There are some abbreviations that you take for granted. After all, it’s much easier to say ‘GPS’, than it is to say ‘Global Positioning System’. But, taking it for granted can mean that you don’t really understand what it is or how it can affect you.
You’re not alone, most people have used a GPS system to help them navigate, without really understanding how it works and what GPS Stands for.
What Is GPS?
Global Positioning System, or GPS, is a satellite-based system that can determine the ground-based position of an object. It is important to note that this object must be a GPS receiver, a person cannot be located unless they are holding something that receives GPS signals.
There are in excess of 30 GPS satellites orbiting the Earth at a height of approximately 12,000 miles above the surface of our planet. This is high enough to ensure the satellites rotate consistently but still considered a low Earth orbit.
These satellites travel at a speed of approximately 7,000 miles per hour. Between their speed and the placement of these satellites, every point of the globe is accessible by direct line-of-sight to at least 4 satellites at any given moment in time.
In short, it doesn’t matter where you are there are at least four satellites able to see your GPS receiver.
The GPS system was first used as long ago as the 1960S, by the American military. It is now a global feature on smartphones, watches, tablets, computers, vehicles, and a host of other electrical items.
How It Works
Every GPS satellite broadcasts a signal to the Earth, the signal states the satellites position, orbit, and exact time. Any GPS receiver on the planet can pick up this signal.
By combining the data from at least 3 satellites, the GPS receiver can pinpoint exactly where it is. The greater the number of satellites it can connect to the more accurate the location.
All that a GPS receiver needs to identify its location is to be able to pick up the signal from 3 satellites.
Of course, the receiver makes a small difference, but only to the speed at which your location is determined, not the accuracy.
It should be noted that for GPS to work there needs to be a clear line-of-sight from the receiver to the satellites. This is not always possible, especially if you’re inside a building.
To overcome this, a Local Positioning System, (LPS), has been developed using cell towers and public Wi-Fi signals. It is generally easier for a device to connect to an LPS system, allowing them to use the data they supply to secure a location.
You may also be interested to note that once a GPS receiver has got a satellite signal, it can actually calculate which satellites it should be talking to next. This speeds up response time and accuracy.
What’s The Risk?
The GPS system simply tells a receiver where it is. The receiver can then simply share that information with you or it can provide additional information, such as the best route from your current location to where you want to go.
That’s the technology which most people are familiar with, the GPS in your car or on your Smartphone simply tells you which direction to go.
But, alongside GPS is another system, the GIS; Geographic Information System.
This is actually software that anyone can interact with, and you frequently do. Any application that allows you to ask your location and provides you with a map to your desired location is using the GIS system.
But, this system is also capable of recording your data. It can identify where you are, where you’re going and store your requests. In doing so it can build a complete picture of where you have been, where you’re thinking about going, and even who you’ve seen.
This is possible because an application can be built, using GIS, which records activities for anyone with active GPS. Considering a GPS receiver is in your phone and potentially your watch, you’re carrying one with you all the time.
So are your friends and the people you visit.
This means that, by collecting the data, it is possible to identify which other GPS receivers are in the same vicinity as you. Whether you meet the other receiver once or one hundred times, it will be recorded.
This information can actually be used to identify you and your friends.
Put it this way, you purchase a new phone and you either transfer your phone number or get a new one and register it to yourself. You’ve now provided your personal details to your cell phone provider.
While this information shouldn’t be available to everyone, it is possible to use the GPS data in conjunction with GIS data to identify you and where you’re located.
Why This Is An Issue
Your employer may use GPS tracking to ensure you’re following the right delivery route, or are in the location you say you are. However, they are not allowed to monitor you out of standard work hours as this is an invasion of privacy.
Of course, your data should stay with the company.
However, the simple fact is that no matter how secure data should be, there are hackers able to access the data and use it for their own purposes.
You can indulge in conspiracy theories and speculate about how much the government is accessing this data, but you can’t deny the number of high profile data hacks there have been in recent years.
While you may have nothing to hide, do you really want someone tracking your every move and knowing when you’re home, when your house is empty, or even when you’re likely to be alone?
You should also note that the small print on many contracts legally allows a company to share the data they have collected. This is often described as bulk data, but, the right application will be able to extract the tracking information if desired.
From this, they can even extract your personal information and undertake identify theft.
It is worth noting that GPS receivers are added to a huge array of devices, even those that you wouldn’t consider needed a GPS receiver. Manufacturers can justify this as collecting data to assess geographic sales figures and how to improve sales and customer service.
While this may be the initial reason, it does allow your data to be collected and potentially used in the wrong way.
Not All GPS Is Bad!
It is important to note that GPS and GIS are generally beneficial. They are extremely effective at helping you to navigate and find places without the hassle of using a paper map.
It is also useful to help businesses provide you with relevant information and adverts to your interest and location. You can even use it to prove your innocence in cases of mistaken identity.
However, it is important to be aware of how the data can be used in a negative way, both by businesses openly collecting your data and by those that are stealing the data for their own purposes.
The bottom line is that anyone collecting GPS data, or purchasing equipment with GPS receivers in them, should be aware of the risks and decide if they need to take precautionary measures, such as turning off location sharing on your Smartphone.