Pros & Cons of Personal Tracking Devices in Cellular Phones

By Milton Kazmeyer

GPS receivers are very common.
i Image by, courtesy of Gareth Simpson

As smartphones evolve, manufacturers include more and more gadgets and features. One feature in these devices is the inclusion of a GPS-based tracking system, allowing the phone to calculate its position to within a few meters at any time. This feature allows a smartphone to function like a GPS navigator, and offers a host of advantages, though the feature also has costs.

Emergency Services

One of the major advantages of having a tracking device in your cell phone is that it allows responders to locate you easily in an emergency. Previously, cell phone callers relied on area triangulation using cell towers to estimate their location by measuring signal strength, which is a time-consuming and inaccurate process. If you dial 911 on a phone with a GPS tracker, however, the device can provide your location to within several meters, allowing rescue personnel to pinpoint your location and dispatch help quickly.


As cell phones grow in complexity, their value also rises, making them a common target for thieves. A tracking device in your phone, however, serves as a way to get a stolen phone back. Many high-end cell phones feature the ability to track a missing phone via its GPS receiver, providing real-time updates of the device's current location. As long as the phone is active and charged, it can continue to broadcast its tracking signal until retrieved.

Location-Based Social Networking

GPS-enabled phones allow you to take advantage of location-based social networking. In combination with Wi-Fi logins and other location-based tools, social programs provide information about friends in the area, allowing you locate each other and meet up. Other location-based programs include games that require proximity for you to compete against other players, encouraging video game players to get out and socialize rather than sitting in front of console or computer.

Advertisers and Tracking

Tracking devices in phones also have their downsides. Companies can take advantage of location-based technology to send ads to your device, promoting businesses and products in your immediate area. Advertisers also use this information to build a profile of your real-world habits for demographic purposes by correlating the types of businesses you visit on a regular basis. For instance, if an advertiser finds that many customers of business A also visit business B, they can cross-promote the two businesses in hopes of increasing their customer base. Outsiders can also use this type of technology to track you, if you are not careful with your privacy settings in location-based social networking programs. “Checking in” at locations while running errands provides alert thieves with the knowledge that your home is empty and unguarded, and gives them an idea of your daily schedule.