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Tracking your cell phone - mobility and privacy

By: staff

Date: Wednesday, 05. December 2007

Having GPS (Global Positioning System) in your car, or in your phone, allows you to be tracked, and that really worries some people. However, you might as well know, your ordinary cell phone provides similar information, although not as precise and easy to calculate as the GPS.

Up to now, mobile phone service providers were not too worried about tracking you. There wasn't much in it for them other than adhering to regulations for storing information, such as the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. (RIPA)

Now, there's a new driving force, an economic one, that is pushing tracking technology to new frontiers - the marketing of Location Based Services (LBS) to mobile phone users. Wireless technology developers are looking to LBS for the revenue sources that will help their industry grow.

The cell phone role

When you switch on your mobile phone it logs on the nearest cell site, usually located on a tower, a pole or a building. This is recorded at the service provider's data center. If a cell phone user is on the move, this information is passed on from one cell site to another in what is called a "handoff" system.

The result is that specialist services can use a variety of means to pinpoint your location. These include your geographical relationship to several cell sites, the time your phone transfers from one site to another, and the strength of your signal.

Network service providers store information about your phone calls and also enough information to pinpoint your location with considerable accuracy, depending on how much trouble they go to.

In the U.K. the RIPA has procedures for allowing access to the stored information. Police have to go through channels in order to get information. On the other hand, if you sign on to a tracking service, you basically give permission to access tracking information. However, access is limited, and service providers such as Britain's O2 enable customers to manage their privacy settings.

O2 is trying to stay ahead of privacy controversy by sponsoring debate on the issue and giving some control to users.

O2 handsets enable customers to change their privacy settings. UK customers can call 1300 to prevent location services from working. This includes the 'child finder' services and other 'passive' services which operate when a mobile phone user has enabled the service and consents to be located by another person such as a parent.

The value proposition

The carrot for giving up more of your privacy is what wireless information (telematics) providers call their "value proposition."

Services such as Automatic Collision Notification (which automatically contacts emergency services for you if you crash) and location based information such as traffic info, local amenities, points of interest (golf clubs, tourist attractions, restaurants, etc.), will, the telematics industry hopes, entice drivers to overcome their privacy concerns and sign on.

Mobile wireless service providers see LBS as the "low hanging fruit" of all the services they can provide to motorists. Their research has told them that only 25% of U.S. mobile phone users would be willing to pay extra for local information, so they're counting on advertising from local business to provide them with new streams of revenue.

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All Comments (3)

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john from louisville,

thats crazy and good at the same time


i don,t know about the driver of lgkg200.would you like to tell me about the driver.thank you.


i don,t know about the driver of lgkg300.would you like to tell me about the driver.thank you.

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