"I've lost people before, so when I care about someone, I put a tracking device on them."A tracking device is a piece of Applied Phlebotinum that broadcasts its location, and is used to follow the individual or vehicle it's been secretly planted on. Occasionally the individual discovers the device and uses it to lead the trackers on a Wild Goose Chase. Tracking devices can also be intentionally used by characters on the same side to keep tabs on each other, so that if somebody gets kidnapped, his friends will immediately know where he is. Of course, a bad guy who happens to find a tracking device used for this purpose could easily use it as a Red Herring. Most tracking or surveillance devices depicted in fiction are so small that they cannot include important components such as a power source, antenna, microphones, etc. This used to seem like magical tech back in the day, but as Technology Marches On with the advent of mobile phones that allow tracking by cell tower, and USB Pen Drive-sized GPS trackers, extremely miniature tracking devices are rapidly becoming Truth in Television. Indeed, any tracking device that isn't miniscule these days probably qualifies as an Incredibly Obvious Bug. Compare the Sub-Trope Tracking Chip, when a tracking device is implanted. For the magical equivalent, see the Tracking Spell.
— John Reese, Person of Interest
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Anime & Manga
- Early in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, after Hegemon Ingvalt walked away in apparent victory, the near-immobile Nove Nakajima contacts Subaru Nakajima and reveals that she planted a sensor on her during their battle, so they can track her down and capture her at any time they want.
- Both the heroes and villains use these in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Finding or evading them are plot points in several episodes.
- Ai no Kusabi has "Pet Rings" which all have built-in tracers to track a pet's whereabouts. One pet in particular finds this out the hard way.
- Ghost in the Shell has tracking devices which can be fired out of pistols. In both the movie and the show, Togusa fires one out of his revolver to track a car.
- In the Cain Saga, Cain's earring works like this in a steampunky kind of way, being made of a special stone that causes a larger piece of it to resonate whenever in proximity.
- Hanaoka the butler from 3-gatsu no Lion lets slip that he keeps track of Nikaidou through GPS before poorly covering up with an alternate explanation as to how he's able to find his young master so easily. Played entirely for laughs.
- In the second half of Cross Ange as the remnants of the Norma have restarted Libertus and the 5 pilots who were either captured, saved, or otherwise swayed over to Embryo's side and given Ragna-mail in which to chase their former teammates, Mei somehow manages to have devices planted into each one, which in their case, not only allows her comrades to locate Embryo's base of operations, but to also lay low as long as their side is unable to engage directly in combat.
- Full Metal Panic!. A captured A21 terrorist has the device implanted under his skin, so our heroes use a microwave oven to destroy it (holding down the door safety button so the microwave will work with the door open). Unfortunately he then pickpockets a mobile phone from Kaname, and signals his location that way.
- Often used by Batman.
- Also commonly used by Spider-Man. It was a Spider-Man comic that led to the invention of electronic tagging.
- Button Man: When the Voices organize a thirteen-on-one game against Harry, they plant a tracking device on Harry so that their own Button Men can stay on top of him at all times. It turns out to be inside a tooth that he had recently had fixed.
- PS238: Moon Shadow has some to stick onto things, given by the Revenant, and Zodon has a homing beacon in his floating chair that he's in, all the time. Which isn't actually there. It's in Tyler's decoder ring.
- The Millennium Falcon gets one in Star Wars, leading the Death Star to the rebel base at Yavin.
- Jango Fett's ship also gets one on it in Episode II.
- Used to hilarious effect in The Naked Gun, where Nordberg fails to attach the tracking device, rolls down a hill, and ends up underneath Drebin's own car- "we're right on top of him now!"
- The Avengers (1998). Steed gives Mrs. Peel a set of boots with an implanted "micro-tag" (radio homing signal). He later uses it to locate and rescue her.
- Johnny Five from Short Circuit has a tracking device that he tosses into the bed of a passing pickup truck.
- In The Matrix, the three Agents implant a literal (robotic) bug in Neo's body that they plan to use to track him.
- Red Dawn (1984). The Soviets capture one of the American guerillas and force him to swallow the tracking device. Unfortunately the spetsnaz team they have following him gets ambushed, and their homing beacon points directly at the traitor.
