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with recent riot's in Iran, there is saying that even with the phone in airplane-mode, it's pinging nearby towers, giving away location data and information such as that. this is a really big security risk and may get people into jail.

is that true? if so, how would one fix this problem on the android device? does the phone being root or not make any difference?

  • Can you quote (link) where this claim was made? – beeshyams Jan 3 '18 at 12:18
  • @beeshyams no, it's some thing being told on social networks. i know i shouldn't trust these things, but i want to be sure about it. – senaps Jan 3 '18 at 12:20
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    Yes, once in airplane mode, it disables the mobile radio. it's pinging nearby towers, giving away location data and information such as that. When you enable the 'airplane mode', it sends a signal to the tower stating that the mobile radio is going to be disabled, and that's the last piece of information that'll be out from your device (after enabling airplane mode). – Gokul NC Jan 7 '18 at 11:02
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Location is determined using one or more of the following

  • Mobile radio (mobile registering itself with nearby towers without mobile data being on)

  • Cellular data is on

  • GPS

  • WiFi

For more details see this Android Tracking by vendor

Coming to your question if device is on Airplane mode (radio disabled) and GPS , WiFi are disabled as well (Note that WiFi can be enabled in Airplane mode ), there is no way your location can be determined

(However, there are reports as highlighted in this question that with GPS off also, location data is sent to Google, but that is a different question altogether - How do I stop my device from sending my location to Google every second, even when the location setting is off? )

  • As you mentioned it being on social media, there is no credibility to that claim – beeshyams Jan 3 '18 at 12:35
  • im talking about a government level of hacking or pulling unwanted data, so it's not possible to do that? except for in case the phone has a malware installed? is it possible for others to use the same methods used by google to collect data on the phone? and how would google get that data while there is no internet or radio connection? – senaps Jan 3 '18 at 12:41
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    AFAIK no it's not possible. Even if there is malware that is transmitting location , how can it send when Airplane mode is enabled (GPS and WiFi off too). This is the designed behaviour. Beyond this, if it is possible, I would be interested in knowing how :) – beeshyams Jan 3 '18 at 12:46
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For the purpose of this answer, let's assume an adversary with state-level resources.

If the device's transmitters are off (airplane mode without WiFi or Bluetooth), it cannot be located in real-time by the adversary. It does not matter whether location services are enabled; using GPS (a satellite-based system with one-way transmissions from satellites) does not leak information directly. With this paranoia level, it's best to leave this off, lest any information be stored that can come out later. If you really needed GPS, rebooting before turning off airplane mode might be enough to keep you safe.

If the device has an active transmitter, it can be located. It does not matter whether you have location services enabled.

  • Your mobile provider must know what towers/stations you are associated with for you to receive calls or data. For an adversary with state-level resources, you can assume that the adversary also has access to this information.
  • You can assume that turning on WiFi will also reveal your location. The adversary likely has your MAC address, and Android is poor at randomizing it , with some exceptions.

If the device is compromised, you are out of luck. There is no practical way to verify that the device is not listening and recording location information for later transmission.

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