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I think this is super scary.

As reported today in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, wireless carriers are moving towards making GPS available to its customers, for the purposes of tracking the whereabouts of their friends in “real-time.” Wow.

GPS people tracking

Yes, I know, global positioning system technology in cell phones is nothing new – I use it to get driving directions on my phone when I am lost (this happens a lot). I think it’s great. All I have to do is say where I am and it tells me how to get where I’m going. Lovely.

The problem? I don’t want everyone else to know.

On one hand, I see a value in people-tracking. There are definitely those five to ten people I will talk to on any given night, the ongoing text messages saying “Are you on the Westside?” or “We’re at the beach to the left of the pier, come meet us.” But what about the fact that technology is not fool-proof?

No, technology is not fool-proof. I know I’m not the only one out there who has had their personal lives disrupted and relationships challenged by the voicemail that was never received, the email that never actually sent, the revealing text message accidentally sent to the wrong person, or the Facebook message posted on your wall that you didn’t want him or her to see but nevertheless forgot to adjust your privacy settings. In some cases, user error or sheer coincidence is to blame – in many others, the confusion is a result of a technological error.

Keeping this in mind, making people-tracking widely available to cell phone users opens up the possibility for big time trouble. I know the wireless industry is aware of this, and the potential for major problems is largely the reason behind them having waited so long to launch the service. Still, the steps the carriers are taking to make the technology safer, i.e. limiting its use to those 14 years older and above, reminding users during the first few weeks that the service is on and they are being tracked, making tracking possible only among those who have purchased the service, and allowing users to turn the service “on” and “off” just aren’t cutting it.

What happens when you “forget to turn it off” or accidentally give access to someone you frankly wish you hadn’t?

I know there are some out there who may think I’m “small-minded” and that I just don’t “get it.” And while I believe that people-tracking is exceptionally useful in some situations, i.e. making a film on a rugged location, camping with a large group of people, or taking the kids to Disneyland, I wonder if we aren’t making things more complicated as we adopt new technology, both on and offline.

Combine the advantages and pitfalls of GPS and other wireless technology with the benefits and downsides to online social networking (downsides including the Mystalking and Facestalking phenomena), and we know more about our personal network than we ever have before. Still, without a context from which to interpret the virtual and digital footprints of our friends and loved ones (and in many cases, there isn’t one), who is to say we aren’t driving ourselves crazy with a bunch of information we just don’t need to know?


3 thoughts on “The state of privacy…or lack thereof.
  1. Mike Block says:

    This will either revolutionize or take all the fun out of stalking people. Either way, my life will be drastically different.

  2. D-Train says:

    It’s pretty much the “where you at” commercials, from T-Mobil, where you become a big dot on others’ phones. Also, I hate T-Mobile commercials.

    walkie talkie phones…hello! you already have a phone! the advanced version of a walkie talkie. Nubs.

  3. Chris Laub says:

    While this has to be the most intrusive invasion of privacy technology has brought us in my opinion, I think the 14 and under market could benefit from this the most. With younger and younger kids getting phones, I can’t imagine a better way to track kids who’ve been abducted (or lying brats who come home late). All I know is I will NEVER get a phone with this feature.

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