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Your Cell Phone Is Tracking You 453

PollGuy writes "I had never heard until this article in the New York Times (sacrifice of first born required) about services that let regular people track the locations of other regular people via their cell phones. Nor this: 'A federal mandate that wireless carriers be able to locate callers who dial 911 automatically by late 2005 means that millions of phones already keep track of their owners' whereabouts.'"
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Your Cell Phone Is Tracking You

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:34AM (#7777719)
    Its possible to track the location of people who have landlines too. It's called a phone book.
    • Re:This just in... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kelerain ( 577551 ) <> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @05:06AM (#7778053)
      Wow! Your phone book tells you where the person you are calling is, even when they are out of the house??

      I gotta get me one of them!
      • Re:This just in... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Epistax ( 544591 )
        Wow! Caller ID is a totally new concept to you??
        Wow! You think anyone has access to this information on cell phones??
        Wow! You can think of a practical situation where the location on your cell will be used against you??
        • You can think of a practical situation where the location on your cell will be used against you?

          And anyway, 50% of cell-phone conversations start with "hey John, I'm now on the 69 at King's and I think it will take me 20 more minutes to get...." or something similar. At least that's what I normally overhear on airports, in trains, etc.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @08:10AM (#7778415)
      If you have secrets, ANY secrets, especially BUSINESS secrets, under NO circumstances mention anything over the telephone! 0. html

      "The typical CALEA installation on a Siemens ESWD or a Lucent 5E or a Nortel DMS 500 runs on a Sun workstation sitting in the machine room down at the phone company. The workstation is password protected, but it typically doesn't run Secure Solaris. It often does not lie behind a firewall. Heck, it usually doesn't even lie behind a door. It has a direct connection to the Internet because, believe it or not, that is how the wiretap data is collected and transmitted. And by just about any measure, that workstation doesn't meet federal standards for evidence integrity.

      And it can be hacked.

      And it has been.

      Israeli companies, spies, and gangsters have hacked CALEA for fun and profit, as have the Russians and probably others, too. They have used our own system of electronic wiretaps to wiretap US, because you see that's the problem: CALEA works for anyone who knows how to run it."
  • Indeed... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dilweed ( 698689 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:34AM (#7777720) Homepage
    Just bought a phone for my wife tonight and I was interested to see that it has GPS included. Interesting privacy and safety issue.
    • Re:Indeed... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dakkus ( 567781 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @06:20AM (#7778194) Homepage
      A <== A cell phone base station.

      ________ ________
      / \/ \ Here you can see how this thing works.
      / /\ 2 \ The base station one knows that you
      / / \ \ are within the range of the circle
      / . / \ . \ around it away from it. it knows it by
      \ 1 A \____/_A_ / measuring the strength of your phone's
      \ /\XX/ \ / signal.
      \ / \/ \ / The same way, base station 2 knows
      \____/___/\_______\/ your distance from it, too and can draw
      / . \ a circle, as well. Now, with these two
      \ A / base stations we know that the phone
      \ / user is in one of the two intersections
      \ 3 / of the circles around base stations one
      \________/ and two.
      Then there is the base station three. It
      only needs to know that its signal is not strong enough to reach the
      northern intersection of circles of base stations 1 and 2. That way we
      know that the user must be in the southern one of the intersections of
      circles drawn by base stations 1 and 2. Please note that in this drawing
      base station 3's circle doesn't tell the distance from the phone user,
      but the maximum possible range it can reach. (Because I didn't think
      when I drew the pic.)

      Even if the distance info isn't that accurate (meaning that you're using
      an old crappy analog cell phone most of you americans use), we can still
      plot your location quite exactly. If we just know that the phone is
      within the maximum ranges of all three base stations pictured here, the
      phone must be in the area I've marked with X letters. Often there are
      even more than three base stations around you. That makes getting the
      location info even more accurate. So, in a city you can be located with
      an error marging of only few tens of meters. In suburbs the error
      margin is at least here in Finland some 500m. (Actually less, but this
      distance is used by the cell phone company to make sure the phone is
      100% surely in the area shown.

      Here it just became legal to see where your kids' phones are going if
      you've signed a contract in advance. You go to internet and give your
      username and password. Then the site will plot your kid's location on
      a map.

      I'm really surprised that this many of the /. people didn't this in
      advance. Here in Europe right about everyone knows that. And has known
      since something like 1995 or so. Tracking people by their cell phones
      has been possible as long as there has been cell phones.
      Guess your government and media hasn't for some "odd" reason wanted its
      servants to know too much of what is possible.

      I don't see what damn problem it is if you can be located if you're
      dying in a pit. I remember seeing in the TV program 911 how one woman
      almost died when she didn't know where she was while she called the 911
      from a landlined phone. I didn't understand why they didn't just look
      where she was calling from and send an ambulance there. It only takes
      about 0,0000000(and so on)0001 seconds to find out that info, not a
      minute like in the hollywood movies.
      The info about who's calling can be asked from a telephone company. It
      has to know it to be able to bill someone for calling.
      Before you had to know where you are to get an ambulance. If you didn't
      know, you died. Cute. Now you just need to call 911 or 112 depending on
      what continent you're in and say "I'm dying. Get me to hospital." and
      the ambulance will come.
      • Re:Indeed... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mike McTernan ( 260224 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @11:17AM (#7779005) Homepage
        Err... if this is GSM then that's not is entirely accurate in my professional opinion.

