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Are Your Kids Faking Their GPS Location?


GPS tracking on kids’ phones isn’t new. Apps like Family Tracker and Find My Kids allow parents to see the GPS location of their children’s smartphones at all times. Many parents consider this kind of tracking necessary, so they can be sure of their child’s whereabouts. Some kids are fine with being tracked as well. They feel safer knowing their parents can find them if something happens.

But not all kids feel this way. Some would prefer to have their privacy, or not let their parents know where they are. These teens have found ways to fake their phone location to throw their parents off their trail. So yes, it’s possible that your kids are faking their GPS location. How are they doing it, and how can you tell?

What is GPS Spoofing?

GPS spoofing with a smartphone is using an app to make your device think you’re somewhere you’re not. There are plenty of reasons to “change” your phone’s location this way. You might want different settings for a location-based game like Pokemon GO. If you’re on vacation, you might use false location settings to check in at a restaurant back home, so friends and family on social media don’t know you’re on a holiday. People have many legitimate reasons to alter their phone’s GPS location. It’s worth noting the term GPS spoofing also describes a type of hack on GPS devices. So if you’re looking up how to prevent it (or how to do it), make sure you search for GPS spoofing for phones.

Altering your location on your smartphone usually requires downloading an app and changing some settings. With the rise of GPS phone tracking technology for parents, came an increase in GPS faking apps as well. Kids either realized their parents were tracking them or their parents told them outright, and they decided they didn’t want their parents invading their privacy.

How Do Teens Fake Their GPS Location?

Why does faking your location work? Apps like FamiSafe can’t access a phone’s physical GPS chip. An app just reads the GPS data that the device gives it. So if your kids find a way to fake their location, your parental monitoring app will read the fake location, not the device’s actual location.

Spoofing your location isn’t exactly straightforward. Your child would have to access developer settings on their Android phone and install a program on their computer for iPhone. It’s not quite as simple as downloading and launching an app. But, if your kid is motivated enough – and knows how to do a Google search – they can find a tutorial and figure it out.

Since hiding your phone’s location isn’t illegal and there are perfectly legitimate reasons to do so, you can’t legally have GPS spoofing apps removed from the Google Play or App Stores – or your child’s phone for that matter. If you want to find out if your child is faking you out and how to outsmart them, you’ll have to do a little digging.

Can You Tell if Your Child is Faking Their Phone Location?

There are no foolproof ways to determine if your child is faking their location with an app. You could check the install history on their phone to see if they’ve downloaded a GPS faking app. And you’d want to check their install history and not just if the app is currently installed because your child could have removed it from their phone before you checked.

App developers also need ways to check if devices have Mock Location settings activated. If you’re familiar with app development, you could try checking these settings on your child’s device. If you don’t know anything about developing apps, however, then it’s best not to go about it this way.

Also, don’t forget that if your child really doesn’t want to be traced, they simply won’t take their phone with them when they go somewhere. There’s no app or digital solution that will prevent your child from just leaving their phone at home.

How to Track Your Child’s GPS Location

If you want to track your child’s phone, you should try to let them know beforehand. Secretly monitoring your kid’s whereabouts is a surefire way to break down trust.

If you want to know your kid’s GPS location, you can use apps like FamiSafe or Life360, which relay your child’s location to you. Life360 can also send you alerts if your child’s phone leaves a perimeter you’ve set. These apps are a great way to ensure your child’s safety, but if they know they’re being tracked, they could still spoof their location.

The only way to override any GPS faking apps is by signing up for a phone tracking service with your carrier. AT&T offers a Secure Family feature and Verizon has a Smart Family plan. These services track the phone’s GPS chip, so an app can’t fool the user into thinking the device is somewhere else.

People have many reasons to want to hide their location – kids included. As a parent, you want your kids to be safe and you don’t like being fooled, either. If you’re using a GPS tracking app for your child’s phone, it’s possible they’re faking their location. There are workarounds to detect this deception, as well as prevent it. But the easiest way is probably having a frank discussion with your kids about privacy and boundaries. Looking for more info on how to keep your kids safe online? Listen to our Easy Prey podcast interview with cybersecurity expert Tyler Cohen Wood. Wood talks about how children are being targeted by hackers more and more and what parents can do to combat it.

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