Tech GPS and Cell Phones

Published on February 11th, 2013 | by Guest Writer

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GPS and Cell Phones What Are the Ethical Dilemmas?

Many cell phones have global positioning satellite capability built in as part of their basic operational technology. GPS capabilities can keep you from getting lost when you’re driving in an unfamiliar location or help first responders locate you if you’ve had an accident. However, the potential misuse of GPS technology in cell phones also raises a number of ethical issues and privacy concerns.

Tracking Children and Teens

Concerned parents may use GPS technology to track small children or even teenagers, either with or without their knowledge. GPS tracking for small children is designed to aid parents and police in recovering a lost or kidnapped child. However, predators may intercept the signal from a GPS-equipped cell phone, the phone may be stolen, or the child may simply lose the phone.  Parents may also use GPS technology to track the conduct and movements of their teens. However, tech-savvy teens often circumvent GPS technology by leaving the cell phone behind in a location authorized by their parents – or simply turning the phone off.

Tracking Employee Conduct and Whereabouts

Employees who use company-issued cell phones could conceivably subject themselves to surveillance around the clock unless their contracts strictly forbid such monitoring, according to a CNET News report. Some employers use GPS-enabled cell phones to track the whereabouts of their employees in the field just as they monitor email and Internet use of employees in the office. Employers justify this sort of tracking as a means to prevent workers from goofing off and conducting other unauthorized activities while they’re supposed to be on the clock. Such monitoring after work hours is much more ethically problematic.

GPS and Informed Consent

As of June 2011, GPS tracking without consent of the person being tracked is illegal in the United States.  Nonetheless, services are readily available through the Internet for suspicious spouses to track their unfaithful partners or for parents to keep tabs on their kids. These services raise serious questions about the legality and morality of such monitoring.

A study conducted by researchers at Northeastern University in Massachusetts in 2008 and reported in the journal “Nature” tracked 100,000 cell phone users outside the United States for six months to determine their travel habits. The researchers claimed that because their study did not directly involve human subjects, they did not need to obtain prior permission to collect the information from the cell phone users, according to a report published by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Nonetheless, the harsh criticism faced by the investigators over the methods employed for collecting the data overshadowed the actual results of the study.

Catching Criminals and Retrieving Lost and Stolen Property

Law enforcement agencies also use GPS technology to solve crimes and bring fugitives to justice.  GPS-equipped cell phones can help police to track individuals suspected of criminal conduct without raising their suspicion. In January 2011, police used GPS technology installed in a cell phone stolen during a burglary to track the stolen goods and make an arrest, CBS Philly reports. The arrest took place approximately an hour after the unwitting intruder broke into the unidentified victim’s home. Apple iPhone owners can install an app called “MobileMe” to silently trace and potentially aid their owners in recovering their stolen or lost iPhones, according to GPS for Today. Victims who have installed the technology can track the location of their phones through the Internet using the “Find My iPhone” feature.

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Mobiles have evolved a lot in recent years but Laura doesn’t see any ethical problems with the new technology.

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