Track Someone Using GPS

Just hide this gadget in someone's car or briefcase -- or maybe sew it into his coat -- and then track his every move.

You have to recover the device to play it back, but presumably the next generation will be queryable remotely.

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 3:24 PM • 43 Comments


Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 3:36 PM

Awesome. I can see a simple hack for this where an HUD, perhaps via bluetooth, could give more accurate info to someone on a small vessel/vehicle.

For example, you won't need to look down at a dashboard or call your support crew if your helmet has a built-in GPS with a small HUD on your shield, eh?

The problem with tossing it in a case or trunk, I think, is the interference with the sats.

Kel-nageJune 6, 2006 3:51 PM

I remember a while back, the BBC (I think) did a thing about a new service a company was offering that could track someone's position by where their mobile phone was. You just had to send a text to them and they would send updates to a speicified number (note, not just your own).

There were, apparently, security devices added, such as that the tracked mobile was supposed to receive a text message every so often, to let them know they were being tracked. However, some of these companies were only sending the reminder text every three days and by then, your pursuer would most likely have all the infomation they needed.

Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 3:54 PM

From the manuf. site:

"TrackStick™ receives signals from twenty four satellites orbiting the earth to precisely calculate its own position anywhere worldwide to within fifteen 1 – 15 minute intervals unless stationary."

Since the interface is USB, I suppose you could just add a simple wireless device with USB and then you'd be able to query it remotely even today.

Michael AshJune 6, 2006 3:58 PM

There are mobile phones which have GPS, can load programs written in Java, and can talk to the Internet. Add the obvious custom Java app and you can track somebody remotely and in realtime. Any bets on how long before all of that gets combined into a single purpose-sold product instead of something a savvy user would have to put together himself?

PatJune 6, 2006 3:59 PM

GPS needs line of sight. So you could sew it to his coat, but it would need to be on the outside.

Swiss ConnectionJune 6, 2006 4:23 PM

My wife is a flight attendant and has just caught out her employer for trespassing federal regulations regarding her duty time.

This little device would be really handy to track her activity with respect to how much time she spends on route to and from the airport, stationary at the airport, in flight, at the cafe having lunch and so on.

One would need good quality statistical analysis software to correctly and quickly interpret the captured records. When presented with such accurately recorded and technically sound data, a judge would never dispute a legal claim based on such data.

Handy for truck drivers, building workers, traveling salesman, Journalists etc.

Ralph BroomJune 6, 2006 4:35 PM

@Michael Ash

GPS tracking of handsets is already a service offered by some providers. Sprint/Nextel calls it "Mobile Locator" and it was even featured in a national TV spot where an employee is tracked via a web site.

The device Bruce refers to is quite small, not RF "chatty" and runs for days on batteries. Even with intermittent sky view, it should generate an adequate "bread-crumb" trail.

Alun JonesJune 6, 2006 4:36 PM

@Pat: Uh, no, "line of sight" just means a relatively unimpeded - not completely unimpeded - transit from the satellite to the GPS receiver. GPS works inside a car containing significant amounts of interfering metal; it will work inside a coat that doesn't.

Joe BuckJune 6, 2006 4:40 PM

@Alun: my family does a lot of geocaching.
GPS devices don't work in forested areas and drop in urban canyons. Tracking someone by GPS means that you're going to lose track of him or her on a frequent basis.

David in ChicagoJune 6, 2006 5:42 PM

@Joe: Since you have to recover the device at some point, you're really only after general movements. It might be enough to know that the target drove into Chicago when he was supposed to be in Milwaukee, even if you lose him in the Loop.

scottJune 6, 2006 6:47 PM

Note that you can buy accelerometers and magnetic compass ICs that come in standard 'chip' packages, although a 3 axis unit seems to run a little large at about an inch square.

Combine both of these with the GPS, which is used to fix location whenever it gets a good fix, and you can track something even if it spends time in a building or underground.

The total package size would be closer to a small matchbox, but the sensor size and pricing keep dropping.

Mark J.June 6, 2006 7:08 PM

Not sure this device would work inside a car without a view of the sky. My car has an IR reflective coating on the glass that renders virtually any receiver ineffective. I have to mount my radar detector in a non-IR coated "window" on my windshield. I have a GPS receiver and it will only work if it's in the same IR window. Even the rear window is IR coated. That said, I guess you could attach it to a bumper or tuck it along the bottom of the rear window. Any black surface would make this hard to spot.

I'm still dreading the day when similar devices are mandatory and readable from a passing police car. They'll make radar guns obsolete.

MikeCJune 6, 2006 8:23 PM

I've got one of these. It's not as small as your standard USB memory stick.

Take a closer look at the USB jack to get a better idea of how large it is. Someone's bound to notice this thing making a lump in their jacket.

Fred X. QuimbyJune 6, 2006 8:34 PM

My wife used one of these on me. He's 11 years old and we call him "Joshua."

