In light of recent events in the news, it’s probably safe to say that there’s a general sense of heightened concern about technology being used to violate personal privacy. So I have a hunch that being in the business of providing technology to track people’s whereabouts is not without its challenges in the best of times, and is likely to raise considerably more hackles right about now.
But the fact is, there are a lot of legitimate applications for this type of technology, as attested by the work of George Karonis, founder and CEO of LiveViewGPS, a Valencia, Calif.-based supplier of GPS tracking systems. LiveViewGPS is the provider of Mobile Phone Locate, a non-intrusive means of tracking a phone’s location without having to install any software on it.
I spoke with Karonis last week, and he explained how employers use the technology:
Privacy in the workplace, especially today when you look at the news, is of great concern—and not just workplace privacy, but privacy in general. With our application, there can be transparency on the employer’s part, whereby everything they’re doing is recorded, and the employee is given access to that data, to see exactly what type of information was taken. So it makes it really easy to do that, as opposed to having an app-to-app feature where the data is not stored—employers during off hours could actually monitor what their employees were doing.
Karonis went on to give a specific example of how the technology is being used by one of his clients:
We have a trucking company who has contract drivers. They may have 50 different contract drivers a week. The company is monitoring their shipments, or loads, and it doesn’t want to have to go out and purchase tracking equipment for each of these drivers—it would be virtually impossible. So what the company does is ask permission [of the contract drivers] to be located when they have the load on board. So the trucking company becomes a little more efficient—they can see where the load is and estimate the time of arrival. When the driver delivers his load, the trucking company removes our service from the phone, and he’s no longer trackable.
I asked Karonis which carrier provides the best location accuracy, and he said hands down, it’s Sprint:
There are two different types of locates: triangulation based on cell phone towers, and locates based on assisted GPS, or A-GPS, data. A-GPS data usually returns much more accurate locates vs. getting a position off of multiple cell phone towers. Ninety-nine percent of Sprint’s devices are A-GPS-enabled, so when we make a request, we’re getting fairly accurate data—50 to 100 feet. You take that and compare it to AT&T, when we do a query it’s 50 percent triangulation and 50 percent GPS; or Verizon, where it’s all triangulation—in some cases you can get accuracy radiuses of a mile or two, or even more. It all depends on how many towers are around and the type of area it is, whether it’s urban or rural.
Since I had the opportunity to speak with someone who has a background and expertise in GPS locator technology, I raised a subject I’ve written extensively about: the idea of implanting GPS locator chips in kids. As I explained to Karonis, I feel strongly about this issue, because I’m convinced that there’s not a parent on the planet with a missing child who doesn’t dearly wish that a locator chip had been implanted in the child. I noted that in writing about this topic over the years, I’ve received feedback from people who are horrified that I would advocate such a thing. But I’ve received even more feedback from parents wanting to know if the technology is available, and where they can go to get it. I asked Karonis whether we have the technology to make that happen today. His response wasn’t what I was hoping to hear:
It might be available—high-level government agencies might possess that. However, there’s nothing I’m aware of in the commercial market. There are too many [obstacles]—there’s a battery issue, No. 1—keeping the device running and transmitting. And the size—the technology definitely isn’t there yet. I don’t think it’s feasible. … Maybe in 20 or 25 years, we might see that day. Being a parent, I can understand how your kids are the most precious things you have, and you want to do everything in your power to protect them. By the same token, it’s kind of weird to put something in your body like that. But if that technology became available, I think a large majority of parents would probably have it done.