When Is Finding a Lost Cell Phone Beyond Hope?

This post is brought to you by real life, my life. Its a story about what happens when a blogger who writes about GPS tracking ends up losing his phone, and how sometimes there is nothing you can do about finding it.

Recently, my family and I were vacationing in America’s Finest City. We were having a great time enjoying the 70 degree weather, the sunny skies, wonderful food, and sandy beaches. The weather was fantastic and a nice break from the frigid January we would have had to spend in the Midwest where we live. We went outside all the time and took several trips to the beach to enjoy the surf, smell the salty air, skip rocks, and get sand everywhere.

Beach Fun 1

We really had a grand ole time.

Beach Fun 2

Beach Fun 3

Then it came time to get back to the car, get the kids clean, and get home. It was clearly nap time. We had to walk a good bit to get back to the car and upon arrival we quickly set about getting the kids ready for departure. While my wife changed one I was cleaning the other – a task made difficult by tiredness and sand’s ability to stick to anything. Frustrated and done it was finally time to get the kids in the car. As I was taking our youngest to his seat I took out my phone to see if I had any messages from friends who I would hang out with later that night. I had none and as I was transferring our child to his car seat I placed my phone on the roof of the car. Big mistake.

Our other child distracted me by wanting me to get him in buckled in too so I went over to his side of the car, got him in, and then got in the car myself. My phone, a Droid X, was still sitting on the top of the car.

We got in the car, popped a U-turn and started heading home. 10 minutes later as the car accelerates up the on ramp to get on the free way we hear a thud and look around the inside of the car to see what had happened. We think its just my son throwing one of his sticks against the side of the car. We continue driving and I think little of the thud and what it could mean.

It wasn’t until we get home, get inside, and lay the napping kids down that I realize I don’t have my phone on me. I panic, but stay calm because I know I have Lookout Mobile Security downloaded to my phone.

I get on the laptop, log into my account, and do a phone locate through their website. It was a long three minutes waiting for the app to tell me where my phone is and at the end of three minutes I still had nothing. So I did it again, hoping that there was just a minor glitch and the phone would figure it out. It didn’t.

Then I downloaded Plan B to my phone, not so much for the location of the phone but to see if it was on and had a network connection. In a lot of our tests in the review of Plan B the app downloaded within a minute to our phone and our GMail account received a message from Lookout telling us it would have a position on our phone soon. This didn’t happen this time.

I found myself in the worst case scenario for loosing your cell phone. My phone was either off, out of batteries, destroyed, or taken over by someone else who knew what to do as soon as they found my phone. At this point there was no technological solution to my problem. All I could do was go back, retrace my steps, and see if I could find my phone. GPS tracking would be of no help to me.

So I got in the car, drove the 20 minutes back to where we parked and surveyed the scene. After looking for a few minutes I faintly remember placing the phone on the roof and then I hear it, the thud as we accelerated onto the freeway. Its at that moment that I realize my phone is not stolen, its not off, and its not out of batteries. My phone is smashed into a confetti of plastic and silicon.

Here are some of my takeaways from this experience:

  1. Sometimes being prepared doesn’t matter. I was certainly prepared in the eventuality that my cell phone might become lost or stolen. I had the necessary apps installed and had done my homework on how to use them. But there are some things that you just can’t control.
  2. GPS tracking apps have their limits. This is really just a restatement of my first takeaway, but needs to be said. Tracking apps ARE NOT the solution for finding every lost phone. Good ole fashioned skills such as retracing your steps and remembering cannot be bypassed.
  3. Don’t be an idiot. I was an idiot and did not properly secure my phone. I should have put it back into my pocket. Or better yet, gotten a magnetic case so it would have stuck to my car. :)

Government GPS Tracking Implants: The Good

The other day, we looked at all the bad that government GPS tracking implants could bring about if it were adopted by a government and used with ill intent.  But that is not the only side to the implantable GPS debate – there is also much good that these devices can do.  Today, let us consider just what good could come about.

