January 15, 2010

Cell Phone Tracking in Europe – piCOS Review

Posted in Beginner, Smartphone at 1:21 pm by gloriouscomputing

There are tons of different ways to track the location of your cell phone by installing software on the device (Like Google’s free Latitude and Apple’s pay-per-month offering), but this article is about cell phone triangulation. The location of any cell phone with a SIM in it can be determined with help of the SIM’s network operator. This subject fascinated me since I went to The Last Hope conference in New York, because it’s something that’s not really in the consumer sector in America.

Europe however, sees this quite differently. Here, many providers exist which will triangulate any cell phone for you. The generally accepted way to add a cell phone is that the company will SMS you, and require you to SMS them back from the SIM you want to track. There are laws against tracking someone else’s SIM without their written consent, so this ensures that you’ve at least held this cell phone in your hand.

Once you have added a phone, you can triangulate it at any point using the company’s website. Of course, this is generally done for a fee per triangulation. Today, I have tested Germany’s piCOS, since I’m currently studying in Germany.

So how accurate is this service? In case of a stolen cell phone, will you be able to track down at least the building it’s in? Well, looking at my first (and only) test, costing 0.50 Euro, the answer is probably not:

The big green circle you see is the area on the map where my phone could potentially be. As you can see, it’s about the size of a small city. Here, my actual location is on the very edge of the circle, so if you thought this big area was exaggerating the inaccuracy, that’s not the case.

Here’s a picture of me attempting to measure just how big this circle is.

The radius of the circle is over 1km, so we’re talking about a ~4.5km area where my phone could be.

If you dropped your phone and you want to use this map to try and locate it, godspeed!

The service is cheap though, requiring a minimum refill of only 2EUR, and at 0.50EUR per location tracking, it might be fun to do this in case you ever forget which city you forgot your phone in.

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