- Brannigan (1975). The police plant a magnetically-attached bug on the vehicle of the mob lawyer used to make the ransom exchange, but he finds it and plants it on another vehicle while stopped in traffic. Unfortunately John Wayne has planted a second bug inside one of the bundles of ransom money.
- James Bond
- Bond plants one in Auric Goldfinger's Rolls-Royce in Goldfinger. Felix Leiter later homes in on the smaller one Bond is carrying to locate the OO agent.
- The Man with the Golden Gun. Mary Goodnight wears a homing device as a button on her clothing. MI6 uses it to locate her after Scaramanga kidnaps her.
- Never Say Never Again. Fatima Blush plants one on Bond so her electronically controlled sharks can home in on him.
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. There is apparently one of these on the Oscillation Overthruster (or possibly Penny Priddy), as Buckaroo uses a signal detector to find her inside Yoyodyne.
- Aliens. Corporal Hicks gives Ripley a wrist mounted tracking device. Ripley later gives it to Newt. Near the end Ripley uses the signal to find where Newt is only to find it lying on the floor after being torn off accidentally or deliberately by the xenomorphs. Ripley breaks down in tears, but fortunately Newt is still close enough that Ripley hears her when she screams.
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has the target being given papers impregnated with a unique radiation signature (in case he's smart enough to throw away everything else, they can still track him). The only problem is that Ethan Hunt needs to keep the target in visual range, which is nicely ironic when he ends up chasing the target through a zero-visibility dust storm in Dubai. Ethan uses the tracking device to manoeuvre his car into the path of the oncoming vehicle, leaping out moments before the cars crash into each other.
- Escape from New York has two of them.
- Snake is given a tracer. When he pushes a button his position can be tracked for 15 minutes.
- The President is wearing a vital signs bracelet that broadcasts a "sig pulse". Snake is given a device that can home in on the signal, showing direction and distance to the device.
- In The Andromeda Strain, (1971) the four scientists (Hall, Dutton, Leavitt and Stone) can be tracked by the first letter of their last name on the electronic diagram, anywhere in the Wildfire complex.
- By way of a translucent red stud on the back of Emmet's leg, The LEGO Movie utilizes this trope. Early on in the film, Emmet gets shot in the back of the leg. He himself doesn't see exactly what he was shot with until somebody asks "What's on his ankle?" Cue Oh, Crap! moment.
- In the James Caan film Thief, he finds a igarette pack-sized tracking device behind the bumper of his car. The Chicago police are following what they think is his car driving out of town to a robbery, but they're following a Greyhound bus bound for Des Moines, with the tracker in a package in the cargo hold.
- In The Best Offer, a tracking device is planted in the protagonist's car, so the caper team knew when he was approaching.
- In Unknown (2006), a tracker is planted in the bag that holds the ransom money, so Police could track down the kidnappers. They use a cell phone with a Viewer-Friendly Interface displaying the target as a red button. However, the kidnappers smelled a rat and dropped the bag underway.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman and Commissioner Gordon use low-level radiation to contaminate bills used in drug buys, in order to track the money through the mob's money laundering system. They somehow figure it out, and remove all their money from the bank vaults except the radioactive bills.
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Classy Cat-Burglar Selina Kyle steals the pearls that used to belong to Bruce Wayne's mother, but there's a tracking device in them that enables Bruce to find her and take them back (in payback, she steals his car).
- After Gordon is captured by Bane's men, he throws himself into the Absurdly Spacious Sewer to escape. Bane puts a tracking device in the pocket of the mook who let him escape, kills him, then throws the body into the sewer after Gordon to find out where he ends up.
- The Art of War (2000). Shaw suspects Fang has a tracking device on her clothes and makes her take it all off and throw the clothes out the window of their car. Needless to say she is not happy. Later Shaw finds a tracking sensor and realises he is the one who has the tracking device implanted under his skin by a doctor working in league with The Mole, who 'accidentally' injured him during a basketball game.
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Gaby: What are you doing down there?Kuryakin: Trying not to get lost.
