Tech | October 22, 2017 9:00 am

For $1,000, You Can Track Anyone Using Their Smartphone

Your smartphone is effectively a GPS on you — for anyone willing to pay for access.

There’s no need to be a government official or a top-secret spy to gain access to the location of anyone in the world; all that’s needed is about $1000 and patience, according to a new article in Wired. This “relatively cheap, highly targeted spying” is detailed by University of Washington researchers in a new study that examines how an ordinary individual can exploit the resources available to — of all professionals — those who buy and sell ads.

“Regular people, not just impersonal, commercially motivated merchants or advertising networks, can exploit the online advertising ecosystem to extract private information about other people, such as people that they know or that live nearby,” according to the study, called “Using Ad Targeting for Surveillance on a Budget.” Wired reports that the findings will be presented later this month at the Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society in Dallas.

So how does it work? The research team reportedly created a banner ad and a website, then spent $1,000 on location-targeted ad buys in Seattle. Their test appeared on Talkatone, which is a calling and texting application. Using test phones, anytime the app was opened, the researchers were alerted to the approximate time and location of the phone. Following the tester phone, they could easily identify the person’s home and work address based on when and where the person stopped.

There are limitations to the study detailed in full in Wired, but the study itself has hair-raising implications: Each time you see an ad on your phone, it’s looking right back at you.