Let's face it: A GPS device can be a godsend. It's fun (you can use it to play games like Foursquare and to see what people are buzzing about in your area through Google Buzz), it's functional (it gets you from point A to point B and finds a suitable place to eat in between), and it's friendly (the unit's reassuring voice puts you at ease, whether it be one of the accented strangers it comes with or a voice that you record yourself).
But what if you don't want to be found? Could your beloved TomTom or Garmin betray your trust? Using GPS systems and their accompanying smartphone applications too frequently or without understanding certain aspects of the technology can land you in the sights of a stage-5 creeper. Constant access to GPS technology makes it easy for people--from complete strangers to estranged family members to business acquaintances to exes-- to hunt you down and follow your movements. Here's how.
In the first place, someone could plant a GPS device on your vehicle--under the hood of your car, say--without your even knowing it. That's exactly what happened to Gayane Indzheyan in 2004: Her ex-boyfriend Ara Gabrielyan pled no contest to one count of stalking and one count of making criminal threats after he planted a GPS device on Indzheyan's car without her knowledge and then began following her around, repeatedly showing up wherever she happened to be and making menacing comments about what would happen to her if they did not get back together. He served nine months in California state prison before being deported to the Republic of Armenia, according to a Reader's Digest feature and a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Such devices aren't hard to come by, either. A quick Google search for "GPS spouse tracking" yields several gadgets and methods that can perform this type of dirty work. Some of these devices are so inconspicuous that they are difficult to detect; the GPS Tracking Key, for instance, comes equipped with a powerful magnet so the user can attach it to the bottom of a car in a matter of seconds.
Some private investigators use GPS devices to track people for their clients. The Gomez Detective Agency, made famous through the TV show Cheaters, lists GPS as one of the many surveillance tools it uses to catch people with their pants down. The agency's investigators follow spouses from place to place and videotape evidence of infidelity, enabling the cheatee to catch the cheater in the act.
Rental car companies can legally track you and impose surcharges for violating their terms of service, as Ron Lee found out after he crossed the Nevada state line in a car that he rented in California. When he returned the car to Pay Less rental car company, the company socked him with a $1400 additional charge. So be sure to read the fine print--or at least ask about jurisdictional or mileage limitations when you get a vehicle.
Next: Smartphone betrayal and revealing applications.