        If the phone is in idle mode, i.e. not in call, it will monitor the surrounding cells and select (called camping) the cell with the best selection value which is a function of signal strength and some other parameters set by the network. Also, cells will be grouped into location areas, also known as paging areas, and it is only when the mobile moves from one area to another that it transmits to the network to inform that it has moved to a new location area. Therefore, normally it is only possible to track the user to a location area, which may span a number of cells, each of which could be upto ~35km in radius.

        There is a extension called EOTD which uses neigbour cell timing and signal strength estimations to calculate positioning information, but this requires extra support in the base stations and mobile, and isn't widely deployed. Also, since the mobile has to make measurements and report them to the network, this is only done if the network requests it; it would drain your battery to constantly report position.

        In dedicate mode, when making a call, the mobile does report signal strengths of the top 6 neigbour cells to the network reasonably frequently, and it would be possible to track a user in a call as you describe, but that's pretty obvious IMHO - you want to make a phone call, so something has to know roughly where you are.

        I don't dispute that the network knows where you are, but the average case has a lot lower resolution than you imply.
      • The description above is OK as far as it goes. But radiolocation by cellphone is MUCH more accurate than that, because it uses an extra piece of information.

        In addition to signal strength (which varies not just with distance but with transmission path artifacts, like trees and moisture), digital cellphone base stations keep track of out-and-back signal turnaround time - to an extremely fine granularity. They do this to assign timeslots for the phone-to-tower signals, to make maximum use of the channel.

    • Rape button (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @08:51AM (#7778486)
      It seems to me that every GPS phone should have a rape button... push it, and it silently goes into alert mode, telling the police where a woman is, that she's in danger for her life, and that she can't actually phone them.

      You'd have to be liable for the charges if you abused the system, and the "button" would really have to be something like a pull-out slip so i would be both permanent and hard to set off by accident, but imagine what a help it would be.

      • Re:Rape button (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jetson ( 176002 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:00PM (#7780822) Homepage
        It seems to me that every GPS phone should have a rape button.

        Many phones will automatically dial 9-1-1 and transmit your GPS location (if so equipped) if you simply hold down on the '9' button for a five seconds or more. This will generally work even if you don't have a contract for cell service and can't place or receive normal calls.

  • by hendridm ( 302246 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:35AM (#7777724) Homepage
    Suddenly I wish I hadn't sold my old Nokia phones on eBay recently. They might have been worth much more in the next couple years when all phones come with GPS-tracking included. Of course, it wouldn't make much of a difference if providers require the feature in the future.
    • by CoolGopher ( 142933 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:42AM (#7777773)
      While GPS certainly helps, it is by no means necessary in order to pinpoint the location of a mobile. As long as you are within coverage of at least three cells (less than that and you lose accuracy), it is perfectly possible to triangulate the position of the mobile terminal, regardless of what support there is or is not on the actual mobile itself.

      I say this with some authority, as I used to be working one floor above the guys developing the MPS (Mobile Positioning System) solution. That was, ummm, about four or five years ago. So no, this is nothing new... these aren't the droids you're looking for; move along.
      • by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:37AM (#7777979) Homepage Journal
        Blockquoth the poster:

        it is perfectly possible to triangulate the position of the mobile terminal, regardless of what support there is or is not on the actual mobile itself.

        I think you've missed the point. Your boss or parent or boyfriend (or stalker) doesn't have the ability to triangulate on you -- it's not an easy thing. If the police do it, there'll be records, and it probably falls under wiretapping statutes. The issue here is: There are no legal guidelines for the ubiquitous surveilliance mentioned in the article.
    • by infiniti99 ( 219973 ) <> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:23AM (#7777928) Homepage
      I think GPS in phones is a great idea. Aside from the fact that it would make emergency calls much more efficient, it would be handy when using it with a PDA (you'd get both GPS and Network in one peripheral). Having a two-in-one would also simplify tracking-device projects. Don't you think it would be totally nerdy cool to be able to enter an AT command to your phone and get GPS coordinates, or throw it into a NMEA mode?

      The issue of providers tracking you is a completely separate problem. As long as the user remains in control (ie, I can choose to allow my phone to transmit GPS information to my provider or caller), then we're fine. Personally I'd have it always set to never allow another party to get my (x,y) unless I was using an emergency call. The rest of the time I'd be using the GPS capability with a local device for my own needs. We just need to ensure that phones don't go "DRM-style", where they are doing things against your will.
  • That's weird... (Score:2, Insightful)

    'A federal mandate that wireless carriers be able to locate callers who dial 911 automatically by late 2005 means that millions of phones already keep track of their owners' whereabouts.'