- In the first part of the movie, Napoleon Solo realizes the KGB has tracked him to his meeting with Gaby Teller. The bug was slipped into his suitcase by a border guard, while Solo was looking at Kuryakin who was carrying out an Incredibly Obvious Tail.
- When Solo is forced to work with Kuryakin, he gets annoyed when his bug scanner finds Soviet-made bugs in his telephone and all his clothes. Solo goes to confront his partner about this, only for Kuryakin to hand over all the American-made bugs Solo has planted on him.
- Used for Unresolved Sexual Tension when Gaby Teller says the bug strapped to her garter belt isn't working, so Kuryakin has to put his hands up her skirt to fix the problem.
- And all this becomes a Played for Drama Chekhov's Gun shortly afterwards when Gaby blows Kuryakin's cover, knowing that he's listening in on the conversation and will have a chance to get away. Kuryakin then tracks Solo to where he's being held prisoner — turns out he didn't find the bugs in his shoes.
- Cliffhanger involves a mid-air heist of several cases of thousand dollar bills, but things go wrong and the crates are dumped in the Rocky Mountains. Fortunately they have tracking devices attached (in case of a plane crash) so the villains kidnap some mountain rescue climbers to help track them down, setting up the plot. At one point, the heroes put a tracking device on a rabbit to send the villains off on a false trail.
- Star Trek Beyond. When our heroes are trying to locate where their crew is being held prisoner, Spock states that he can locate Uhura by scanning for the unique signature of (harmless) radiation emitted by the Vulcan necklace he gave her. Everyone gives him a funny look.
- In Ransom, the kidnapper orders Mel Gibson's character to jump fully-clothed into a swimming pool to deactivate any such devices. The police are able to follow him to the ransom drop-off anyway.
- In Escape Plan, Ray Breslin's friends inject him with a tracking device so they could find out where the top-secret prison he's being taken to is. Unfortunately, Ray's captors surgically remove the tracking device and destroy it before he goes very far with them.
- In Total Recall (1990), Quaid learns that he has a tracking device hidden somewhere in his sinus cavity. He's able to disrupt the signal by wrapping a wet towel around his head. When he, very painfully, manages to remove it, he mixes it with food and gets a rat to eat it so his pursuers chase it instead.
- In Underworld: Blood Wars, Gregor shoots David in the gut with a drilling bullet that burrows deeper into his body and is also a tracking device. Fortunately, Selene manages to cut it out of him. Gregor and his team burst into their safehouse only to find them gone and the discarded bullet in a sink.
- In Justice League (2017), Bruce Wayne puts a tracking device in Arthur Curry's jacket when they first meet, but it becomes pointless because Curry discards it to swim away in the ocean.
- Frank Herbert's Children of Dune. When Alia sends Buer Agarves on a diplomatic mission to Stilgar, she conceals a homing signal in the new boots she gives him so her forces can follow him and capture Stilgar.
- In Komarr, Miles briefly thinks he'll be able to get a lead on the villains when they steal his Auditor's seal, which has a tracking device embedded in it. Unfortunately, they know about the device, and almost immediately flush the seal down the toilet to serve as a particularly messy Red Herring.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long Time Travels to meet his family when he was a child. Due to a miscalculation, he winds up in 1917 instead of 1920, just in time for the United States to get into World War I. Prior to leaving, he was unknowingly implanted with a tracking device by his family of the future, which comes in really handy when he gets shot in battle and has to be rescued.
- In the Stephanie Plum series, Ranger routinely plants tracking devices on Stephanie, her car, etc. In one book, she and Ranger are going through her purse and find three. Only one was Ranger's.
- The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K. Dick and Ray Nelson. Gus Swenesgard is about to be skinned alive (literally) by his alien overlord after he inadvertently let some powerful weaponry fall into the hands of La Résistance. Fortunately he blurts out that he planted a micro-transmitter in the hair of a reporter who was going to interview the rebel leader.
