GPS and What You Should Know About Location Information

One of the most advanced technologies that made it into the mainstream is GPS. Short for Global Positioning System, the technology freely provides reliable position and time information 24 hours a day, in all kinds of weather. All that it takes for the technology to work is a GPS receiver and a view of at least four satellites that provides a GPS signal. Mainstreaming of the technology meant that GPS and the services it provides is finding its way into common consumer electronic items such as mobile phones and personal computers. A mobile phone equipped with a GPS opens a whole new world of location based services. Just think of being able to know what restaurants lie along the road being travelled. It means being able to tell people where you are exactly in times of emergencies. The 911 emergency phone system of the United States relies on GPS so that responding units such as paramedics or policemen receiving calls for assistance made on mobile phones are able to provide fast and very reliable services such as CPR, crime prevention or both. Instead of describing to the operator where the call is made, this important detail is taken care of by the GPS embedded in the phone. Modern navigation devices for the car provide voice enabled turn by turn guidance in most cities of the United States. GPS is a technology that makes our lives easier and safer and in most cases is very much welcome tool of everyday use.

However, like all tools, GPS can be misused or abused. The thought of making your location available to others without you knowing it is frightening. GPS devices such as trackers can be attached surreptitiously under your car. Software could be installed in GPS equipped smart phones without the owner of the phone knowing about it. If you think about it, making yourself lost is not as simple as how it used to be.

Anyone can buy GPS devices that can be used to track a vehicle. For example, one can purchase online a matchbox sized device that has a GPS and uses a powerful magnet to make it easily attachable to the undersides of a car. This is what the jealous ex of Gayane Indzheyan just did. Ara Gabrielyan began showing up in the places Gayane frequented and made it clear what would happen to her if they did not get back together. When Gayane reported the matter to the police, an inspection of her car revealed the high-tech bug. The ex-boyfriend, Ara, was punished and served nine months in a state prison. After doing time, he was deported back to Armenia .

If one were to Google the term “GPS spouse tracking”, search results would return several gadgets that does exactly what the search term intends. One of the devices that was unearthed using the above search is the GPS tracking key, a rugged and inconspicuous gadget that can be placed anywhere in the car using powerful magnets. Such devices are used by the Gomez Detective Agency in the reality television show Cheaters. With GPS powered trackers, they follow philandering husbands or cheating girlfriends everywhere, videotaping every piece of evidence that is used to pin them down.

If you rent a car and go beyond state lines, you might be billed for additional charges as well as being fined for violating terms of the rental contract. Ron Lee rented a car for a day in California. When he returned the car to the rental agency, he was surprised with 1,400 dollars worth of fines and charges. The reason for the large bill was that a GPS tracker in the rental car showed that he went as far as Las Vegas which was not part of the rental agreement. Because more and more rental agencies are using trackers, it would be wise to read the fine print of the contract, or better yet, ask the desk of any jurisdictional or mileage limitations when thinking of hiring a rental car.

Late model smart phones often come with GPS chips. Load software into the phone and one can do all sort of things with it. Software like AccuTracking can be loaded into the phone and uses GPS to make a log of wherever the phone went. The software can be configured to log online and record its current position in real time. As long as the owner of the phone knows that this feature is being used, then there really is no problem. But it is possible to upload the software into the phone and make GPS logging work in covert mode. The poor owner of the phone, in normal everyday use, will never know what his phone his doing. One user of a mobile phone reported receiving one as a Father’s Day gift. Sensing something suspicious, he went to AccuTracking’s forum and asked for help from other members how to detect if such software is running on the mobile phone. As it turned out, you have to dig deep into the control panel of the mobile phone’s operating system to find out if software such as AccuTracking is running on covert mode.

One item on the news that involved grisly murder and suicide was that of James Harrison of Graham, Washington. After tracking his wife successfully using her GPS equipped smart phone, he caught her with another man. The wife, when confronted, said that she was leaving him for the other man. This made James lost his mind that he killed his five children and himself that same day. It is somewhat ironic that it was one of the murdered kids that was able to track down the mother using the GPS in her smart phone.

Using GPS for fun even has its downsides. Online games like Foursquare lets you log in your current location in order to win points from hotels, bars and restaurants. Postabon, is another site where members are able to post shopping deals real time – as you see them. The GPS in the smart phone takes care of reporting your position. On the website, you see a map and all the pieces of information that you allowed your phone to report. Sounds fun and useful until someone who you don’t want to know where you are or the places you frequent goes to the website and sees the map showing all the details about your past activities.

This is modern day stalking. There is no need for anyone to be actually physically nearby in order for them to stalk you. Social networking such as Facebook and Twitter uses geotagging, and so does Google’s latest app, Google Buzz. When you geotag anything you submit to a website, be it a picture, a twit, or a status update, accompanying metadata includes the time, date and location where the data was submitted. With geotagging, the footprint of your daily activities becomes available to those who know how to get it. Anyone can just use Google maps and superimpose the geotagged information and suddenly, the footprint of your daily activities is there for him to use, whatever he wants it to be.

Parents may place a tracker on their children’s bags to track their whereabouts in the unlikely event of a car accident or being kidnapped. However, not all good intentioned uses of GPS tracking are wanted. Putting a GPS tracker on your teen’s car might be unpopular especially if such is done without your child’s knowledge. Your child will really score you for snooping on them the moment they find out about the tracker. Such was the case of Paige White, 17 year old, who asked permission to go out in her car in order to visit a friend’s house. It was to her embarrassment hours later when her parents busted her in a party she attended without their permission. Although the purpose of the tracker was to log in real time her driving habits such as speed, acceleration and sudden stops and turns, her parents made use of the tracker in ways that would be considered to be spying.

GPS technologies have real world uses in making our lives safer and more enjoyable. Since we are still in the stages where the adaptation and the security of the technology is in development, we should take extra care when we use this tool. If you have suspicions of being stalked, paying attention to your security and privacy settings can help a lot and do not forget to notify authorities of your suspicions.

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