    Seems unnecessary... Wouldn't it be possible to just have the cell phone programmed to export the necessary coord data when someone hits 911?
    • The problem situation comes in the case of kids or employees who aren't given the option of turning off the locator feature.
    • I suspect this is what the phones really do, and whoever wrote that article chose suboptimal wording. The phone has no need to store that information or transmit it constantly. It would only query the GPS satellites and send the location when a specific request was received. The tinfoil hat brigade can continue the argument over who's sending the requests.
      • Re:That's weird... (Score:5, Informative)

        by NeoMagick ( 598369 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:28AM (#7777943)
        GPS doesn't even need to come in to play. An analog phone from 1985 can give out positioning information with a little help from the service provider through triangulation. Newer cell phones, yes, use GPS systems for easier coordinate sending for 911/411 type services, it's just a cleaner system than using cell phone towers and relying on the wireless phone service providers to take the time to bounce the signal off at least three towers, get a fix, and relay it to the other end of the phone call. But it's all through the same process...GPS uses at least 3 satellites to do the same thing.

        My understanding at this point is digital phones are easier to track because they're always in communication with the towers, but older analog-only phones are only trackable when they're being used, because they can go passive. I may be mistaken on that.

  • not new. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 1lus10n ( 586635 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:36AM (#7777731) Journal
    this service isnt really new, i bought my phone about a year ago (samsung a500, sprintpcs) and it had this feature. I disabled it, but i think that only turns off the ability for joe schmoe to track me, not the gov't.

    i personally see a good use for this (911) and dont see the big deal since you could just not carry your cell with you for that ultra-top-secret-underground tinfoil hat clan meeting.

    i am more worried about things you cannot opt out of, like face scanning in public places. or non-approval required phone taps etc ....
    • Re:not new. (Score:2, Troll)

      by GundyRage ( 611514 )
      The bottom line is that people need to realize that it just doesn't matter. 99.99% of us lead lives that are so boring that nobody cares where we are or what we are doing.

      • Re:not new. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cicho ( 45472 )
        Okay, what if someone does care? What if *I* want to install a video camera in your bedroom? No mistake, you *are* boring, but I still want that camera there. I guess I have your permission?
      • yeah but... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:32AM (#7777957)
        What if you're that person that everyone talks about when you're not around? I've found out because people tell me about these conversations.

        What if you're that hot girl that everyone wants to meet, and you despise all those creepy geeks? All of a sudden you keep bumping into the same stalkers, at every club you go to, at every store you visit. Everytime you step out of the house?

        Cool, so don't carry your cell-phone with you. Great solution, now that they've eliminated most public pay-phones. You too can live in a communications-free world. Hello? It's like stepping back in time a 100 years. It's particularly disabling when your car breaks down, and nobody will stop to help you - and there's no phone around to call for help. It's a problem when people *expect* to be able to reach you at anytime - you become a social pariah.

        Time for a new solution. We just need to out-innovate these stupid restrictions.

        -- Ender, Duke_of_URL
    • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:21AM (#7777921) Homepage Journal
      As so many people do, you've assumed that you have to be up to something illicit to care about privacy. Simply not true. Here's an not unlikely example: You say to your boss, "I need the afternoon off. Gotta take my kid to the doctor." "Sure!" your boss says, then runs back to his office and order a location trace on your cell. It turns out the address you go to is for a specialist in childhood leukemia. "Christ!" your boss says, "Our insurance costs are through the roof already! If this kid needs a bone marrow transplant, forget about any end of the year bonus! Better downsize this guy, stat!"

      Of course this technology has legitimate uses. If you'd bothered to read the article, you would have noticed that the privacy advocates were not objecting to the technology itself, but to the absence of control over who gets access to the data.

  • by toast0 ( 63707 ) <> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:36AM (#7777733) Homepage
    On the few phones I've seen with this feature, they have a menu to enable it all the time, or to only have it on for 911 calls.

    I think it's pretty easy for the phone to tell if you're dialing 911 or not, so when you turn it off, it probably means it's off.
    • by hendridm ( 302246 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:41AM (#7777764) Homepage
      Just keep telling yourself that. If it's enabled for 911, it's enabled period. All it takes is a warrant (OnStar anyone?) or a clever cracker/spammer.
      • So long as the high standards to get a warrant still exist, that's not a bad thing for the world to have. It's a whole lot cheaper for the taxpayer to grab somebody's cell phone records compared to the conventional police tail...
        • High standards? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:39AM (#7777991)
          Umm, what fantasy world are you living in?

          They've used OnStar to eavesdrop on people. The only reason that go shut down is because the person couldn't use OnStar to call for help - which will be solvable by the cops by promising to forward any such requests immediately to the OnStar system.

          In '93 they were wiretapping all public phones in 'bad' areas in my town. I don't think they even bothered to get a warrant, which is why it made the papers.

          Feds have *never* turned down an application for a warrant to themselves in Patriot related matters - which is not solely related to 'terrorist' activity - even when terrorist activity was rather loosely defined. They're now using it for domestic crimes.

          The federal DB of records on every citizen is moving forward, all boat registration, car registration, credit records, etc.

          Yeah: "Trust us, we're from the Gubbmint", sure, sure - as long as high standards are used, it shouldn't be a problem. As long as people follow the law, you should have no hackers attacking your computer systems, no viruses will be written, and all code won't cause catastrophic failure on your machines, or data corruption.

          Must be nice to live in fantasy land.

