" "It lets the parents follow up and make sure their kids have arrived somewhere," said George Grobar, general manager of Disney Mobile.
But Pam Dickey, a parent in San Francisco who works for a major pharmaceutical company, says "We hardly have any privacy as it is now - you go to a gas station and there's a camera on you." You go to a neighbor's house and they have cameras outside their homes, she continued; and her company now requires employees in its national sales force to carry phones that allow supervisors to monitor where they are and how long they have been there. "It's too much of an invasion of privacy," she complained.
Meanwhile, if you're a person concerned with privacy issues, the latest cell phone technology has gone quite a bit past just providing parents with a way to keep track of their children. Indeed, for those who have recent phone models, there is a new capability to it called "E911," which means that phones now - all cell phones - are "embedded with a Global Positioning Chip, which can calculate your coordinates to within a few yards," the online journal Legal Affairs points out (Koerner 2003). This means that private sector employees are 'essentially at the mercy of their bosses," Koerner writes. Bosses can scrutinize, covertly, the performance of employees by tracking their physical movements all day.
Although this technology has been in place for several years, user guides for cell phone owners make no mention of the GPS chip or about privacy implications. The attitude of the cell phone manufacturers and companies like Verizon and Sprint is "Don't worry, it's too complicated for you to understand" writes Koerner in Legal Affairs.
Consumers are too easily seduced into abandoning their privacy, says John Soma, a law professor at the University of Denver, and the author of the book Computer Technology and the Law. Quoted in the Legal Affairs article, Soma says, somewhat cryptically: "If you were at a McDonald's in downtown Denver, and you agreed to give everyone three free Big Macs, fries, and a shake if they'd sign away their DNA, you'd have 200 people lined up."
What about the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to take responsibility for the "public interest?" Koerner writes. The privacy of cell phone users is not currently a concern of the FCC, the author explains, since the Bush-appointed chairman Michael Power took over. Recently the FCC "turned down a request from the Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association to draw up location-data privacy rules." But the FCC said it did not want to "artificially constrain the still-developing market for location-based services."
Of the companies that currently offer child-locator cell phone systems, only Sprint informs the children as to their parents' activities, according to a story in Public Broadcast system's Web site. When a parent checks on a Sprint system to see where his or her child is, the child receives a text message, which to some degree mitigates the "big brother" aspect. But some children aren't thrilled with the idea of being tracked. Katt Hemman, a 17-year-old from Hutchinson, Kansas, said her parents' argument favoring the use of tracking technology is like the Bush administration argument in defending wiretapping phones without a court warrant. "A marginal increase in safety isn't worth forfeiting our civil rights, and adults who balk at being spied on and then turn around and spy themselves are hypocrites," she said, quoted in the PBS article.
Some psychiatrists say that by using tracking devices, issues of trust are invoked between parents and children needlessly; also, communication and dialogue get lost in technology's watchful eye. Tracking "can lead parents to think there are technical solutions to human problems," said Stephen Mintz, who co-chairs the Council on Contemporary Families, and was quoted in the PBS article.
Koerner, Brendan I. (2003) Your Cellphone is a Homing Device. Legal Affairs. Retrieved April 27, 2007 at http://www.legalaffairs.org/printerfriendly.msp?id=414.
Public Broadcast Service. (2007). GPS Technology Helps Parents Track Teens. Retrieved April 27, 2007 at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra.
Richtel, Matt. (2006). Selling Surveillance to Anxious Parents. The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2007, at http://www.nytimes.com.