- Since The Dresden Files is from the viewpoint of a wizard detective, tracking devices don't feature much. (Usually, Harry will use items to focus his mind for tracking spells, have "dewdrop faeries" follow the target, or even follow behind them himself.note ) However:
- Small Favor has Harry realize that a small 'silver oak leaf' on a chain, provided to him by the Summer Court as a token of an owed debt by the Court towards him, is being used by Summer's "hitmen" to figure out where he is.note When he figures this out, Harry uses the 'Little Chicago' model to make the leaf think he's appearing wherever it get close to on the model, ties a catnip bag and a rubber band to it... and lets his cat Mister play. By the end of the book, Harry has used the obligation up, and the leaf vanishes (or is reclaimed), so whether or not it still can be used for tracking after this is somewhat of a moot point.
- Turn Coat reveals that Morgan received a similar silver oak leaf, to represent a debt from the Summer Court towards him. He's already claimed the obligation by asking Summer to hide him from magical tracking for roughly three days, so that he can figure out who killed a fellow White Council wizard and set him up to take the fall. Harry realizes that Exact Words might be in play: Morgan won't be tracked, but the leaf (which is still around, and belongs to the Summer Court anyway) can be tracked... and the Court can freely tell anyone that thinks to ask the right questions... Cue a face palm from Morgan for not being paranoid enough.
Live Action TV
- May be one of the most used devices in the series Alias.
- The title character of Chuck wears one in his wristwatch so (theoretically) his handlers can always find him.
- In the Leverage episode "The Stork Job", Hardison reveals when Parker goes off on her own that he put a GPS tracker in her shoes. It's implied that he keeps tabs on the entire team this way all the time. He also often uses the various magical earpieces that they have for this purpose as well. Fitting this trope those devices are sufficiently small that there is no way that they could ever really work.
- Often used on NCIS, for the agents themselves to be rescued or just followed, or suspects or criminals.
- Used on an episode of Scrubs so JD can track and avoid the Janitor.
- In addition to their primary purpose as Comm Links, communicators in Star Trek are used as locating devices. Plots frequently demand that they be removed or jammed.
- Used over and over again in Veronica Mars in order to track and find nearly anybody.
- As part of his release agreement with the FBI, Neal Caffrey of White Collar has to wear an ankle tracking bracelet at all times (until his 4-year term is up, anyway). He cannot leave a 2-mile radius of his home (which, fortunately for him, is in Manhattan) except with an FBI escort, and if he tries to remove it without authorization (occasionally given as part of an operation), it sends out a signal.
- Used in The City Hunter: Young-ju bugs the City Hunter during their first fight. Yun Sung later bugs the stolen 2 million dollars in Kim Jong-shik's house.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- The Initiative shoot Spike with a tracking device which Xander recognizes because it blinks for no apparent reason. Well, maybe that comes in handy when tracking vampires in the dark.
- Willow's oft-used "locator spells."
- In Healer most of the tracking devices are very small and well disguised like the ones in Jung Hoo's watch and necklace. The tracking devices he attaches to cars are rather conspicuous things about the size of a nickle with a small blinking red light. This is probably just so that the audience doesn't need it spelled out for them what he's doing every time he uses one.
- JAG: Used by Clayton Webb in his first dealing with Harm and Mac to track their car in "We The People". However, they're savvy enough to leave it.
- Extant: All the astronauts have one stuck to the roof of their mouth. It's supposed to be used to gain data on their vitals but it can also track locations.
- Once Upon a Time: Bo Peep, who was a warlord in the Enchanted Forest, "branded" her victims with magic, which allowed her to use her shepherd's crook to track her victims. In Storybrooke, David used the crook in an attempt to locate Anna; while he couldn't get a fix on her, the crook did register her heartbeat, indicating that Anna is still alive.
- Person of Interest. Team Machine usually does this by hacking the mobile phone of the Victim of the Week and using its GPS locator. Finch is quite proud when he hacks an Artificial Limb into giving away its position to every phone repeater it passes. Finch is Properly Paranoid about this himself; it's no surprise when he smashes a 2 million dollar watch given to Team Machine by a grateful billionaire to remove its GPS locator.
- Though they still fall victim to them on more than one occasion. Notably Root and the FBI each manage find them at different points. Root with a classical tracking device, and the FBI by a brute force attack on their phone system.
