The vast majority of cell phone users want to call 911 and receive a local
operator, but it is becoming a privacy issue as the companies are intending
to track your call. New Federal rules, that were originally intended to
allow wireless 911 distress calls to be pinpointed, are prompting criticisms
from privacy advocates and consumers. They are concerned about giving the
wireless telecommunications companies Big Brother-like capabilities.
At this time, some of the telecommunications companies, such as Sprint PCS,
are already planning to place GPS chip technology inside their cell phones.
Cingular Wireless, the company that is being created out of BellSouth and
SBC Communications, and Verizon Wireless will use one of several network
approaches, which basically involve judging a person's location from data
such as signal strength. AT&T has yet to decide how they will meet federal
rules intended to allow wireless 911 distress calls to be pinpointed. This
type of technology might be a key part of the infrastructure for wireless
data companies, which want to use this location information to offer
subscribers advertisements and new services.
Until the wireless Web evolved, most telecommunications companies didn't
want to develop the technology required by the government ruling. They
continued to balk at any new features as they were expensive to add and many
times difficult to implement especially when they could not find additional
revenue in the venture. However, as the wireless Web is becoming common,
they have determined they could use the tracking information to target
advertisements to the cell phone users thereby creating a new revenue
stream. For example, they could send a coupon to a cell phone when the user
is near a certain department store. They are also contemplating additional
service fees from consumers for personalized information such as banking
information and stock trades.
Advocates of the technology are asking for safeguards that would allow the
user of the cell phone to remain anonymous unless they call 911. Another
option would be to allow it only when the caller allows their whereabouts to
be known by pushing a certain key combination or a specific button on the
phone. While there remain disagreements between companies and privacy
groups, the rules will require companies to be able to place the calls to
within about 100 feet. With this type of accuracy, it may be sometime
before we get a clear-cut resolution.
If cell phone users want local 911 calling to become a reality, they may
have to give a little in their efforts to protect their privacy. Proponents
warn that consumers need to have some way of controlling this information.
They counter that the end user should not have their whereabouts displayed
unless they are willing to do so. The
and other groups will be working to set some guidelines for how and what information can be collected and