All US Cell Phones to Have GPS Capabilities in 2020 - What This Means For You
We’ve all seen movies or TV shows where people are told to ditch their cell phones because the government can track them. Starting in 2019, this will no longer be cinematic fantasy but a reality of everyday life.
Back in 2011, the FCC mandated that all cell phones in the United States must be GPS-capable by 2019. They followed up this mandate with rule changes in 2018 that require that all wireless providers provide geo-targeted weather alerts with no more than a one-tenth of a mile overshoot.
While on the surface this is being heralded as a good thing, for those of you that value your privacy, this is one of the worst things that could happen. While humans are not presently tracked with implanted locator chips, this new regulation essentially guarantees that we all carry one around.
The Government Wants to Keep You Safe By Tracking You
So why would the FCC decide to implement mandatory GPS systems on phones? The primary reason is to be able to assist emergency services in locating those in distress. GPS-enabled phones are very easy to track and emergency assistance can be quickly obtained for those that call 911.
However, non-GPS phones have to be triangulated via cell phone towers and do not provide exact locations, just general estimates. If you’ve ever seen movies where someone has been tracked on a cell phone to within a city block, you have seen how most non-GPS enabled phones are presently traced.
Similar issues arise when sending out weather alerts to mobile devices. Often, these warnings grossly overshoot their intended targets and are often ignored. In addition, limitations on messaging formats can result in messages that may not be clearly understood by everyone.
Once the switchover is complete, when someone calls 911, an emergency dispatcher will be able to immediately know one’s location and can send assistance. This is ideal for those with health conditions, those involved in accidents and even those living in high crime areas.
In addition, all wireless providers will be required to offer improved geo-targeting for all emergency messages. Starting in November 2019, messages must include Spanish-language support and allow for alert messages of up to 360 characters. Most alerts presently only support 90 characters.
Improved geo-targeting on emergency messages will allow for faster delivery of severe weather alerts and any other emergency messages, including Amber Alerts.
Improved Safety At The Cost of Your Privacy
For those that are worried about privacy, these new requirements are going to be a major invasion of personal privacy. We already know that emergency services will be able to track you through your GPS chip or software. However, they will not be the only ones.
Other websites will be able to use the same technology to determine your location and this could impact the amount of money you pay when shopping online, booking a hotel room, or even applying for a home loan.
Another major problem with this requirement is that it will do away with your ability to own an anonymous cell phone. In order to provide adequate tracking, there has to be identifiable data to track. Sure you can try and provide fake data, but odds are that companies will employ data verification software to make it extremely difficult to create fake profiles.
Since this data is now traceable, what’s preventing this data from being distributed online in some fashion? Those using an anonymous cell phone for safety, such as a woman trying to avoid an abusive ex, could find themselves in very precarious situations as a result.
In essence, every person using a cell phone will be holding a mini-tracker that will allow law enforcement to find you wherever you’re located. If you have a non-GPS phone, chances are that you will no longer be able to use it after 2019. For those that have old flip phones, such as the elderly or those not desiring smartphones, you will be forced to get a new phone.
What Can Be Done to Protect Your Privacy?
Presently, the new guidelines only require that phones are GPS-enabled. It does not require that you actively use this service. This is great news as you can still take a few steps to protect your privacy and keep law enforcement and others from tracking you.
First, you have the option of disabling GPS on your cell phone. This should effectively disable any type of GPS tracking on your phone. However, note that doing this will make it impossible for 911 or other emergency services to locate you. In addition, you will not get targeted emergency alerts.
If you don’t want to disable GPS completely, you can activate Airplane Mode on your phone. Note that you will be shutting down your cell and WiFi radios, meaning you won’t be able to make or receive calls or use the internet while in Airplane Mode.
A final “low tech” method to accomplish this is simply shut down your phone and pull its battery. Unless your phone can use you as a power source ala “The Matrix,” this is guaranteed to stop all tracking – and the ability to use your device in any way other than as a rock.
First the Cell Phone – Next the Implants?
While the digital age has brought us a level of communications that’s unprecedented, it has also brought with it a dramatic reduction in privacy. Starting next year, you will be holding a global tracking device that will allow the government or capable third party to follow your every move.
For now, there are ways to get around this invasion of privacy, but for how long. Are we just a few years away from mandatory ID or tracking chips that will be implemented to provide greater “safety and security” to individuals?
If that sounds too far-fetched, consider the following. What would someone have said in 1999 if you told them that in 20 years every American would willingly carry around a tracking chip? They probably would have told you you’re crazy. How crazy will we be in 20 years?