- Root steals an indestructible Kevlar briefcase, but can't break into it to remove the tracking device. She resorts to using a lamp to short it out, but the former owners are already kicking down the door.
- In Day Break, Buchalter and Fencik plant a device under Hopper's car so they won't lose track of him. When Hopper finds out, he sends them on a Wild Goose Chase.
- Better Call Saul: Mike realizes he's been bugged after his attempt to snipe Hector Salamanca is interrupted by his car horn going off. It turns out that Gus Fring had managed to get his temporary car and his regular car bugged. Mike manages to turn the tables on Gus by buying an extra tracker, then draining the original tracker so that Gus will send someone to replace it. The guy sent to pick up the tracker instead picks up Mike's active tracker. Mike follows the tracker, eventually ending up at Los Pollos Hermanos. He sends Jimmy inside to spy on the bag man. Unfortunately, Jimmy's attempt at spying is clumsy enough that Gus realizes Mike has caught up to him. So he has Victor take the tracker away from the restaurant, leaving it inside a gas cap in the middle of the road with a ringing cell phone ready for Mike to answer when he locates it.
- Batman episode "The Joker's Flying Saucer". When Alfred is forced to help the Joker assemble the flying saucer, he puts several Bat tracking signals inside the saucer so Batman can learn its location after it lands.
- Blake's 7.
Avon: Orac, can you give me a precise fix on that tracer?Orac: Of course I can!Avon: Where is it then?Orac: Under the box which is ten centimetres from your right hand.
- In "Traitor", the Federation release a prisoner so he'll make contact with the rebel unit that sent him to infiltrate their base. He's unknowingly swallowed a tracer, and they launch missiles on his position when the signal shows he hasn't moved for a while, assuming that's the rebel base. Turns out he was just waiting at a rendezvous point, and the rebels were waiting for the cover of night before going to collect him.
- In "City at the Edge of the World", Vila is bullied into going on a solo mission, and is told to swallow a tracer. But Vila resents his colleagues' actions so much he palms it instead. When he later goes missing...
- In "Shadow", a radioactive element is added to the titular drug Shadow, so the local organised crime boss can track all the addicts. No-one cares if the addicts get cancer because they inevitably die from the drug.
- Shadowrun had the AOD (Activate On Demand) tracking signal. It only transmitted when it received a specific coded signal, which meant it could not be detected by standard radio detection techniques except when it was actually transmitting.
- Victoriana RPG supplement Faulkner's Millinery and Miscellanea. One possible Complication (drawback) for a magical clockwork limb was a tracer device implanted in it, which allowed someone to know where you were at all times.
- Iron Crown Enterprises Cyberspace main rules.
- The Homing Device was a constantly broadcasting high frequency transmitter implanted in a living creature (such as a human being). It can only broadcast a few kilometers away.
- The Arm Sentry is a small device strapped to the arm of guests in corporate areas. It constantly broadcasts its position to the company security computer. If the wearer enters an area they're not authorized to be in, the computer sounds an alarm.
- The Tracer is a transmitting device that is either worn or implanted. They can be traced over great distances by ground-based or satellites. All Corporate and Government personnel have these implanted in their bodies so they can be recovered in case they're kidnapped or become lost.
- Champions Organization Book 2 PRIMUS and DEMON. The included adventure notes that PRIMUS (an anti-villain U.S. Government agency) puts a transponder inside all captured supervillain devices to assist in tracking them down if they go missing.
- DC Heroes. One piece of equipment characters could buy was a "tracer", a small radio transmitter that sent out a steady signal that could be picked up by a receiver. It had a maximum range of 5 miles.
- Franziska plants one of these on her incompetent detective partner Gumshoe in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All, much to Gumshoe's displeasure.
- In Mass Effect 2, after you acquire the Reaper IFF chip, it installs a virus into the Normandy's computer that broadcasts its current location. Which results in the kidnapping of all of your crew except Joker. Kinda makes the Paragon choice in the endgame (to destroy the Collector Base rather than reverse-engineer it) seem the right one: if a mere chip made by the Reapers could outsmart the best AI humans could produce, what would an entire base do?