          -- Ender, Duke_of_URL
      • by rokzy ( 687636 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:00AM (#7777858)
        um, so "able to call regardless of credit" is enabled for 911/999, so "able to call regardless of credit" is enabled period?

        woot, FREE CALLS FOR EVERYONE!!!!11111
  • Triangulation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cRueLio ( 679516 ) <> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:36AM (#7777734) Homepage Journal
    they have been able to do this for a long time by triangulating on your location from 3 or more different cells. Every criminal knows not to leave their cell phone on exactly for this reason.
    • There new phones out with full GPS built in.

      So the phone will report its location with-in 30 feet.

      On-Star use some of these in there systems.
    • Re:Triangulation (Score:5, Informative)

      by robogun ( 466062 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:41AM (#7777765)
      Triangulation requires equipment located in several places and a certain amount of nontrivial effort.

      GPS allows one person to instantly pinpoint you to within two meters. Information this easily obtained is potentially valuable to abusers.
      • Re:Triangulation (Score:5, Informative)

        by Cebu ( 161017 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:08AM (#7777890)
        All cellular phones require base-stations to communicate with a telecommunications system. These base-stations are quite deliberately placed as to have contiguous coverage in a given region with a reasonable degree of overlap. The region in which a base-station can service a cellular phone is called a cell; hence the term cellular.

        When a cellular phone is in coverage, which is to say when you can actually use your phone to call 911 in the first place, there are usually at least three base-stations which your cellular phone can contact (though it only uses the strongest signal for obvious reasons).

        It is true that it takes non-trivial effort to implement triangulation based upon the signal strength of your cellular phone, but it also would take non-trivial effort to put a GPS solution onto a cellular phone. What is more important is which system is more precise, accurate, and reliable -- that would be GPS.
        • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @02:21PM (#7780133) Journal
          It is true that it takes non-trivial effort to implement triangulation based upon the signal strength of your cellular phone, but it also would take non-trivial effort to put a GPS solution onto a cellular phone. What is more important is which system is more precise, accurate, and reliable -- that would be GPS.

          No, that would probably be the cell-based system.

          It's not really "triangulation". Triangulation uses the observed DIRECTION of the signal, locating the transmitter on a (hopefully) narrow fan based at the reciever. Two receivers locate the transmitter where the "beams" intersect, and the "beams" plus the baseline between the receivers form a triangle.

          This system uses the round-trip transit time, much like radar, to locate the transmitter on a circle around each "receiver" (actually an active transciever), putting the transmitter where the circles intersect. (You still get the triangle of the locations. But it's a different system than "triangulation".)

          You can also locate the transmitter if all, or all-but-one, of the receivers is passive, but they can compare notes on signal arrival time.

          If all are passive, two receivers locate the transmitter on a hyperbola, three narrow it to two intersecting hyperbolas, four pin it (or three if one or more can distinguish the two intersections by antenna sectoring).

          If one "receiver" is active, it locates the transmitter on a circle, the second adds a hyperbola intersecting the circle at two points, the third (or sector antennas) adds another hyperbola that intersects differently with the circle to distinguish the points. (This is much like LORAN.)

          The accuracy depends on the angles, the accuracy of the arrival-time measurements, and the accuracy of the knowlege of the locations of the base stations. Ground-based systems have an advantage in the angles (being roughly in a plain with the transmitter). They also have better knowlege of antenna location than orbiting satellites. Both have comparable time bases (based on atomic-clock-referenced Stratum-III clocks in the cell base stations and atomic clocks in the satellites). GPS was optimized for location tracking so it MAY measure the signal arrival time more accurately. But that's a "maybe", since the base stations need it accurate, too, and can throw more electronics at the problem than the portable GPS receiver. (Anybody have the real stats?)

          Now that selective availability is turned off GPS MIGHT be as accurate as cell systems. But it's still fighting some handicaps, so I'd be surprised if it's better.
  • by Kethinov ( 636034 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:39AM (#7777748) Homepage Journal
    New York Times (sacrifice of first born required)
    This just struck me as hillarious. Imagine a newbie to Slashdot reading that line and being like WTF?! because he'd never struggled through any previous articles where NYT registration fubar'd things.
  • the usual privacy nuts objecting that it means and end to civil liberties as we know it.

    I think it's a Good Thing.

    there were the usual retarded complaints such as "your boss will know if you're lying and skipping work!!!!" and "peadophiles can track your kids!!!!"

    jeez, if license plates were invented today they'd be screaming the same arguments and claiming they too will bring free society to its knees.
  • It would be great to have an application that tracked the locations of politicians and lobbyists, for correlation with bank and voting records.
  • Comment IDs (Score:3, Funny)

    by XanC ( 644172 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:40AM (#7777757)
    We're about to hit comment #7777777 (seven sevens). That's got to be lucky!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lost? Hiding? Your Cellphone Is Keeping Tabs []

    On the train returning to Armonk, N.Y., from a recent shopping trip in Manhattan with her friends, Britney Lutz, 15, had the odd sensation that her father was watching her.....

  • old news (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    'A federal mandate that wireless carriers be able to locate callers who dial 911 automatically by late 2005 means that millions of phones already keep track of their owners' whereabouts.'

    You've always been able to locate the position of a cell phone as it's making a call via triangulation with 2 towers. This is nothing new.

