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GPS Tracking and Privacy

Global Positioning System is more ubiquitously known as the acronym GPS, a satellite system of radio receivers that measure the distance from one location to another. GPS was created by and is still funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, since 1994 GPS has been accessible for civilian uses as well. This has spurred a considerable amount of development in terms of the receiver portion of these systems to modify them to meet various application requirements. GPS has evolved into a possible security threat on both a personal and national level. There are many concerns regarding GPS Tracking and privacy that companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have been taken to task with due to their questionable privacy breeches in regard to GPS data collection from personal devices. The following are some instances in which the privacy of individuals is questionable:

  1. Tracking buying habits through GPS
  2. Tracking location statistics by companies such as Google and Amazon
  3. GPS tracking of computer and personal device use

Basically, the system uses signals transmitted from several of 24 satellites that orbit 10,900 miles above the Earth at an angle of 55 degrees. The satellites are angled so that at least 6 satellites will be usable at any given time of the day. Overall, these satellites’ positions are controlled by a master control system that can adjust for slight variances in trajectories and orbits based in Colorado. Each satellite includes three elements: a computer, an atomic clock and a radio transmitter. This GPS data can be acquired by individuals that may use the tracking for gaining personal information on a consumer.

GPS Tracking Privacy

Receivers on Earth gather signals transmitted from the four nearest satellites and translate those signals into three-dimensional space as well as time to allow the receiver to note its exact location and time globally. This information can either be displayed right at the receiver or broadcast to other users interested in the position of that receiver. While the DoD controls the satellites and their controls, the DoD now allows companies throughout the world to use the signals broadcast by these satellites as the basis of their own products. This has led to rapid development in terms of receiver technology throughout the world.

The United States government has many uses for GPS in regards to national defense that cause citizens concern regarding privacy. This military capability currently benefits society by increasing the accuracy of national security and defense systems. GPS technology also has a variety of non-military applications, such as creating accurate world maps. With advances in research and development, miniature GPS receiver using integrated circuits are commonly used in cars, planes, laptop computers and other devices. GPS technology has also been embedded into wearable devices to monitor the location of young children.  

Some of the advances that have already been made in GPS receivers and will continue to be significant engineering issues in regards to privacy. Because a receiver may take several minutes to obtain a positive signal from several satellites, these devices must operate continuously, which means that they have significant draw on batteries. Overall, power consumption and size reduction are basic design goals of many engineering projects today; however, in GPS as with many other devices, these design criteria are often some of the most difficult to implement. In fact, the very nature of these two criteria tend to oppose one another since one of the easiest ways to expand device life is to increase the battery size or charge storage in the device, which increases its overall size. Certainly, reducing GPS receiver size and reducing its power consumption will play major roles in the future of GPS design.

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