Tracking coming to a phone near you

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Imagine walking by a Starbucks in an unfamiliar city. Your cell phone rings, and a coupon for coffee pops up on its screen, good only at that location.

How did your phone know you were near that particular Starbucks?

Enter location tracking, coming to a mobile device near you. Features that one day will pinpoint your whereabouts to within the length of a football field raise enormous privacy concerns, but they also offer enormous benefits.

The challenge will be determining where to draw the line.

Consider a technology unveiled Monday. Called Digital Angel, a microchip worn close to the body promises to record a person’s biological parameters and send distress signals during medical emergencies.

But misused, these types of capabilities could amount to virtual stalking.

Cell phones, handheld devices, even car navigation systems will soon have detailed tracking abilities, if they do not already.

Much of the drive will come from a federal law that requires cell phones to identify caller locations to speed 911 emergency responses.

"There’s going to be a dramatic increase in the amount of tracking that’s made possible in part by services" consumers don’t even know they have, said Daniel Weitzner of the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets technical standards for the Web.

Such tracking will let someone visit a Web site and automatically get weather, movie showings or neighborhood restaurants, based on their location. If they’re lost, they will be able to ask for directions

But if the information is stored, location tracking could result in a 24-hour-a-day record of a person’s whereabouts.

So what if a divorce lawyer wants to check if someone’s been cheating?

"You have to ask, ‘Who gets how much information?’ " said Jason Catlett, chief executive of Junkbusters Corp., a nonprofit privacy monitoring group in Green Brook, N.J. "Telephone records are routinely subpoenaed. They can be very intrusive, but far more intrusive is a complete log of your physical movement."

Companies looking to gain business from location tracking insist that the worst-case scenarios presented are impractical.

"There’s no way a database is large enough or cost-effective for Starbucks to monitor everyone’s location on the off chance they can acquire a customer," said Jason Devitt, chief executive of Vindigo, which offers 11 city guides through Palm organizers.

Leading wireless and advertising companies agree that they must tread carefully because mobile devices are inherently more personal than desktop computers.

At DoubleClick Inc., whose ad-targeting system has generated many of the Net’s privacy complaints, officials won’t deliver location-based ads right away. The company wants to develop privacy standards first, using lessons from the desktop.

"We’ve all learned what to do and what not to do, and we can port that over to the wireless market," said Jamie Byrne at DoubleClick.

Any such ads will likely target a metropolitan region rather than a city block, because audiences for block-by-block ads would be too small, Byrne said.

In many ways, a person’s whereabouts are already being tracked. Employee security cards record when people enter buildings. Discount grocery programs track what people buy, where and when.

Palm VII organizers could already narrow a user to a particular ZIP code, and an optional global-positioning receiver can pinpoint that person even further.

Paul Reddick, vice president of product management and development with Sprint PCS, said storing such information is not practical, necessary or even desirable.

"It takes years to build a brand and build trust," he said, "and you can blow it pretty fast."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Lake Serene in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service)
How will climate change affect you? New tool gives an educated guess

The Climate Vulnerability Tool outlines climate hazards in Snohomish County — and it may help direct resources.

A cliff above the Pilchuck River shows signs of erosion Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Lake Connor Park sits atop the cliff. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Hill erodes in Lake Connor Park, forcing residents of 8 lots to vacate

The park has just under 1,500 members east of Lake Stevens. The riverside hill usually loses 18 inches a year. But it was more this year.

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
Small plane lost power in crash north of Paine Field, flight club says

The pilot reportedly called 911, stuck in a tree, on Friday. The sole occupant survived “without a scratch,” the president of Puget Sound Flyers said.

Ken Florczak, president of the five-member board at Sherwood Village Mobile Home community on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How Mill Creek mobile home residents bought the land under their feet

At Sherwood Village, residents are now homeowners. They pay a bit more each month to keep developers from buying their property.

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

The Snohomish County Jail is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Jails had ‘immunity’ to lawsuits over overdoses — so her family settled

In 2018, Denise Huffer died of a methamphetamine overdose in her cell at the Snohomish County Jail. Her family took a $50,000 deal in February.

A heart shaped hand tossed pepperoni pizza, left, and eight-corner Detroit style veggie pizza, right, from Jet’s Pizza on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at the Everett Herald newsroom in Everett. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Detroit-original Jet’s Pizza lands in WA with thick-crust pies and more

The national chain’s Lynnwood joint is the first in the state. The pizza is tasty — hot or cold. And it makes good date food.

Providence nurses picket in front of the hospital during the first day of their planned five-day strike Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Months after strike, nurses reach contract with Providence Everett

The new contract, 10 months in the making, includes bonuses and extra pay to counterbalance chronic understaffing.

on Wednesday February 21, 2024 in Snohomish. (Photo provided by Snohomish County Fire District #4)
Woman dies after suspected DUI crash on US 2 near Snohomish

A driver crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a minivan Wednesday night, killing a Monroe woman, troopers said.

Arlington
Police: Arlington man who shot at house detained after standoff

Deputies said the man barricaded himself for five hours early Thursday in his house in the 23200 block of 115th Avenue NE.

Lyla Anderson and others sign a petition to save the Clark Park gazebo during a “heart bomb” event hosted by Historic Everett on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Too much Everett to throw away’? Gazebo’s impending end stirs emotions

A demolition date hasn’t been confirmed for the Clark Park gazebo, but city staff said it’s too expensive to save. “The decision’s been made.”

A person turns in their ballot at a ballot box located near the Edmonds Library in Edmonds, Washington on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Presidential primary ballots en route to Snohomish County voters

Voters must indicate a party preference to vote for a candidate. Ballots are due March 12.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.