Phone tracking apps common but phone records kept private

Her mother has tracked her movements through her iPhone since starting school at Central Michigan University in 2011.

Living 130 miles away in sophomore Corrine Kay's hometown of Ann Arbor, her mom uses phone tracking as a way to remotely protect and keep an eye on her daughter.

Kay's mom tracks her phone and checks in with her when Kay is out late or making calls late into the night.

“I don't lie to my parents about where I am,” Kay said. “(So) it doesn't bother me that they can see what I'm doing.”

Kay said once over winter break last December, her mother used the tracking application and service provided by their carrier, AT&T.

“I think once over Christmas break (my parents) used the service,” she said. “I couldn't answer my phone, (and) they thought I was in a different place than (I said I would be.)"

Cell phone tracking among major phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Metro PCS is common, especially with the use of mostly free applications that can be downloaded to phones, with the Sprint Family Locater application alone being downloaded more than one million times.

Clarkston sophomore Mark Moultrup's family has a Sprint family plan with the location service available.

“It's built into the phone,” Moultrup said.

The Sprint Family Locator allows phones to be tracked and located at any time by showing the person using the GPS position of the person being tracked, according to the Sprint Family Locator website.

The locator app can also check times set by parents for their children to make sure they arrived at their destination and on time, sending notifications via text and email.

Other phones without contracts might be harder to track, though, as Standish sophomore Christina Proulx said. Proulx owns an LG Optimus phone.

“It's a pay-as-you-go phone,” Proulx said. “If you use the Internet on your phone, it seems easier to track than if you just use your phone for emergency calls.”

Phone records such as call and text message logs can be obtained by the person who owns the phone and requests the records.

An individual may not ask for another individual's records, as accounts are checked and verified by proper identification such as a driver's license or prior phone bill.

Verizon Wireless public relations specialist Paul Ulreich said such records would need to be ordered through a subpeona or specific government order.

Ulreich said text messages and phone calls sent by Verizon customers are tracked by the company for billing purposes, but the content of the actual messages is not.

“If Verizon couldn't locate your phone, you couldn't be able to send a text or call,” he said. “On the bills, the customer can see all the calls a customer makes or how many texts are made.”

He said there are many applications for tracking a phone available for free or to purchase and that a GPS is not installed into the phone before purchase.

Metro PCS sells pre-paid phones but also sells Android phones, like the Galaxy S3.

Ali Bazzi, store owner of Metro PCS, 402 N. Mission St., said records can be accessed by those who need them but can also be accessed for emergencies and for court-related matters as long as the person still has an account with the company.

“If you keep the same account for a long time, they should have your records for that long,” Bazzi said.

He also said obtaining the contents of actual messages sent either by text or calling is a difficult and long process for the company.

“It's a whole process to get them,” he said. “You have to file a claim for them, and Metro PCS corporate services, who does that for us, contacts the people asking for the records.”

Kay's experience of having her phone tracked by her parents has helped ease her parents' fears about her moving away to college.

“When I first moved away to college, they were worried something bad could happen to me,” she said. “It helped them be able to send me off to college.”


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