In a word, yes. Or at least, it will be able to, once it is built and launched. GPS technology can do that now, anytime that your cell phone with GPS or other GPS tracking device is within range of a satellite. Then it can give you turn by turn directions explaining how you can get there. But when the new GPS III satellites are launched in 2014, GPS will become even more accurate, providing more precise information and giving directions that are even more carefully synchronized with the movements of your phone or car. Working with new applications such as Facebook Places, or Twitter’s new location option, new and old GPS satellites will be able to beam your precise GPS location, including the coordinates of any self storage facility that you may use, to your friends (and other interested parties) all over the world. The technology is useful — but does it compromise your locational privacy?
Yesterday, the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin completed the Critical Design Review phase of the next generation of GPS satellites — the GPS III satellite. Testing showed that the new satellite will meet all the military and civil requirements it was designed for — now Lockheed Martin can start producing the GPS III, two months ahead of schedule.
To develop and produce the new satellite, Lockheed Martin Space Systems is working with ITT of Clifton, New Jersey, and General Dynamics, of Scottsdale, Arizona. The contract for the GPS III may be worth up to $3.568 billion for the contractors involved.
Lockheed’s next step is to build two new research and development GPS III satellites, with five options to build an additional two space vehicles for each. The first GPS III satellite, with improved navigation, improved positioning, and improved timing, is expected to be launched in 2014.
Current GPS technology is no slouch either. As smartphones become more commonplace, people are using GPS technology, rather than maps, to find their way from one location to another. Movers are using the technology to find the addresses at which they must appear. Job interviewees are using it to find the potential workplaces at which they must interview. People are using GPS to find unfamiliar schools and doctor’s offices. They can also use it to find locations that they did not anticipate looking for, such as a restaurant at which to eat dinner, the nearest library, the closest auto mechanic, the nearest hospital or emergency clinic. They can use GPS locators to track the whereabouts of family members in order to pick a location at which to rendezvous, or to keep track of underage children. If they wish to, they can easily use GPS technology to find the nearest self storage facility.
Why would someone want to use GPS to find the nearest self storage facility, or to find you in it? Movers trying to find a particular facility might use GPS if they started out using a map and got lost. It would be helpful to be able to find the location of the exact facility where the person they are meeting is waiting. Tourists might also look for a nearby facility that can rent to them by the day or the week, so that they have a secure place to store souvenirs or valuable items that they may have purchased during their travels, not wanting to be weighed down with those items while sight-seeing. If you are trying to coordinate with a fellow traveler, or have gotten separated from your companions, GPS locators can be extremely useful, and the storage facility where you stashed your purchases can be the ideal meeting point.
However, sometimes tenants of self storage facilities are protective of their privacy, for one reason or another. People who have turned to self storage because of negative circumstances — a downsizing at work, being evicted during a foreclosure, becoming the victim of a flood or fire — may prefer to keep their use of storage private, and might not wish to broadcast their location to all of their Facebook friends. Likewise, people who are storing valuable collections or custom sports cars may not want the location of the self storage provider that they use to be widely known. Self storage operators are very protective of their tenants’ privacy, because they know how much some tenants value that privacy.
If you prefer not to share your whereabouts, and the location of the self storage facility that you use, with the world, you can turn off the Places gadget in your social media applications. In Facebook, you can do it by going to your privacy settings, finding the link that says “customize settings,” and looking for the option called “Places I Check Into” under the “Things I Share” section. There, you can choose whether to let strangers see where you are, friends only, friends of friends, or nobody.
Another issue entirely, though, is the question of how you can preserve your locational privacy from being compromised by government or military records. A year ago, bloggers Andrew Blumberg and Peter Eckersley posted a warning about digital records of people’s movements, arguing that such innovations as FastTrak devices that can allow a car to digitally pay a toll, monthly transit swipe-cards, GPS locators in cell phones and cars, and newly developed parking meters that will send you a text message when your time is running out pose a risk to locational privacy. They argue for the development and use of more anonymous credentials to preserve locational privacy, so that governments cannot, for example, target political protesters by using GPS data to prove that a particular person attended a particular rally — or that a particular person went straight to a self storage facility after visiting a friend who happened to be a Muslim, or happened to be a Communist, or happened to be an illegal immigrant.
In addition, Blumberg and Eckersley point out, locational privacy, once lost, may make people more vulnerable to identity theft. A person who has your credit card, for example, might be able to reconstruct your movements using your Facebook account, and by giving an accurate report of stores visited and purchases made, could “prove” to credit card company employees that he or she is the actual person who owns the account.
Another risk is that an insurance company could gain a copy of a person’s movements, and decide that something about those movements justifies an increase in premiums. Or that a stalker could use GPS locators to keep track of a person’s movements. Or that GPS technology relied on by parents to prove that their children — or at least their cell phones — are in the location where parents intended for the child to be, could instead be used to throw parents off track, if phones were separated from the children they are supposed to be tracking/protecting.
GPS technology, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It is a tool that can accomplish amazing things and solve problems (like getting lost or being late to a meeting because a location is hard to find) in our lives. But it’s wise to use that technology carefully, and with a strong dose of common sense.