Why Does Everyone’s Phone-Tracking Program Lead To This Couple’s House?

Either a couple who live outside of Atlanta have a mobile phone theft ring running in their basement that they know nothing about, or there’s a technological problem that’s sending everyone in the area looking for a lost mobile phone to their doorstep. Phones from every carrier and major manufacturer have told “find my phone” app users that the devices are in their house. Some very angry phoneless people have showed up, and they have a reasonable fear that one of these conversations could turn violent.

Back in January, Fusion featured their plight, and offers of help arrived. Gimlet Media’s Reply All podcast made the problem a subject of their recurring “Super Tech Support” segment, but actual super tech support came from security researcher Dave Maynor, who was able to come up with a plausible theory.

The couple’s neighborhood outside of Atlanta consists of lots of empty and abandoned houses in foreclosure, and most of their neighbors are, um, old. They might have Internet access, but probably not WiFi. To grossly oversimplify the situation, missing phones in the general area of their home aren’t able to check in with cell towers to triangulate their location, but they are able to see the couple’s router and check in with the local IP address.

Unfortunately, that isn’t a very precise way to locate something. The phone could be anywhere in a wide area, but the couple’s house happens to be at the precise spot that marks the middle of that IP address when a mapping program is forced to guess.

They haven’t solved the problem of strangers showing up on their doorstep looking for phones or for people, but at least they have some leads for how to solve the issue. Their Internet service provider gave them a new router, which might solve the problem.

Why do people keep coming to this couple’s home looking for lost phones? [Fusion]
Why lost phones keep pointing at this Atlanta couple’s home [Fusion]
#53 In The Desert [Reply All]

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