The Smartphones Built for the Japan Government to Secretly Track Your Location

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The Smartphones Built for the Japan Government to Secretly Track Your Location

NTT Docomo

Source: Android Headlines

NTT DOCOMO, Inc. is the predominant mobile phone operator in Japan, with its headquarters operating from Chiyoda, Tokyo. At the beginning of 2015, it was the fourth largest public company in Japan in terms of market capitalization, even over other companies when compared with Honda, Sumitomo Mitsui, and Canon. NTT Docomo is said to have more than 68 million customers, roughly half the population in Japan and generates an annual turnover of $22.9 billion. Despite being an independent corporation, NTT Docomo remains a subsidiary of the Japanese government, which owns a 33.7% majority share of the company.

Apparently now the Japanese government may just be using this to their advantage, as NTT Docomo has recently declared its new phone launches which will enable the Japan government to track users without consent. The Japanese mobile network giant has never denied working together with law enforcement in the past, previously openly stating that:

“If requested, we provided positional information using the GPS systems on phones to emergency services such as the police, ambulance services and the Japan Coast Guard, in line with proper guidelines”.

The mobile carrier announced on Tuesday that various new models of their smartphones will give powers to investigative authorities to track the owner’s locations and extract GPS data, without needing the explicit consent or knowledge of users.

Prior to this, such a move would not be possible due to long-running guidelines provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Carriers would have to firstly obtain the permission of users before providing data to the authorities. So although the technology has already existed to track location of smartphones using these methods, it was still necessary for the tracked person to agree first in providing such data, mostly relating to crime investigations. This however was changed in June 2015 when the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications decided to drop this requirement. Without this need so that it was made possible for GPS to be tracked.

Without the need to get permission from users, Docomo developed a software that could discreetly track phones whereby they are planning to install that functionality into five Docomo Android smartphones over the next few months.

NTT Docomo1

Source: The Japan Times

The five models proposed are the Xperia X Performance, the Galaxy S7 Edge, the Aquos Zeta, the Arrows SV and the Disney-branded Mobile. The Galaxy S7 Edge will be available in stores from Thursday, while the other models will go on sale in June. Of course, other Docomo handsets will also be similarly upgraded through a firmware update said to be released later this year in order to implement the new tracker feature for remote tracking capabilities. All the phones mentioned in the report run Google Android, and while Docomo also sells Apple’s complete iPhone range, any information on whether the iPhone range would receive the software update process in the future is yet to be seen.

Naturally, this new development is ringing the alarm for experts and privacy advocates. Many privacy advocates regard it as illegal for carriers to distribute user locations without informing users, especially since Docomo would be granted access to a smartphone’s location at any time, information companies and advertisers are hungry for.

Although the investigative authorities wanting location data from the smartphones will still need to obtain a court warrant from the carriers, keeping our data and our privacy secure is a difficult matter to fight for, especially when large companies like Docomo are already relatively public with their stance on the side of law enforcements.

Lawyer Tsutomu Shimizu was deeply concerned over the new feature.

“This is an extreme invasion of privacy. It’s nothing like acknowledging merely which country you’re in. Positional information is highly private because it reveals people’s movements. However, I understand that investigative authorities would need such information in certain situations, so there should be a law passed to help public understanding.”

Although admitting positional data can be clues for criminal and rescue investigations, he added that further laws should be put in place to avoid abuse of the GPS tracking. “It is a common practice and belief internationally that personal information should not be distributed to external organizations,” he said.


Extra tips to turn off locations on your current phone


  • Open Settings
  • Scroll down to Location
  • You will see an on/off switch in the top right. Use this to turn location services on or off.
  • Tap on Location > Google Location History
  • There is a button in the top right that lets you turn your location history on or off
  • If you also want to delete your location history, go under Location History,and tap Delete Location History



  • Go into Settings > Privacy > Location Services
  • You can individually control which apps and system services have access to your Location Services data.



[1] The Japan Times

[2] Digital Trends

[3] Android Authority

[4] Engadget

[5] Security Affairs

[6] Uber Gizmo


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