  • by juventasone ( 517959 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:42AM (#7777774)
    I can't view the NYT article (my first born seems a little steep), but I found this [], which is a year and half old:

    Phase II requires more precise location information be provided to the PSAP. Phase II requires the wireless service provider to provide the call back telephone number of the 9-1-1 caller, cell tower location, cell sector (antenna orientation) information, plus longitude and latitude (X, Y) information. Phase II E9-1-1 services exist today in a handful of locations, by a few wireless service providers, but these numbers will grow.

  • My phone has it. I can turn it off or on within the phone software. It's a sprint PCS phone, made by Samsung. I don't know what good it is, unless maybe I die in the middle of the woods, which of course, would mean I'd be out of cell phone range anyway, but whatever. Is there a website somewhere where I can type in my number and pull up my cell phone on a little map? If so, I have only this to say:

    Here's to sweethearts and wives, may they never meet.
  • .... had the odd sensation that her father was watching her

    I couldn't help notice that Orwell's Big Brother (1984) might have to be updated for this New-World (2004) (in New-Speak) to

    Big Daddy is Watching You, Yes YOU.

  • Where is Calum? []
    • oups, I hadn't noticed this:
      "It works from 06:00 until 01:00, Monday to Friday."
      That means you have to wait another 24 hours before seeing the script at work. In the meanwhile, see this article [] dated 1998 on mobile location in GSM.
  • by molo ( 94384 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:47AM (#7777805) Journal
    Jerold Surdahl, 40, an administrator in a building management office in Centerville, Ohio, said he started using the uLocate service to communicate with colleagues. Now, he is intrigued by the possibility of stashing a location-tracking phone in the trunk of his wife's car.

    "I'm not expecting or hoping or wanting to find something, but I would just like to explore the possibilities," Mr. Surdahl said. "I'd tell her about it later."

    Umm.. can you say BUSTED? Having your name and your intentions printed in the NYT pretty much ensures your secret is out.

    BTW, whats with all these controlling people? Relationships are about trust. If you can't trust someone to tell you where they were, then something more serious is wrong.

    • Re:Hah, BUSTED! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:10AM (#7777892)
      On the other hand, what's wrong with telling employees that the phone reports back to a tracking map? When they're on company time their true location should not be a secret to their boss, so there really isn't too much of a privacy concern... only those who have something to hide should be worried. If they want to go somewhere secret on their off hours, leave the business phone at home...
  • The tracking ability of mobiles has already been used commercially. There is a service to track folk in the UK []. It is also being used commercially for trucking firms [] in the states.

    However, I cannot see how it will affect the average person on the street. I doubt the government will be keeping tabs on individuals. It seems as insidious as store loyalty cards.

    I don't see government agents appearing on my lawn due to information gleaned from my Sainsbury's Nectar Card.

    • by MacFury ( 659201 ) <[me] [at] []> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:37AM (#7777981) Homepage
      However, I cannot see how it will affect the average person on the street. I doubt the government will be keeping tabs on individuals. It seems as insidious as store loyalty cards.

      The point is, they could. If they don't have the tools to do so, then they definately can't. This gives the government a easy tool to track people, especially as cell phone use becomes more and more widespread (as if it isn't already.)

      While someone may not be sitting there tracking every movement, it would be feasible to assume that all your data gets dumped into a database for later use. We already store incoming and outgoing calls, why not locations?

      Let's say a robbery took place at a store. You were on the other side of the building and didn't see it. However, the resolution of the GPS wasn't good enough to pinpoint which side of the building you were on, only that you were in proximity. The police come knocking on your door, and now your a suspect.

      I go to public parks often to sit and read. I have no kids. I don't want some stupid computer program to assume I have no reason to be there, flagging me as a pedophile because I happen to read on kids playgrounds.

  • by redwoodtree ( 136298 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @03:55AM (#7777840)
    For the curious, it's all described on the uLocate FAQ [].

    Only works with Nextel now and free until the end of the year.

    Another reason to hate Nextel for me. After having a boss that gave us all Nextels and having managers that would use the Instant-On feature to speak to us night and day (10:26pm Manager: "Hello, Hello, are you there?? The mail server seems to be a little slow, are you there?"), I will never consider Nextel again. I'm scarred for life!!
  • I work (outsourced) for a major telecom manufacturer that's been mentioned two times before in these responses. A majority of our phones as well as our competitions' have the ability to track a user. It's not GPS, it's triangulation. a spot between any three available towers can be pinpointed to within thiry feet. Works out great for e911 services, in the areas that can access them (most major metropolitan areas). Also, these services cannot be turned off. The location-based services can be interrupted
  • Samsung has this GPS feature and it is set to turn on only when calling 911 by default. It can be set to always on however.

    As long as that is the default setting which I was happy to see that it was, I see nothing to worry about. (unless ofcourse it doesnt work as advertised).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We have been able to do this in Norway for a couple of years now, and everyone could track each other, if they are on the persons white-list. (That is, you could say who you would like to be tracked by)
  • Cell Phoney Tracking (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:21AM (#7777919)
    I am a Sheriff's dispatcher to a County of 1.5million people.

    Cell phone tracking is currently available, and will always be available even without GPS. As you travel your cell phone communicates to various cell phone towers along the path.

    Cell phone companies will provide Public Safety agencies with "tower" information and subscriber information for emergency situations. With the tower information, it will provide about a one mile radius to search if needed.