We have already clearly established that implanted GPS tracking can be extremely evil if used will ill intent, but we have spent no time discussing all the good that can come of having a world where implantable GPS tracking is possible.  The amount of good might still not compare to the amount of evil, but it is still at least worth our consideration.  If we find that the amount of good exceed the amount of evil that can be done then we should at least consider developing this type of technology.

Some of the more interesting and useful applications of this type of tracking include:

1. Catching Criminals

One of the main functions of governments is to maintain justice and to see the that the wicked are punished for their crimes.  As things stand, there is a lot that can help criminals escape prosecution – but probably the most important element that prosecutors need to do is to link a criminal to the scene of the crime.  We have made great strides at this as a civilization through the discovery of finger printing and DNA evidence, but we have not filled up all the holes in our judicial system yet.  If we could leverage a nation wide GPS tracking system that involves implanted GPS we would have a nearly flawless crime analysis tool on our hands.

The first step would be being able to track down suspects that could have potentially been involved in a crime.  Any murder of theft is bound to leave a GPS trail for the police to follow.  If the murder was a close range shooting or stabbing then all the police would need to do is pull up all the people who where at such and such location around such and such a time.  They then could evaluate each person to see if they are likely to be a suspect.

Once they have determined some potential suspects they would just have to get the real time position of the suspect using the GPS tracking device implanted in their body.  Tracking them down would then be as easy as driving to their location.  No costly stake outs.  No mistaken identities.

Even though the cost of the system as a whole would be very great, the cost saving for the police would be pretty significant.  The amount of time that it would take to identify suspects, locate them, and bring them in for questioning could all be taken care of relatively quickly, saving thousands of man hours and millions of dollars.

The number of crimes are not limited to theft and murder.  Essentially any crime that involves a location could be tracked using this type of system.  Speeding, illegal dumping, stalking, rape, kidnapping, abduction, abuse, and a whole host of other crimes could be handled in a much more precise and useful manner with the administration of a little GPS technology.

2. Improving Emergency Responses

Another huge benefit would be the improved nature of emergency response personnel.  Imagine a 911 call coming in from a small child, named Tim.  It is coming from 401 North Cumberland Lane and Tim has indicated that his mommy is laying on the floor and won’t get up and that there is a lot of smoke in the house.  Immediately, fire fighters and paramedics can be dispatched to the scene.  As they go their computers light up with information that there are 2 people in at the house.  They get a Google Map-like  satellite image of the house with small indicators as to the GPS location of each of the people inside.  They also get an elevation reading that lets them know if the people are in a downstairs or upstairs area of the home.

Armed with this information they arrive on the scene and are able to quickly enter the home and target the areas where the GPS indicated there were people in house.  A rescue is quickly achieved and the fire fighting begins in earnest.  If there was no GPS tracking implant in each of the residents the fire fighters would have to have done a thorough room by room search to make sure that there was no one else in the home – putting them at risk and increasing the amount of time that it might take to put ou the fire.

Medical emergencies would also be much easier to respond to if the paramedics had the GPS coordinates of the patient.  This is especially true when the patient is in a remote area or where there are a lot of people that might impair the paramedics vision.  Also, in transit to the patient the paramedics would have laser like instructions on how to get there and would not loose any time to wrong directions.

3. Improving Military Operations

In a military setting, troops would always know where friends are at all times and could avoid the costly and demoralizing “friendly fire” that has plagued soldiers in all modern wars.  While making use of the implantable tracking devices would require an integration of personal combat computers for each and every soldier, it is not unreasonable to assume that by the time we develop the technology to implant GPS devices in our bodies we will also have the ability to give each soldier their own combat computer.

This could translate the GPS data into helpful instructions that would give each soldier the ability to make lightning quick choices about whether their target is a friend or a foe in the most tense of situations.  It would also allow military commander to know exactly where their soldiers are at any given moment.  Captured soldiers could also be easily tracked, revealing the source of enemy prisons and detention centers.  Rescue attempts would be much easier to pull off and no men would ever be left behind.

