Parents, Bosses Call On GPS Tracking Cell Phones
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Parents, Bosses Call On GPS Tracking Cell Phones

Los Angeles Times | January 9, 2005

As her daughter enjoyed a weekend road trip, Donna Butler sat back home 120 miles away at her personal computer and watched a blue dot tick slowly across the screen.

But not slowly enough.

``They were going 85 on the interstate where the speed limit is 70,'' said Butler, who interrupted 17-year-old Danielle's getaway to let her know, `` `I will personally come up there and drive you home.' ''

It would have been easy to find her. Whenever Danielle is away from her Central Florida home, her mobile phone uses a global positioning system to transmit her location, which her mother can track online.

Developed originally as a military tool, GPS is used widely by drivers, hikers and boaters to figure out where they are. A new generation of relatively cheap GPS-equipped devices can tell others, too - allowing people for the first time to keep constant tabs on their rebellious teens, wandering spouses or loafing employees.

That prospect comforts mothers such as Butler, but it concerns some who see ever more powerful and invasive technology eroding a sense of personal privacy.

``If your supermarket offers you the chance to take a few cents off a loaf of bread in exchange for tracking every purchase you make with one of their cards, you do it,'' said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

``TiVo quietly makes note of your TV viewing habits. Will we be willing to carry a GPS locator so we can order a pizza with the push of a button and know it's on its way right to us?''

Although GPS was added to cell phones so that 911 emergency calls could be tracked, 15 million Nextel Communications Inc. subscribers can now buy the locator service for personal or business use. Next year, the approximately 23 million Sprint Corp. wireless users will be able to sign up. It costs about $15 a month to turn on the service.

Among the first to sign up was James Kinney, to keep track of workers at his Kinney Construction Inc. in Orange, Calif. His employees are required to carry the phones during the workday.

Shortly after handing out the phones last year, office manager Kristy Collins was demonstrating the system for a supervisor.

``We looked at the map on the computer that showed all the little dots where a crew was working a job,'' Collins said. ``But one dot was way over in another spot. The guy was at home instead of on the job.''

Management Professor Lucas Introna, who specializes in workplace surveillance issues, said GPS tracking provided just enough information to breed discontent.

``In an office or a factory situation, a manager who might walk by has access to a whole range of situational information,'' said Introna, who teaches at Lancaster University in Britain. ``But when a worker far away knows that every move they make is monitored by someone - without information about just what they are doing - it takes on a punitive sense.''

Kinney didn't disagree. ``The guys hate it,'' he conceded, even though the worker caught at home was able to show that he had gone to pick up materials needed for the job.

From Soldiers To Cheating Spouses

GPS, which uses a network of orbiting satellites to fix precise locations on Earth, was developed for the military. But as soon as the first satellite in the system was turned on in 1978, academics were testing its capabilities. By the early 1980s surveyors were using GPS in their work.

GPS has proved to be one of the most popular consumer uses of space technology. For this model year, nearly 3.9 million cars came with factory-installed GPS navigation systems, according to research company CMS Worldwide. In 2008, that number is forecast to reach 6.5 million.

Hand-held GPS units for hikers, bicyclists and runners have steadily fallen in price and are now available for about $100.

Satellite tracking for the nonmilitary market received its first big boost in 1988 when then-fledgling Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego introduced a system that allowed fleet managers to spot where their vehicles were anywhere in the country.

Consumer GPS tracking gear was soon to follow.

``I would say that 60 percent of my sales are to women who say, `I think my husband is cheating on me,' '' said Greg Shields of Cincinnati, who operates the Spygear Store on the Web and sells a $500 unit designed to be magnetically attached to the bottom of a vehicle. ``The rest are men who want to track employees.''

The unit is removed after several days and plugged into a personal computer to produce a map that can be zoomed down to the street level to show not only where the vehicle has been but also its speed and all starts and stops. Shields also sells a $1,200 device that sends the signals back to a personal computer for real-time tracking.

