GPS is a wonderful technology and the New York City Taxi and Limousine
have been requiring mandatory GPS devices in taxis to track yellow cab
migration and “hot spots” during various points in the day.  In the
example below, the red hotspots are the best places for hailing a cab at
11pm on a Saturday.

The most popular corners to catch a yellow cab in Manhattan can now be pinpointed, at any hour of any day of the week, thanks to a record of 90 million actual taxi trips that have been silently tracked by the city.

On a Saturday at 11 p.m., it is easier to hail a cab on the nightclub-and-bar-filled Lower East Side than at Grand Central Terminal. Columbus Circle gets more passenger pickups than the Port Authority bus station. And make sure you are in the right neighborhood: taxi rides are 25 times as likely to start in the West Village as in Washington Heights.

I’m sure many New Yorkers find that sort of interactive data helpful in a congesting world — but I find the idea of tracking taxis in this way a bit chilling — because how soon will that sort of mandatory GPS tracking trickle down for use against the ordinary citizen?

We know right now somebody somewhere is tracking our GPS movements, recording our steps — and how we got there and where we plan to go next.  The next big step in GPS tracking is anticipatory behavior models based on previous habits of action — so the State will know where we’re going before we get there.

If you have a cellular phone — the chance of having an active GPS chip
in your device is great — and if you choose to use a GPS device in your
car to “help you get there faster” you must know GPS tracking is always
a two-way process:  You ask for information and the data point provider
pinpoints you to deliver the answer.

Technology can free our
minds while unwittingly binding our bodies — and we must always be
vigilant and wonder aloud if the loss of our inherent privacy is worth
the returns we pay the State for the right to pretend we’re freer and
faster — when we’re really only more locked down and slower to
recognize the latest watchdog tether in our willing incarceration.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting about the cabs. I always wonder, when I read about how easy I am to find, “Who wants to find me?” Then my mind wanders and it’s harder to sleep at night. :/

  2. You’re right not to sleep right, Gordon! I believe we are already being proactively tracked via GPS to develop patterns over time and to determine behaviors within those patterns, then — if — something awful happens, and we are involved, it will be an easy matter for law enforcement to predict where to find us based on our past habits. Scary stuff.