    GPS ability is available to some beta site dispatch centers. Cell phone/GPS information is provided when 911 is dialed. Landline 911 will provide location, phone number(s) and subscriber information. Very important info for responding agencies.

    GPS ability is very important to Public Safety agencies. I lost count of the number of times "we" were unable to find a cell phone caller. 911 cell phone callers often have a dificult time giving their location, especially in unfamilar areas. I've taken calls where the caller is in a trapped in a ditch or injured in the middle of nowhere. I have also taken calls where a victim or injured person has called and for one reason or another is unable to give the location. Dead battery, poor reception site, lost consciousness etc.

    Put yourself or a loved one in that scenerio and think about it. You have to think of the worst case scenerio, it happens daily.

    I leave my GPS data on all the time, never knowing when I myself will be involved in an emergency.

    I have nothing to hide, and couldn't care less if anybody new where I was located. With hundreds of cell phones being used in any one region, the thought of somebody caring about your location is quite unrealistic.

    The whole basis of the GPS cell phone data is in the interest of public safety. To assist you when you need it most.

    I'd be more afraid of criminals my personal data for identity theft.

    Each credit card/atm/club card transaction is telling somebody where you are and what you are purchasing. Nobody seems to be bothered with that.

    I don't have an account, not because i'm a coward. I just have the desire to post here often. I'm also paranoid that somebody is going to steal my personal information.

    • I generally agree with your statements, except for two areas of American Society which gives me the screaming willies.

      The first, and most apparent to anyone conscious today, it the potential use, mis-use, and outright abuse that something like this will have under the honarable practice of Marketing. Ever seen Minority Report? The scenes where they tracked advertisements based on the people looking at them freaked me out.

      With GPS, as with the recently announced plans for radio signal tracking, they can

    • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @12:01PM (#7779227) Homepage
      The whole basis of the GPS cell phone data is in the interest of public safety. To assist you when you need it most.

      While I agree with most of your post, I have to disagree with this line. That is the promoted use of it, and is quite a good use. However, there's a not-so-well hidden agenda of advertising. When I got my new phone, Verizon was specifically saying that they have plans to use the system to provide "location-based services". That is, based on your location they will send advertisements and instant coupons for nearby businesses.

      "John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right now."

      Emergency services are also provided, as a way to convince people we need this. You want to be safe don't you? Fortunately, my phone (and many other models, I'm sure) give me the option to transmit the aGPS data with every call or just with calls to 911. This is something I can live with. The service is there when I have a real emergency, but (unless the phone is lying to me) that information isn't available to advertisers.

      Someone in another thread said that the location system doesn't really use GPS. That's not quite true. The cellphone "Assisted GPS" service does use the GPS satellite system, but doesn't need a full GPS receiver in the phone itself. It also uses data from the tower. The IEEE magazine "Computer" had a good summary of the technology. A PDF of the article is at assistedGPS.pdf []

    • by Sinical ( 14215 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @02:10PM (#7780072)

      With hundreds of cell phones being used in any one region, the thought of somebody caring about your location is quite unrealistic.

      If only. Listen, some people have creepily possessive boyfriends and/or girlfriends. Some people have invasive bosses or paranoid spouses. Some people just want to make phonecalls and would otherwise prefer to just be left the hell alone.

      This "nothing to hide" thing is very damn tiring, too. Wait until the next terrorist attack, when suddenly cell phone location information becomes mandatory and perhaps more accurate via differential GPS or what have you.

      Now you have a system that monitors everywhere you are every moment of the day (that you are with your cell phone). I'm sure the government would never be motivated to purchase this kind of information (as the FBI, etc. already buy databases that they aren't allowed to collect themselves from various companies), and that there would never be abuse or misuse. To me, this system is the very definition of a modern panopticon.

      We already live in a world of near-constant scrutiny via cameras, and yet everyone seems comfortable in their fishbowls. It's frightening.

      The whole basis of the GPS cell phone data is in the interest of public safety. To assist you when you need it most.

      Perhaps it is now. But you know sooner or later (sooner, I'm guessing) it will be turned into another tool for investigation. They'll simply find out every person X who's been near location Y where something interesting has occured, then probe into their lives for behavior that they find suspicious (via information purchased from companies, above), and then hassle the shit out of those they find interesting, occasionally making a spectacular enough bust to quiet the fears of the bovine populance as they live under the all-seeing eye of the tyrannical Computer.

      'Moo,' they'll say as they trundle off to McDonald's(tm) for a supersize fry in their Ford Excursions, 'boy it sure is good that they caught that guy stealing change from the Coke(tm) machine.' Because of course, the level of crime necessary to trigger the use of the system is lowered and lowered as people become more and more desensitized. And the radius of your life where you're allowed to make decisions is shrinking, shrinking, gone. Who will chance anything, will live the uncircumscribed life, when that will risk the Law's piercing gaze? Only the insane, as they will be classified, the suspicious. And *those* poor fools will never be allowed a security clearance or a position of prominence. What are they hiding, that they won't keep their Big Brother wrist watch on all the time? I say bring them in for questioning every couple of weeks, right? Maybe keep them under watch (har! punny!). You see, the absence of this tool will become sufficient for suspicion in a cruel, yet ironic twist of fate.