4. Assist In Urban Planning

One of the key benefits of universal GPS tracking implants that are monitored and use by the government is that it would allow them to do a lot of civic planning and development.  They could analyze population densities and come up with plans to aid in the flow of individuals for work and for leisure.  An example of this might be a growing suburb of a massive metropolitan area.  After some analysis of the GPS data they find that the majority of people in this area use a major highway in order to head south into the city for work and for play.  They also realize that the other suburbs north also do the same thing, so there is a massive flight from the suburbs out into the city.  This causes a lot of traffic congestion and leads to a lot of pollution and stress.

The government could then step in and do one of a variety of things to solve the problem.  They could try and entice some business to relocate to a friendlier location for their employees.  A move north along the highway corridor would help reduce the overall south bound traffic and ease some of the congestion.  The government could increase the size of the highway corridor to improve speeds and accommodate more commuters.  They could improve the public transportation system to encourage more commuters to make use of this environmentally friendly, cheap, and efficient mode of transportation.

Information like this could also be used to make development decisions. If a particular region does not have the infrastructure to move ahead with a planned development project than the government can step in and intervene.  This will have a limiting affect on some types of growth, but overall I think that it would make cities better run, safer, and more “citizen friendly.”

Finally, governments could make better use of their land if they could know how it was being used by citizens.  If a park never was used or a library never frequented then governments could make the tough decisions to close these centers or to re-purpose them for a more efficient use.  In the end, I think that this would end up saving tax payers a lot of money and would make the government provide the services that the citizens need and want.

5. Increase Business and Governmental Accountability

Another important benefit of a nation-wide GPS tracking implant system is the increased accountability of business and government organizations.  For example, a government inspector is supposed to go around and inspect elevators on all the building in New York City.  Right now, there is very little accountability to make sure that they do that other than the people taking them at their word that such and such was done.  Another example might be a police officer who is tasked with patroling a particularly dangerous part of town, how are we to know he has been faithful to his duty and not just parked at a donut shop all evening?

If you introduce a GPS tracking system to the equation you come to see that there is little that these employees and government agencies can hide from the public (if the information is made publically available, which it would be under the Freedom of Information act).  They are held accountable for their actions.

Private corporations would be the same.  Imagine that some nasty industrial waste begins to show up in a natural preserve somewhere in the West.  How will the dumping party be held responsible?  Just go to the GPS tracking log and check out all the people that have gone to that area and find out what their speed was as they traveled there to tell who drove a car, who walked, etc.  Once you have that list you can interview each individual if there is more than one suspect or you could cross reference names on this list with others from a company payroll.  Either way, you will find out who did the dumping and the person they dumped for in no time at all.

How Will Our Future Look?

I don’t know about you, but I think that the future of GPS tracking implants is a little in the dark.  While this list of benefits is useful and good for society at large I just don’t think that it currently outweights the gross injustices that a government could perpetrate with this type of tracking system in place.  Citizens would have no privacy and absolutely no expectation that they would have any.  I could imagine a whole subclass of people that spurn the trackers and that are forced to live underground or in remote regions of the country in an attempt to evade the all seeing eyes of the government.

But this does not mean that all GPS implants should be avoided.  There might be a strong argument for personal GPS tracking implants, but perhaps we will visit that topic another day.

Government GPS Tracking Implants: The Bad and The Ugly

One of the most feared and most useful futures of GPS tracking technology is almost certainly implantable GPS tracking chips. We have all seen the bleak futures where citizens are under the constant supervision of some totalitarian government whose sole purpose seems to be to torment them.  It is a well established film genre that has deep roots in the cold war psyche of the Western world.  The world of Orwells’ 1984 would have been twice as bad if they could have had a GPS chip in each of the citizens in this dystopia.  One thing is clear, given just a few moments of reflection almost anyone can think of the mountains of evil that such a system could potentially generate.

