
- The device’s IMEI number
- Apple’s FindMy network
Fig 1. Turning off an iPhone (left) and Android phone (right).
2. Limit ad tracking
Ad tracking is when firms collect your internet browsing data to measure the performance of their advertising campaigns. They do this using cookies—short lines of code that your browser saves to your phone. These cookies tell other websites where you have been online.
It’s why the things you view or search for online often appear in ads—the website knows what interests you and displays ads it thinks you might like.
While this kind of tracking is legal, you may not be comfortable with it or you may be concerned criminals could use it.
The good news is that you can easily opt out, making it much harder for websites to track your browsing history.
Here’s how to do that on iPhones:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap Privacy & Security
- Tap Tracking
- Uncheck Allow Apps to Request to Track
Here’s how to do that on Android Phones:
- Open Settings
- Tap Google or Privacy
- Tap Ads
- Tap Delete advertising ID
Fig 2. Limiting ad tracking on iOS (left) and Android (right).
3. Opt-out of carrier tracking
Advertisers aren’t the only companies that track your online activity. Your phone carrier probably does too—and you likely opted in by default when you bought your device.
It’s usually easy to stop your carrier from tracking you in this way. You can also often opt out of having your data passed on to third parties for sales purposes and even request to delete your existing tracking data.
To do this, log into your account on your carrier’s website, and find your privacy or personal data settings. You should see the option to opt out there.
4. Turn off Bluetooth
Bluetooth traffic is encrypted, so it’s nearly impossible for someone to track you this way. However, if someone really wanted to track you using Bluetooth, they could use a radio receiver to spot frequency distortions that match your signal.
If you want to avoid this unlikely situation, disable Bluetooth via your phone’s settings menu. This has the added advantage of improving your device’s battery life.
Fig 3. Turning off Bluetooth on iOS (left) and Android (right).
5. Turn airplane mode on
Airplane mode turns off your device’s radio receivers and transmitters. This disables the cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections and stops your phone from communicating with cell phone towers.
It doesn’t always disable GPS, as these types of radio signals do not interfere with other mobile devices—so you might have to switch this off separately. Turn on airplane mode in Android cell phones and iPhones by swiping the quick access menu and tapping the Airplane Mode button.
Fig 4. Turning on Airplane Mode on iOS (left) and Android (right).
6. Disable GPS location data
Global positioning system (GPS) data lets your cell phone identify its location. This location tracking data is used by various apps including maps, utilities, and taxis. You’ll often get app notifications asking permission to access your GPS. You can also control access to GPS via your phone’s application settings.
You can also disable GPS for your whole device. However, this means you can’t use any apps that rely on the GPS connection. It will also make it harder to locate your device remotely if it’s misplaced or stolen.
How to do this on iPhone:
- Tap Settings
- Scroll down and choose Privacy & Security
- Choose Location Services
- Toggle the Location Services switch at the top
Fig 5. Disabling Location Services on iOS.
How to do this for Android:
- Swipe down the quick access menu at the top of the screen
- Tap the gear icon and open Settings
- Scroll down and choose Location
- Toggle the switch at the top and turn Location off
Fig 6. Disabling Location on Android.
7. Avoid public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks are a tracking threat for a couple of reasons. First, if you sign up to one then the Wi-Fi owner or its partners may be able to track your location every time your phone joins one of their networks.
Secondly, it’s easy for hackers to pose as public Wi-Fi networks. If you join such a network, then cyber criminals may try to install malware on your phone or capture any transmitted data.
Thirdly, some public WiFi networks are ‘Open’, which means all transmitted data is unencrypted. This could allow the operator of the network, and anyone connected to it, to potentially see all of your Internet traffic. If you have to connect to an open Wi-Fi network then you should always use a VPN to ensure your traffic is encrypted.
8. Use a GPS spoofing app
These apps allow you to keep using GPS, but provide a fake location to third-party apps and websites. Unfortunately for iPhone users, you can only do this on Android, as iOS does not support spoofing apps.
To set this up on your Android mobile phone, choose a spoofing app from the Play Store, install it, and select the area to which you want to spoof your location. The app will now tell your phone’s GPS receiver that this is your location.
9. Get a VPN app
A virtual private network (VPN) creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the websites you connect to. This makes it much harder for hackers to intercept and steal your data.
It also makes your phone virtually impossible to track online by masking your IP address and creating a decoy one. Similar to GPS spoofing, any website or app that tries to track your IP address will think you are located at this decoy IP address. It’s worth noting that a VPN won’t mask your GPS signal.
10. Use a Faraday bag
A Faraday bag is made from special materials that block electromagnetic waves. No signals between 200 MHz and up to 40 GHz can get in or out of the bag. This makes it a robust privacy tool, ensuring your device remains untraceable by blocking all incoming and outgoing signals.
Blocked signals include:
- 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G cellular
However, while in the bag, your phone cannot send or receive communications, rendering it offline. Consider using a Faraday bag in scenarios where absolute privacy is paramount, and staying connected is not immediately necessary.
11. Use a pre-paid non-smartphone
Simple, non-smartphones offer basic functionality, including voice calls and SMS messages, but rarely feature internet connectivity. They are sometimes referred to as “burner phones”.
Because of their simplicity, these phones are much harder to track. One of the only ways to track burner phones is to triangulate their position using nearby cell towers. This makes them a good choice for anyone concerned about phone tracking.
You can buy non-smartphones on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning no contract is required. These kinds of payment plans require you to submit less personal information. Plus, carriers generally don’t keep pay-as-you-go data for as long as they would for regular contracts.
12. Scan for and remove spyware
Viruses, malware, and spyware can all be used to track your phone. These are commonly downloaded by accident—for example, by tapping a link in a fake message. The best way to detect and remove these programs is to download an anti-spyware app like Certo AntiSpy for iPhone or Certo Mobile Security for Android.
Here’s how to remove spyware from your iPhone with Certo AntiSpy:
- Download Certo AntiSpy to your computer.
- Connect your iPhone via USB.
- Click Scan.
- Once complete, click Remove next to any threats detected.
Fig 7. Finding and removing spyware from an iPhone with Certo.
Here is how to remove spyware from an Android device with Certo Mobile Security:
- Download Certo Mobile Security.
- Tap Scan.
- Once complete, click Remove next to any threats detected.
Fig 8. Finding and removing spyware from an Android phone with Certo.
In this guide, we’ve explored various strategies to enhance your phone’s privacy and make it untraceable, from simple adjustments like turning off your phone and disabling GPS to using advanced tools like Faraday bags.
It’s important to emphasize that these tips are intended to help protect your privacy and data from unauthorized access, not for evading lawful investigations or responsibilities.
Protecting your digital footprint is a proactive step towards safeguarding personal data in an increasingly connected world, where respecting privacy rights and responsibilities remains paramount.