You Are Under Surveillance!

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13226

Is somebody tracking your every move? Can they hear what you say and monitor what you do? Are they reading your private messages? If you use a cell phone, they can! Find out how and what you can do.


Computer Science, Practical Life Skills, Software and Applications

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

In 1990, 11 million people had a cell phone. By 2020, 2.5 billion people had a cell phone. Today, it is unlikely for someone to NOT have a cell phone.

We use our cell phones every day to make calls, send messages, check social media, settle debates with IMDb, and so much more. Our cell phones give us unlimited access to the internet and provide a sense of control over our digital lives.

  • Have you ever considered, though, how this device might actually be a form of surveillance?

phone with big eyeball

As these handheld devices have evolved, the excitement to have the best and newest device with fancy cameras and apps for everything is undeniable.

  • But, what's the catch?

Unfortunately, not everyone understands that agreeing to all those "Terms and Conditions" for every application or feature you use is the same as saying, "Yes, you can access all my information, including my location!"

  • What's the big deal?

Let's find out in this lesson!

  • Would you be alarmed to learn that mobile phones are not designed for privacy and security?

It is true. Personal computers offer much more control in terms of protecting your privacy, but they are nowhere near as convenient as cell phones.

  • What risks do they include with that convenience?

Knowing Exactly Where You Are

  • Have you ever watched a crime-themed show where criminals are located using pings from their phones?

Criminals are not the only people who should be concerned about having their location detectable at all times.

  • What are some of the ways that you consciously or unconsciously turn your cell phone into a tracking device?

Smartphone GPS

cell phone getting info

GPS is the Global Positioning System that can locate where you are in real-time using satellites and the application on your mobile phone. Most of us turn this feature on without giving it a second thought.

While it is fun to see yourself on the map and convenient to receive real-time directions, this information is also transmitted and accessible by your service provider and anyone else with the know-how.

  • Who says it's only your location?

Your history can also be tracked, including where you have been and how long you were in certain locations. Other vital information is also easily obtained, creating a wide range of data that can be used to interpret your behavior!

  • Want to better understand GPS?

Watch How GPS Works Today, from BRIGHT SIDE:

Image - Video

Mobile Signal Tracking

  • Can you hear me now?

You probably recognize that as the funny catchphrase for a cell phone provider promoting its excellent coverage. Cell towers are positioned all over in order to provide that coverage.

When you turn on your phone, it communicates with the service provider towers in the area in order to provide you with the best access to its network.

The signals your phone is continually sending to these towers can triangulate your position. Measuring how long it takes for a signal to bounce back from your phone to a few different towers can calculate your distance from each tower and pinpoint where you are.

So, as long as your phone is turned on, you are not invisible.

Bluetooth and WiFi

  • When was the last time you opened your phone's Bluetooth to connect to a nearby device or connected to a local WiFi network?

Every device you see listed has a unique Media Access Control (MAC) address, which is a 12-digit identifier created at the time the device was manufactured and cannot be changed with any current software.

Turning on your phone's Bluetooth and WiFi transmits these MAC numbers and allows anyone to track you.

If you are curious about WiFi, watch That's How Wi-Fi Works from BRIGHT SIDE:

Image - Video

Application Leaks

  • Has an app ever asked permission to use your location to personalize your service?

Of course it has! How else can it tell you where the closest Krispy Kreme is or which of your social media friends are nearby?

These apps need to share your location information in order to provide that sort of information. Makes sense, until that information is compromised and sold to others.

Is There Someone Out There Listening?

It is highly possible. Mobile devices are not designed to prevent digital eavesdropping, which is when others capture your phone signal and listen to your conversations.

As cases of hacking and cyber-attacks increase, technology companies employ encryption technology to increase security. Encryption is the process by which a message is made unreadable unless a skilled person knows how to decrypt its code.

If you would like to learn more about encryption, check out The Internet: Encryption & Public Keys from

Image - Video

  • So where does all this leave you?

You are not able to use any device or application without turning it on, obviously, or agreeing to their terms, which gives permission to track and store you and your information.

  • What can you do?

Be vigilant about your online activities. If you suspect someone is tracking you or listening to your conversations, it is not enough to simply turn off your phone. Remove the battery. According to experts, it makes a difference!

When you are ready, continue on to the Got It? section to explore these important concepts.

Image - Button Next