But what about all the good that this system could accomplish, do we ever think about that?  We have been trained by our culture to overlook the potentially massive benefits that would also accompany such a system because of the possibility of abuse.  As a result, our fears could be causing us to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Is the development of GPS tracking implants something that we should consider doing?  Do the potential dangers out weight the potential benefits?

The Evil of GPS Tracking Implants

The number of evils that could be accomplished with this type of information is obvious and extensive.  I would generally think of classifying the issues in terms of two main ways of abusing the information gathered from such a system: (1) dispatching of government opponents, and (2) using private information for profit.

1. Dispatching of Government Opponents

One of the most insidious methods that a government could use a universal GPS tracking system would be to kill their citizens that opposed their regime.  Since they would know the exact location of everyone of their citizens it would be simple enough for them to dispatch a death squad that would easily be able to locate anyone anywhere.  The only “safe” place for such dissidents would be underground somewhere where neither GPS nor cell phone signals could possibly find them.  This would mean that even if the government did not kill someone, they would effectively remove them from being a threat by forcing them to spend their whole life underground.

A little less insidious but just as dangerous would be the threat of constant arrest.  If you  were to voice some concern about the government they could find all sorts of ways to get you into jail by using the information gather from your implanted GPS tracking chip.  They might arrest you outright, picking you up on the street as you make your way to the supermarket to buy some milk.  They might even rig a trial to get you arrested for a crime you didn’t commit.  All they would need is to have you at the scene of some crime – like a murder – and use the GPS location information to tie them to the crime.

A third way that government might be able to use GPS tracking information to hurt their citizens is by making public information about their personal, private activities.  If an opponent frequents a church, or goes to a psychologist, or has met with the same woman who is not his wife for the past year and a half at a hotel the government could make this information known by leaking it to close friends, relatives, or the media.  Also, their ability to identify and exploit known vices would increase dramatically if they had a repository of all know position data on a individual.

These are just a few of the ways that governments equipped with widespread, cheap GPS tracking implants could use the information to hurt their opponents.  There are more, but for now let us turn our attention to another form of government evil, profiting from its citizens.

2.  Using Private Information For Profit

In this case of government abuse the basic sin that the government would be committing is making public private information about their citizens.  They could do this in any number of ways, but I think mentioning three would suffice to give us a feel for the wickedness that they could do.

The first is that they could sell GPS tracking information to corporations to “improve” advertising targeting.  This was the impetus behind the Palm Pre cell phone tracking software debacle and is a desire that I don’t think is going to go away anytime soon.  Just imagine how much money they could make if they could sell data to every single corporation in the world.  They could tell car companies who likes to drive fast while in the highways, who generally travels with more than one person in the car, where they go when the travel, and how often they travel.  If the government could then correlate this data with tax returns then companies would have a picture of their potential customers that would enable them to provide laser targeted advertising.

This ability would be even greater if companies could also get live position data on particular individuals that they have targeted for adverting campaigns.   They could feed you ads with the aid of real time GPS tracking.  Imagine this for a second: You are driving down a lonely stretch of highway when you come upon a billboard.  On it is the following message:

Bill, you have driving your 2074 Ford Apocalypse 209,987 miles since your last oil change – don’t you think its time to get one?

Satan’s Auto Store is off of exit 22 and charges $0.03 for an oil change when you mention this billboard!

Now that is laser targeted advertising, and it is really creepy!

Similarly, companies could also use this type of information to identify potential markets and products.  If  a coffee company called Starmonies wants to identify a new set of real estate for to put up a store they can analyze foot traffic in downtown Los Angelos to help identify the point where the most coffee drinkers walk during peek coffee consuming hours.  Or a company might take advantage of GPS tracking data to find out if they can market a certain service in an area.  Either way, the government is going to profiting for your private information.

The third way that the government could use GPS information would be to manipulate the population for means of perpetuating government.  One very common method of population manipulation that already goes on is the redrawing of district boundaries for elections.  This would become even easier as the data would be much better than census data and could potentially be correlated to voting information (hey, it could happen), tax returns, and criminal records.  In the end, no congressman or senator would ever get kicked out of office because they could always just redraw the boundary until they have a plurality of votes.