Customers, including a woman in Phoenix who recently bought a device from him, have been satisfied with the operation of the units if not the results.

Shields said the woman told him, ``My husband was saying he was working late, and it turned out he was going to the Holiday Inn. Now he's living at the Holiday Inn.''

A Government Mandate

In 2001, the Federal Communications Commission ordered mobile telephone carriers to add technology to handsets that pinpoint their location. The idea was to make it easier to track 911 calls.

Some carriers adopted technology that used signals from cell phone towers to determine location. Others, including national carriers Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Nextel, went with GPS.

Although Nextel is the only national carrier to offer GPS services, all new phones sold by these carriers are GPS- equipped. By the end of 2005, companies that chose GPS are supposed to have converted at least 95 percent of their subscribers to the phones, although some carriers have indicated they will ask the FCC for an extension.

Even without the government regulations, GPS probably would have made its way into cell phone handsets eventually, said James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington.

``The commercial value of location services is so valuable, we would probably still be seeing a proliferation of them anyway,'' Dempsey said.

In addition to locator services, Nextel offers a function that gives driving directions.

A Sprint spokeswoman suggested that one day users could buy a movie ticket and then automatically obtain directions to the theater.

Joe Betar just wanted to know where his 13-year-old daughter was.

The owner of a Utah car dealership had already raised two teenagers. ``There were numerous nights when they were not home when they were supposed to be,'' he said. ``We would lie awake worrying about them. I ended up driving around, looking for them.''

So when his daughter wanted a cell phone, Betar picked one out - with a subscription for GPS tracking. He didn't tell her about it.

``If she knew, she might be tempted to just leave it in some location,'' Betar said.

For Mark Frankel of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, that crosses a line. ``If a parent gives a teenager one of these phones and tells them, `It has the ability to track you,' it can carry the message, `We are concerned about your safety,' '' said Frankel, who is director of the group's Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program.

``But it troubles me that someone would be tracked without their knowledge, outside of a criminal situation. When the child finds out about it, and there's a good chance they will, it's a betrayal. It carries the message, `I have no trust in you.' ''

Frankel said that part of being a teenager ``is to develop an independent personality. And part of that is privacy.''

Danielle Butler, whose road trip was interrupted with the warning about speeding, is practically an adult. But she said she hardly thinks about the phone that allows her to be tracked. ``I don't mind,'' she said. ``I have nothing to hide.''

Inexpensive Emergency Phones For Children, Elders Could Be Used As GPS Tracking Device

PC Magazine | January 8, 2005
By  Sascha Segan

Wherify has made their name with watch-like GPS devices designed to track wayward children. Now they're expanding with an ingenious cell phone that's perfect for wandering 5-year-olds – or cranky 95-year-olds.

(Yes, you may have heard of this before, at least year's CES. Like so many products, this one never made it to market. It's only coming on sale now, in a different form than last year's device.)

The Wherifone G550 looks like a very small cell phone. It's too small, in fact; you wouldn't want to talk on it for long periods of time. That's fine, because it only dials five numbers plus 911. This is a safety phone, which you program through Wherify's service. (It can receive calls from anyone, though, so it's more for little kids who can't remember phone numbers than for bigger kids who you don't want chewing up cell plan minutes.) The tiny size and sub-3 oz. weight also means kids or elders can wear it as a pendant or on a wrist strap comfortably. The phone has about 5 days standby time and 4 hours talk time.

The phone also links into Wherify's GPS system, which uses proprietary GPS technology to locate phone-holders. Parents or carers can track their phone-wielder through the Web and summon help if necessary.

The phone is a tri-band GSM world phone, and although it's pretty basic, it still has a headset jack and vibration mode. For business users roaming the world, a special button will call an English-language concierge service available globally.

The G550 will be available from Wal-Mart and in February. The device will come in several colors, and retail for $129. Service plans through Wherify will range from $9.99 to $24.99 per month, depending on the number of voice minutes and the number of location requests. Although you'll pay Wherify, the phone will use Cingular's network.


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911:  The Road to Tyranny