      I'll trade safety for privacy any damn day of the week. I'll trade that off-chance of laying in a ditch somewhere unable to activate my emergency location system to the constant gaze of the Machine. It's like some LOTR where everyone *wants* Sauron's eye to always be on them, a warm, comforting presence in a hard land. All of them: pussies.

      Thus endeth the rant.

    • I have nothing to hide, and couldn't care less if anybody new where I was located. With hundreds of cell phones being used in any one region, the thought of somebody caring about your location is quite unrealistic.

      #1: caring whether people know where you are does not mean you have something to hide.

      #2: having something to hide does not mean people should be entitled to know about it.

      #3: the number of cellphones being used in a given area has very little to do with the likelihood that someone will care

  • GPS antenna? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:26AM (#7777940)
    I haven't really been up to date on the latest cell tech, but maybe a few of you who are can address what I'm wondering about -

    The signal from the GPS satellites is pretty weak...How does the cell phone reliably get its coordinates? Most of the handheld GPS units I have used will lose GPS lock if you have it in the car, in buildings or even under trees because of the line-of-sight obstruction. If you require E911 service, the chances are pretty good you will be in a location that doesn't get very hot GPS reception. Is there some kind of secondary location service?

    Antennas must be tuned for optimum reception of a signal, which means that in a GPS enabled cell phone there is probably two antennas - one for GPS and one for cell service. Can anyone confirm that theory? It could theoretically use the same antenna for both GPS and cell service, but either way if you wanted to disable it you could cut the trace that carries the signal to the GPS controller.

    But if you do this, how legal would that be?
  • Good thing I have AT&T! I get so little coverage I bet they have no idea where I'm at.
  • by finkployd ( 12902 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:30AM (#7777951) Homepage
    To everyone who is freaking out that this will be a new way to for The Man (or government, employer, spouse, whatever) to track your every movement, I have a radical new idea:

    Don't carry the cell phone

    This may never have occurred to you, but if you are doing something or going somewhere and do not want to be tracked, you actually have the option of not carrying the cell phone with you. Now I know what you are thinking, but yes, your pants will stay up without the cell phone holster connected to your belt. Try it in the safety of your own home if you do not believe me. And legend has it our ancestors traveled across the country side without cell phones back in the olden days.

    Or for a less radical option, just turn it off. If you still do not believe it is really off and could still be tracking you, take the battery out.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:34AM (#7777963)
    For privacy freaks this is old, old news. It is also one of things that give us freaks bad dreams and sleepless nights. The 911 justification has all the ear-marks of that tried-and-true privacy buster maxim - "If it will save the life of just one child, it will all be worth it!"

    BUT, after cogitating on it for a few years now, I think that the decision to go with GPS has a lot of benefits for us freaks (and the criminals out there too). Since the trend is towards embedded GPS in cell phones, it is likely that all the typical anti-privacy black hats will build their uber-spying systems on the back of assuming the GPS data is valid. It does not have to be.

    In fact, I envision a GPS "relocator" device becoming somewhat popular in the same stores that sell mini-spy cams, electronic bugs and electronic bug detectors. Just attach your relocator to your phone and it will overpower the signals from the GPS birds with its own false signals and convince the phone that it is really somewhere else. Similarly, I would expect to see software only hacks to future phones to do the same thing. As long as the dark powers that be are too lazy to cross reference the phone's own reported GPS location with the actual cell towers in use (and you know that such laziness *will* prevail it is government agencies we are talking about) then those people who want to appear as if they are somewhere else can do so easily. Thus invalidating much of the benefits (beyond the stupid 911 misdirection) to Big Brother and helping to maintain the privacy of the common man (and all those criminals the Feds thought they were going to be able to use this scheme against).

    Hey, just because you wear a tinfoil hat doesn't mean you can't see the brighter side.
  • If you look up the definition here [] you'll see why they call it Cell Phone.
  • So lame.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by miffo.swe ( 547642 )
    In 2005 every citizen on earth is tracked and monitored. Your government knows your every move and if you become a political enemy to the ones holding this power then kiss your ass goodbye. Imagine watergate if this technology had been present. All we would have known was that some journalist died tragically. ...meanwhile the terrorists dont use phones, the internet or ordinary mail services and go undetected.
  • GOOD! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Feztaa ( 633745 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @04:53AM (#7778030) Homepage
    When you call 911 on a cell phone, chances are good that a) you will be in a poorly-defined location (ie, "I'm underneath the tire of a car!"), and b) you will need a speedy response. Why must you be forced to describe your location well enough for police to find you, instead of simply lettimg them track your phone and show up to where you called?

    Calling 911 implies it's an emergency, you need the police NOW.
  • by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @05:06AM (#7778051)
    More and more parents are going to be pressured into keeping 24 hour tabs on their teenagers, due to fear of lawsuits if their kids get in trouble as well as fear due to media-hyped crime stories. I see this as a bad thing. Kids will grow up used to constant 24 hour surveillance, fully prepared to become zombies in the Big Brother society of the future where their every movement will be tracked.

    I'm sorry, but an important part of growing up is getting at least a taste of true freedom and yes, sometimes the risk that it entails. . When I was a teenager I probably did a few things my parents wouldn't have approved of, and I that was an important part of my experience.

