This Is One Position I Dont Want to Be In

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2001-06-25

I just bought a new cell phone and i hope it lasts for a long time because, as near as I can tell, it doesnt have any technology that will allow it to act as a GPS locator.

Radio-tracking collars that enable scientists to follow the movements of animals are fine for use on endangered species, but youll notice that they have to shoot the animal with a tranquilizer gun before they can tag it. Theres a good reason for that: The animal doesnt want to wear a collar, even though its for the animals own good. And in the case of cell phones, the drive to have them include a geographic positioning system doesnt have my best interests at heart.

Dont get me wrong—Im as gadget-happy as the next IT person; its just that I value my privacy more than I value location-specific, proximity-triggered, cell phone-delivered coupons. And, based on the volume and diversity of the junk e-mail I receive, Im certain that the vast majority of companies wont treat my personal location information as anything other than a commodity to be sold to whomever is willing to pay for it.

Instead of protecting our privacy, the U.S. government intends to force cell phone makers to add location services in the name of public safety. Because an increasing number of 911 calls are made from cell phones and because it is nearly impossible to tell where the caller is located, regulators want these technology updates to be added to cell phones by fall.

Heres a suggestion for the rule writers: Require that global positioning be triggered as part of the procedure for ensuring that calls to 911 are picked up. It wouldnt take that much more—from the handset point of view—to activate the GPS capability. My proposed changes would have a chip in the handset determine the position of the phone based on readings from GPS satellites and then transmit that information as part of the call to 911.

It should be simple for cell phone users to turn on the GPS feature. Someone who had to know about a bargain on Acme widgets, just moments away, could be notified.

And the rest of us could roam free of radio collars.

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