- Mass Effect 3 has Miranda plant a tracer on Kai Leng on Sanctuary, leading Shepard directly to Cerberus's main base. The spoiler for 2 is also revealed to be fairly irrelevant. Even if blown up, enough of the base remains that Cerberus undertakes major salvage operations and some degree of indoctrination and so on happens anyway.
- Ghost Trick: Cabanela fires a special bullet into Yomiel's body, which can be tracked by a modified pocket watch.
- In Secret Agent Barbie, Barbie has a gadget which is basically tracking perfume.
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance: When Sora is eventually captured by the bad guys, they reveal that Master Xehanort can magically track down any "X", like the X on Sora's shirt.
- This strip of Irregular Webcomic!.
- In Rank Amateur, GELF are officially required to wear these. They were generally fitted to GELF even before it became law.
- In addition to working as a Mind-Control Device, the iKnow from Commander Kitty can serve as one of these.
Zenith: What does that beeping mean? Is he getting close?
- More like the fun tracking programs you can get for your cellphones to track your friends, Pockets in Tower of God have this option that two mutually registered Regulars can track each other.
- Whateley Universe:
- The Whateley Academy student cards can track students with embedded RFID through doorways, because all doorways are equipped with RFID scanners that report who uses them.
- Tracking devices are also mentioned every once in a while, some made by Whateley students, as well, such as in Original Canon - Imp 5 Head over Tail (Part 2). Others are made by the Academy, like the tracking device that Reverend Englund wanted Sara to wear. Profession Courtesy also mentions them.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures. An episode that involves clones of the heroes has Captain Black place a tracking device on one of the Jackies. He starts bragging about it before the real Jackie points out that it's on him instead of the escaped clone.
- Also played for laughs in Invader Zim, where the "tracking device" turns out to be GIR clinging to the back of Dib's enormous head.
- 1973-74 Super Friends episode "The Planet Splitter". The Super Friends put microdot homing devices on the remaining 100+ carat diamonds so they can be tracked down after they're stolen. At the end of the episode, Wendy puts Wonder Dog on a diet, them puts a microdot homing device on one of his favorite steak bones so they can track it when he steals it.
- Also in SWAT Kats. Hard Drive and Dark Kat stole the Turbo Kat and used it to commit crimes and frame the heroes. They demanded several bags of money. Commander Feral hid a tracking device in one of them. The bad guys throw away a bag (presumably the one with the tracking device) and, using a device to impersonate T-Bone's voice, said "Nice try, Feral!"
- Kim Possible sometimes uses various kinds of trackers, including tracking powder (got in the vent system of the building).
- Space Ghost episode "Homing Device". Before the episode starts Jace puts the title homing device on Blip's collar so he and Jan can always find him. Blip stows away on the Phantom Cruiser when Space Ghost goes to surrender to Metallus, allowing Jan and Jace to follow them.
- Modern cellular phones have GPS receivers in them to provide locations during emergency calls. Some offer tracking services that allow account holders to keep track of their children, or track a lost or stolen phone.
- Sadly, these capabilities are also increasingly used for more nefarious purposes.
- Whether or not turning off the GPS feature of the phone actually deactivates tracking or just hides it from applications on the phone itself (but not from the service provider) is up to the phone manufacturer. In any event, even without GPS, if the phone is communicating at all with the cell system, the phone company can tell the maximum possible distance the phone can be from any given cell tower by measuring the strength of the return signal; the phone must be within the region where the possible locations from each cell tower getting a signal from that phone overlap. In an area with a fairly dense network of cell towers (such as a city), this can typically locate the phone to within a radius of 50 meters or so. Such communications happen regularly even when you're not actively using the phone, so if you really want to hide, put it in "airplane mode" (which supposedly disables all wireless communications) or, if you're too paranoid to rely on that, remove the battery or put it in a Faraday cage.
- US vs. Jones resulted in a decision that, within the USA, use of such a device without a warrant may violate 4th amendment rights.
- There are systems that can track stolen motor vehicles. LoJack and Onstar are two of the best known.