Pros and Cons of Smartphone Pinging

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Nearly all adult Americans own smartphones, according to Pew Research Center. Their studies show 96 percent of Americans have a cell phone, and 81 percent of those are smartphones. Compare that number to just 35 percent of Americans who owned smartphones in 2011. In addition, mobile apps should generate approximately $188.9 billion in the United States alone next year. Many of those apps are personal safety and location apps, including apps to help users find lost cell phones through the practice of “pinging.”

What Is Smartphone Pinging?

Pinging a smartphone involves sending a signal to the phone, requesting it update its location. Pinging also identifies the cell tower that last sent a signal to the phone. The newer apps help locate lost phones through GPS signals. Apple’s iOS uses the “Find My Phone” app while the Android phones usually use Google’s “Location History” software.


The process of pinging a phone to locate it via the cell tower has been very helpful for police and other first responders. Lost and injured people have been located, and crime scene information gathered thanks to the ability to triangulate via cell phones locating abilities. However, it is against the law for people to ping phones they do not own or try to track others using pinging.

The “find my phone” apps come in handy when you need to locate a lost or stolen phone. Not only can you find your phone when it slides down inside the sofa, but if it is stolen, you can lock it and contact law enforcement for help getting it back. Apps such as FamilyTracker let you ping phones within your family, keep tabs on the kids, and force the phones to update their location via the GPS functions. These apps complete their functions even if the holder of the phone does not acknowledge the ping messages.


For all the handy uses, pinging can sometimes be misused. The technology for understanding how cell signals are transmitted between towers is also misunderstood and can sometimes be used against people. An example of misuse of cell towers and ping signals is the use of ping locations in insurance claims. Sometimes pinging can be used against you when an insurer denies your claims based on your ping location. The matrix of how cell signals “choose” which cell tower to use blends location, signal strength, cost-effectiveness, and other factors.

Sometimes, a cell tower may be up to 20 miles away from the phone when it “pings,” if the other factors such as signal strength are more favorable than closer towers. These factors constantly change, too. Calls made minutes apart from the same location may “ping” off different towers.

These factors make relying on cell tower pings unreliable as the sole source of data to determine anyone’s guilt or innocence in a crime, or their location at any given time. However, public perception, as well as that in the insurance industry, often feels a cell signal bounces off the nearest tower. As a result of this outdated idea, multiple cases of insurance companies denying claims based on cell tower pings exist.

For all their convenience, cell phones may sometimes be used against people if bad faith insurers choose to use them as such. Cell phone users should be aware that this could happen and keep their GPS location apps up to date. Relying on cell tower ping locations to prove your whereabouts for an insurance claim could leave you without steady ground beneath your feet.

Whether you appreciate the benefits or are skeptical of the uses, smartphone pinging is likely here to stay. Make sure you learn about this feature so you can reap the benefits and avoid the problems.

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