How Predators Trace Cell Phone Location Via Social Media
The number of teens on social media—and the number of social media platforms available to teens—increases every year, to the point where it’s become an average part of the teen experience. As much as we hope that our children shouldn’t be in danger just because our children are participating in this common-place activity, the truth is online predators ARE out there and pose a threat to your teen. Your teen’s seemingly normal, every-day social media usage can give these predators more information about your teen than you know.
Believe it or not, predators can actually trace a cell phone location —and predict the owner’s future movements—by looking at the pattern of activity that teens post on social media. Here’s how it works.
Social Media Can Create A “Smartphone Trail”
One common feature to appear on many social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, is location tagging. For example, if a teen takes a selfie at a restaurant and uploads it instantly via their smartphone, they might choose to add the ‘tag’ the image with GPS data so it can be displayed on a map of their activity, or so that friends will know where they have been. Many businesses will give incentives for teens to “check-in” at their location to help spread awareness.
That tells everyone with access to your teens profile exactly where (and often when) the teen has been. However, teens don’t need to add location tags in order to tell others where they are. Capable stalkers can identify locations from as little information as a single building number in the background of the picture.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and with the right techniques, it’s quite possible to read photographs this way… and while a single photograph may be of limited use, a series of posts can be used to create a timeline of the teen’s activities and build a better picture of who they are.
This is especially true for locations where a predator will know where a teen will be, such as their school, a location of any regular extracurricular activity, favorite hangouts, or even a home address.
Teens take their cell phones everywhere, and as they leave a trail of real-time social media posts, over time predators can learn where a teen is most likely to be at any give time.
Now, most predators won’t be this dedicated, but we’d be lying if we said none of them could do it. This is made much easier by the fact that, as noted by the State of California, most victims know their predator. It’s far easier to track someone’s location when you already have information about them—and many teens share some of their most important information before they realize how dangerous this can be.
The most common types of information teens release online include:
- Their real name
- Their date of birth (either the full date or just the year)
- Their city
- Their gender
- Their relationship status
Teens who tell the world that they’ve just broken up and are depressed become ripe targets for predators, especially those monitoring teens for signs of weakness.
The point we’re really trying to drive home today is that sharing information on social media can be more dangerous than people think. A dedicated predator is much like a detective or an interrogator—all three are skilled at putting together scraps of information to create a startlingly accurate picture of who someone is and what they’ve done.
With an average of 20% of all children being preyed upon at some point, it’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. Predators are both real and active as threats, and while not all of them will use social media to find their victims, they’re common enough that it’s worth understanding how they work and what you can do to stop them.