Re: Discussion Topic 1: Historical/Civic Responsibility Assignment
Author: Theresa Lynn Ford
Created: Wednesday, 2/11/2004 7:49 PM

GPS and Privacy

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Tracking one's own movement by precise latitude and longitude is an amusing bit of pointless trivia and perhaps useful navigation. However, when someone else decides to do the tracking, amusement changes to outrage over privacy invasion.

As GPS (Global Positioning System) is included in more devices (cars, cell phones, PDAs, radar detectors, etc.), this technology could be misused to collect private information. GPS is used to track children, cattle, sex offenders, cargo, assets, and other things. Owners certainly want to know where their stolen boat has gone. Rental car agencies want to provide computerized mapping and know where to go to provide road side assistance. Authorities want to keep track of criminals as well as have definitive proof to use in court cases. Parents want to know where their children are.

For Byungsoo Son, however, GPS was used to confiscate $3145.54 of his savings. The unread fine print of his rental car agreement stated that he was not allowed to take his rental car out of California. The car's GPS unit tracked his vacation movement to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back to California. It mapped his exact journey. He was billed one dollar per mile for contract violation.

What concerns me about this is not the cruel enforcement of the legal fine print, but rather the collection of Mr. Son's vacation route by Payless Car Rental. When coupled with Payless Car Rental's privacy policy, which lets the company share all information it collects with third parties, Mr. Son's privacy is clearly violated.

Foreign visitors are tracked for national security, but how soon before everyone is tracked using GPS? As data collection is a big thing for marketers, employers, and many others, GPS data will soon have enough information to create interesting statistics. For example, such data could translate: According to rental car company information, Mr. and Ms. Ford, who cosign so they can both drive, travel to Honolulu every year during the second week of February. Is this a good time to break into their house or to send them Maui Divers discount coupons?

GPS obviously has some good uses, including finding lost children and pets, but has potential to be misused.

Topic References

Global Positioning System Overview (2000, May 1). University of Texas at Austin Retrieved 11 February 2004 from

Privacy Policy (2004, February 9). Payless Car Rental. Retrieved 11 February 2004 from

Some Rental Cars Are Keeping Tabs on the Drivers. (2004, January 13). The New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2004 from

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