Google spying & what it can do

So, a few days ago, my sister lost her phone. Simple, no-root, no nothing Android smartphone. She knew it was around the house, but couldn’t figure out where. She looked for hours, in vain.

When I got home, I got up-to-date on the situation and I went to work. First, I tried calling the phone number a few times, we didn’t hear anything upstairs. It was about two or three hours into the searching, so we were happy it was still on, but it was out of earshot.

Now, my first thought was she lost it somewhere around the house or in the street. I know my sister never turns off GPS, nor does she turn off wifi. That is when it hit me. Google maps tracks your location history and displays it as a beautiful graph for you. You can always refer to it and if you have your phone on reasonably strong GPS/phone signal, you can find yourself on a map history.

So, I went to her PC, I typed in maps.google.com, and went to her location history. My brother-in-law saw me looking at it and asked what it was all about. I told him what I could read out from that: the phone was home since 7PM, before that it went for a stroll through the neighborhood (my sister confirmed that).

After that, I went through a series of options, called again, tried sending text messages to see if only ringing was turned off, but no dice. In a last desperate shot, I googled “Lost android phone”, because in the back of my mind, I knew there was some tool that enabled you to lock your phone if it got lost.

Lo and behold, google has just the tool for the job! the site is https://www.google.com/android/find and if you have a google account (I don’t) and it’s connected to your phone, you can 1) trace your location, 2) start a ringer that goes on for 5 minutes, 3) lock your phone down and present a phone number on the lockscreen the person can call, and 4) delete the entire phone and leave it to the wolves.

So, I let the phone ring while we all went look. There is one disadvantage: if the phone is on do not disturb, it won’t ring (strangely enough). However, it was not turned down, so we eventually found it downstairs in a drawer.

When my bro-in-law saw me turning that ringer on and off, he got really nervous. He asked me if I could do that to him. I told him the truth: If you have a google account, your phone can be traced like this. His reaction was intense shock. He never thought his phone could be this powerful. My sister was okay with it, but he wasn’t. It literally broke his reality! He asked me what could be done about it, started talking about “A room in the house that’s shielded so that there is a private spot in the house.”

At that, I tried a theory I saw: Microwaves could block radiation! This is a myth, however, but that didn’t stop me from putting our phones in a microwave and shutting the door. I’ll give you 10 seconds to guess what happened next. Turns out my sister keeps her microwave oven off just by keeping the door open. The knob is constantly turned to around 2 minutes, so when she slams the door shut, it does the thing.

I turned it off rather quickly, nothing got damaged, don’t you worry.

This brings me to a close of yet another funny-ish story. What can we take away from this?

  • Google knows where you are, all the time, and makes it dead simple for anyone to spy on you
  • Microwaves don’t block all phone signal and they sure as hell aren’t healthy for your phone if you turn them on
  • Buy a phone you can degoogle. Don’t bother with the ultra-cheap phones, get something you can unlock the bootloader on. I know this will sound hypocritical, but my phone is Nexus 5X. Yes, the google brand phone.

So, that’s all for this. I’ll probably post a sort of “when I was younger and fucked up” story.