Now That Is Wicked!

There is no doubt that a lot of evil could be done with GPS tracking devices that are implanted inside each and every citizen in a country.  The government and private corporations would have access to insane amounts of information about people that would would make the whole system scary if it were to be misused and abused.  Dissidents, opponents, and even society’s unwanted stand to suffer countless crimes against humanity if the whims of public opinion or political power were to turn against them.

Any scientist who would develop such a system should take warning.  Human nature is deceitfully wicked and without some serious checks in place there is no telling what type of authoritarian regime would be created when GPS tracking becomes this extensive.  It is worth development if such terrible things could be done?

Next we will turn out attentio to the good GPS tracking implants could do, but until then, just sit and ponder the inexplicable wickedness of man!

GPS Tracking Is Not All Good

Perhaps I should have named this article Why Crazy People Should NOT Use GPS Tracking because I think that that statement is just as true as the one I ended up picking as the title for this post.  There are some crazy people in this world who will do all sorts of evil with things that are normally very useful and good for society at large.  This seems to be an unavoidable fact of existence.

But when you read (very sad, very disturbing – consider yourself warned) stories like this, where you have a person use the power of GPS to do terrible things it just makes you sick.

For those of you who didn’t click through and read the post the story goes something like this (very sad, very disturbing – skip past the indented paragraphs if you don’t want to read it):

There is a man – a controlling, small little man – who tries to make himself big by pushing around his wife.  She eventually gets fed up and decides the ditch the dude.  There is another man involved.  The small man is upset that his wife isn’t home to cook him dinner or something and enlists the help of his teenage daughter to use the GPS in his wife’s cell phone to track her location.  When he finds her his wife tells him that she is leaving him and that she isn’t going home with him.  The small man leaves angry.

But it gets worse … much, much worse.  The small man, in a total act of cowardice takes out his anger against his wife on his own children.  While they sleep, one by one, he walks through his home with  loaded gun and proceeds to fire round after round into his own children.  Four lie dead in their beds where they slept.  The fifth child is found shot dead in the bathroom where there were signs of a struggle.  Sickening.

The small man then goes to the spot where he last saw his wife, presumably to find here and kill her as well.  When he doesn’t find her, he is apparently overcome with guilt over the horrendous thing that he has just done and he takes his own life.

Now this story is one of the saddest that I have heard in a long, long time.  What would posses a father to do such a thing?  How could he even think of doing any willful harm to his children?  It makes me sick to think that such a thing can happen.

But the purpose of this site is not to discuss what it means to be a man, or to show how a husband should lay down his life for his wife and children – not steal their lives as they sleep, or to how one ought to treat his wife with love and respect.  We are here to talk about GPS tracking and its application in society.

So was the GPS in the cell phone responsible for this tragedy?  Was it a cause?  Are the children dead because of it?

I certainly don’t think so.  Sure, the cell phone GPS did lead to the discovery of the infidelity.  It did contribute to the spark of hate and violence that would eventually lead to such a terrible tragedy, but it was by no means responsible for it.  The situation was already terrible – the man had been abusive to his wife since she was a 13 year old girl.  There relationship was one built on violence, fear, and control.  You had to know that the end of it was not going to be good – but no one could have expected it to end like this.

GPS did not have anything to do with the emotional and relational sickness that marks this terrible tragedy.  It was not the satellites that pulled the trigger on the gun.  It was not a GPS receiver that someone implanted the thought to kill children in the wicked man’s head.  No, GPS had nothing to do with the actual evil in this situation.

But it does highlight s0mething interest that I have been trying to point out about GPS tracking for some time now: if this technology is used wrongly it can have devastating effects.  It seems that the amount of good that a technology can do is only proportional to the amount of evil that it can do in the hands of perverse and wicked men.  I hope that cell phone GPS doesn’t get abused like this often, but I know that this is just a pipe dream.  It is probably happening right now as we speak … and that makes me profoundly sad.