    I can't imagine imposing this on my own teenager, except (1) when he actively wants it, if say he goes into a strange part of town, or (2) as punishment if he gets into trouble - part of the punishment might be that he would be monitored for the next two months or whatever. If he wants to be monitored all the time,

  • tin hat (Score:3, Funny)

    by the uNF cola ( 657200 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @05:46AM (#7778118)
    Time to make a mini hat for my cell phone..

    (if I had one -- a phone that is)
  • Ohh Great (Score:3, Insightful)

    by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <<logicnazi> <at> <>> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @05:47AM (#7778119) Homepage
    So we can get evil spying technology but we still don't get GPS capability with our new cell phones. Fucking wonderful.

    So I just got a new treo 600 and like all new cell phones it has e911. This means it has a GPS reciever and all that shit in it, however, like most new cell phones it lacks the code or chip to do the GPS processing. If you can now get commercial spying services why the hell can't they enable a GPS service without an expansion card.

    Seriously though this is a somewhat worrying trend. Not so much because of the lose of privacy, although that isn't good but because of the *differential* loss in privacy. I think it was David Brin who commented that this was the real problem and while I don't know his reasons I agree with him. If corporate execs were as likely to have their minor transgressions traced as teenagers we would learn to forgive these transgression that have happened since the begining of time. As it is we will once again blame it on the moral failings of the youth.

    Ironically it seems that it is our concern for privacy that will cause the problems. We will only let surveilance happen in certain specialized areas, those areas that "morally good upright" citizens won't be in. It will be okay to surveill only those people who regularly come within some many feet of a known drug hangout...but not a buisnessman who buys his coke from a friend at work.
  • Hmm.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ligur ( 453963 ) <> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @06:49AM (#7778258)
    We should make cell phones really small.. kinda triangular shaped.. and pin them to our chest! We can have a speakerphone system and voice recognition, you can just tap it and speak!

    And now people can go "Computer, locate Liutenant Worf."

  • by srslif16 ( 588208 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @07:45AM (#7778393)
    I work in the telecom industry. I have been doing so for quite som time. Back in 1999, we did system test on locating in GSM. At that time, locating was based on using several measurements:
    + signal strengths measured at two or more towers,
    + the so-called timing advance measurements,
    + measurements done over several frequencies (GSM uses frequency hopping).
    Usually, in urban areas, we'd get the location within 10 meters. In rural areas, it was more like 100 meter. It was a bit of a hassle to order the system to start the tracking, and there was no nice user interface for the resulting trace data. We made a few hacks to make our lives easier. Some of those hacks still lives... Today, the radio base stations comes with the option of a built-in GPS. That makes the position of the base statio very well known (that was a problem back in 1999). You can still use the measurement reports from the cell-phone to get the current location (cell-phones have to make measurement reports, or they won't work in the system). You don't need to have GPS capability in the cell-phone. But if you do, and it reports coordinates that doesn't agree with known data frpm the base stations, the cell-phones data will be ignored, and real measurements will be used. The user interfaces of today are mcu better. Using the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) or even the equipment identity number, you can order the system to log all movements of the cell-phone. The only way to avoid this, is to keep the battery out of the cell-phone, and only put it in when you need the service.
  • by copper22 ( 561308 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @08:51AM (#7778485) Homepage
    Instead of paying for LoJack for my new car, I'll just sign up for the family plan and leave a cheap Nokia in the trunk.
  • How it works for 911 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lochert ( 532535 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @09:18AM (#7778551)
    This is in daily use at 911 centrals, at least here in Scandinavia. Whenever someone calls 911 (or our local version of it) a trace is automatically performed and the operator can see the approximate position of the caller on the map. This actually works with information from just one base station. The directional antennas will know the sector of the caller and the signal strength is used to calculate the approximate distance. The area in which the caller is positioned is highlighted on the map. No GPS, no triangulation, just one single base station. And no, the police does not have access to the same information, at least not here in Norway. Maintaining this application is part of my current assignment so I do have some first hand experience... -Allan
  • by Psx29 ( 538840 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @12:03PM (#7779239)
    Whats a good material to block cellular/gps signals? I think that making cellphone holders that can block the signals would be a great product to sell....
  • Options... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mercuryresearch ( 680293 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @12:16PM (#7779315) Journal

    For what it's worth, many years ago when I crossed paths with some cell-phone product design types, there was a hybrid product concieved, originally to improve service and battery life -- a pager/cell phone. (We're not talking SMS here, but plain old POCSAG paging.)

    Anyway, with this approach you could work if you wished to retain positional anonymity -- have a conventional pager (which is just a reciever) notify you of calls, then choose to power up the cell or not.

    As practically every other post has pointed out, positioning by radio has no requirement of GPS being present. Any transmitter can be position located. Amateur radio opertators actually have contests to do this -- foxhunts -- and the equipment to do position finding of non-spread-spectrum tranmitters is pretty trivial to make or buy. []

    If you want your whereabouts to remain unknown, don't transmit. Simple as that.

  • by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @12:49PM (#7779529) Homepage Journal
    Phone companies should just make it optional to use 911 with tracking or no 911 at all, they can market it as the 'Do or Die' service.

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