Can I be found via the IMEI?
The information portal for safe cell phone use
Device identifier: IMEI
Every smartphone and tablet with a cellular chip has a so-called IMEI number. The abbreviation stands forI.nternational M.obileE.quipment I.dentity. It consists of 15 digits and is unique for every device worldwide - anyone who knows the number can clearly assign a smartphone or tablet.
Smartphones that allow the use of two SIM cards in the same device have two cellular chips and thus also two IMEIs.
When you switch on a smartphone, it logs into one of the available cellular networks. Only then can you make phone calls, send SMS or use the mobile Internet. During the registration process, the IMEI number is transmitted to the mobile network operator.
Find the number in the device
The IMEI number of a smartphone is displayed if you enter the character combination * # 06 # with the keypad and possibly press the "Call" button. You can also find the ID using the search function in the device settings. It is usually also on a label on the original packaging of the smartphone.
Actually, the number should be "burned" into the device. But depending on the device, it is possible with the appropriate software to manipulate the chip that stores the IMEI number and to change the number.
Changing the IMEI number is a criminal offense in some countries such as the UK. In Germany, changing the number is not expressly prohibited by law.
However, anyone who changes the IMEI number of a stolen smartphone could be prosecuted on the basis of Section 269 of the German Criminal Code. The paragraph states that falsifying evidence in police investigations - and that could be the IMEI number of a stolen smartphone - is a criminal offense.
The manipulation of IMEI numbers can lead to duplication. How the mobile phone providers deal with it varies, but they rarely react in Germany. According to Vodafone, overwritten or duplicate IMEIs may not be blocked or rejected in this country, as there is no legal basis for this (request: as of 2018).
When is the IMEI used?
Similar to the vehicle identification number on a car or the frame number on a bicycle, the IMEI number of a stolen smartphone should be reported to the police and the cell phone operator. The police can then uniquely identify the device if it is found.
Some apps can access the IMEI of the device used. Up to Android version 9, the number is only protected by the "Telephone" authorization. If you allow access to an app, the provider can read out the identifier and theoretically use it to create a profile.
It is particularly tricky if the number is transmitted together with other data that clearly identifies you - for example your e-mail address. If the IMEI is called up together with the location of the device, data collectors can use it to create movement profiles.
As of Android 10, normal apps can no longer read the IMEI. Only preinstalled apps and system apps can be given authorization for this.
SIM card identifier: IMSI
In addition to the IMEI device number, the smartphone also transmits the IMSI number when dialing into the cellular network (I.nternational M.obile S.subscriber I.dentity). This is a combination of numbers that comes from the inserted SIM card. So if you insert your previously used SIM card into a new smartphone, you will keep your IMSI number.
Every mobile phone that is switched on and is not currently in flight mode automatically searches for the nearest cell phone mast and registers there. With the help of the IMSI, mobile network operators can therefore understand where a smartphone is located (cell location).
If a smartphone is observed in this way over a longer period of time, very precise movement profiles can be created - which can also be passed on to the authorities if a court order is made.
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