Cell phone technology, mobile applications and social networks make a powerful combination for tracking people. Ironically, most of the people being tracked do so willingly through their own use of these technologies.
Google’s announced that it will offer turn-by-turn navigation to users of the Motorola Droid, showing the precision with which cell phones are now able to pinpoint a person’s location.
Prosecutors can now use cell phone GPS records to prove a defendant has been near the location of a crime scene. Divorce lawyers have used cell phone records to prove a spouse has been cheating. Services like Loopt and Google Latitude allow people to find the current locations of friends and family in their networks.
Although these mobile people tracking services can be handy for users, they can also be abused by people with bad intentions.
Last June, an Arizona man claimed that hist Twitter posts he made while on vacation may have helped a robber who stole expensive video equipment from his home.
Services like Loopt let people share their locations online with other approved devices. Loopt provides safety and privacy tips to users, but the decision of how much personal information to reveal is up to individual users.
Private investigators and attorneys are now frequently using phone records to prove guilt in both civil and criminal court cases.
A 1999 FCC law required all cell phones to come equipped with GPS technology by 2005 to assist with emergency calls.
Some phones still rely on satellites for tracking, which makes them less accurate than other navigation tools such as a Garmin, which can find its location within a few meters. Environmental conditions can also limit the accuracy of tracking devices, like cloudy weather or being indoors.
However, mobile technology will only more precise and potentially invasive in the future.