JungsonnJune 7, 2006 7:28 AM

To go beyond movie plots:

What if they would build it much smaller in the future? Few steps left for GPS inplants in the body, and big brother galore.

erasmusJune 7, 2006 9:18 AM

How good is the accuracy?
If you could record every second or less, & get down to about 10m resolution it would be great for recording on the race track...

AGJune 7, 2006 9:57 AM

Great post Bruce...

By the way, Can you give me back that special pen I gave to you last week?

AGJune 7, 2006 9:59 AM

Seriously... this could be used to protect you if you did NOT do a crime and were accused of it.

PatJune 7, 2006 10:07 AM

@Alun Jones: Uh, no, you pick up a signal in the car because of the windows.

paulJune 7, 2006 10:48 AM

AG is wrong about the alibi application unless it can be proved that the recorder stayed with the suspect. (Hmm, there's a movie-plot threat: keep the victim and/or their tracker in a no-satellite area and synthesize a series of simulated GPS signals that appears to put them at the scene of the crime.)

peterJune 7, 2006 11:07 AM

Forget the secret squirrel stuff... Don't you ever wonder where your child is going when you lend them the car??


RvnPhnxJune 7, 2006 12:28 PM

The technology has been around for a while. What makes people think that it isn't already being used?

AGJune 7, 2006 1:06 PM

You wouldn't have to "prove" anything just provide doubt;

If the GPS doesn't fit, then you must acquit.
If the GPS doesn't fit, then you must acquit.

Nick LancasterJune 7, 2006 1:10 PM

Skytel has a tracking system, so you can wire the family car, see where it goes, and receive e-mail updates if junior takes the car into specific (user-defined) zones.

Nextel's phones can be GPS-enabled, and some of the drivers at work are concerned about the use of third-party software to track their whereabouts.

I'd just put the GPS Stick into a magnetic 'extra key' holder and slide it onto the fender.

Sherman BoydJune 7, 2006 1:59 PM

I don't know about sewing it into someones coat:

Dimensions: 4″ x 1 1/4″ x 3/4″

And it takes 2 AAA batteries, it's kinda heavy.

Also, when I use my GPS it doesn't work inside my house, or car. It needs a clear view of the sky.

Cell phone tracking seems like a better way of tracking an individual. A java app can track the phone relative to local towers. You get the data in a text message.

MR AnonymourJune 7, 2006 1:59 PM

Not to talk smack about the device, but you can head over to those little internet hardware shops and pick up a cell module, gps reciever, and a little pc (maybe gumstix would work right) and have something about the same size that IS remotely queryable.

YogJune 8, 2006 6:55 AM

Funny, i just saw on Google today an ad for a self-enclosed, covert GPS + cellphone device to track cars. You can log to a website where you can see the tracker's position on a map in quasi realtime, after you subscribed to some service plan of course. The ad for the product made me LOL:

Catch Cheating Spouses
hidden GPS vehicle tracker
track via the internet. Weighs 7oz

Narasimha ChariJune 9, 2006 11:02 PM


I saw this in the latest issue of Popular Science magazine - it's a product called StarChase that's being trialed by LAPD. They shoot a dart at a vehicle they're chasing. The dart embeds in the car, has GPS and communications capability, so the cops can track where it is and where it's going, so they don't need to resort to dangerous high-speed chases.

Amit PatelJune 11, 2006 2:28 AM

Check out and Both of these work on $60 cell phones with GPS, and can be used to track people remotely.

I use them to track myself on trips so that I can get a Google Map, match up locations with photos I took, etc.

reneeDecember 7, 2006 2:41 PM

how can you find out if someone is tracking you to send them to jail, how do you get proof

NikiJanuary 31, 2007 9:00 PM

How do I check if my husband is tracking me? I have this wierd feeling he is.

I don't even know where to look. I drive an Audi A4.

sarahAugust 12, 2007 9:12 PM

how do you find out if some joker is tracking you. what hidden object do you look for in your car

STEPHINOctober 6, 2007 2:04 PM

Awesome. I can see a simple hack for this where an HUD, perhaps via bluetooth, could give more accurate info to someone on a small vessel/vehicle.

For example, you won't need to look down at a dashboard or call your support crew if your helmet has a built-in GPS with a small HUD on your shield, eh?

The problem with tossing it in a case or trunk, I think, is the interference with the sats.

AJSOctober 18, 2007 10:07 PM

How come no ever answers the question about how you can find out if someone has attached a GPS to your vehicle? Is the only way to see the actual device, or can you buy something that would locate it?

BOB in BCFebruary 11, 2008 4:07 PM

what service can i use for a cell phone in Manila Philippines. They have SIM cards in their phones there and quad band is the norm.
1) Can I buy one in USA, (no plan) set it up with the GPS tracking/reporting and send it to her in Manila and have it report to me without her knowing?
2) Can I have her purchase it in the Philippines and I can still track her over her in the USA over the net...

3) - or if need be, she can know, but i prefer if she doesnt.

thanks for any info.


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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.