Soon, cellphones will be able to do more than use GPS tracking to show a person’s physical location, they will be able to tell what floor of a building a person is on. The spread of barometric-pressure sensors in phones, like Apple’s iPhone 6 and a handful of Android devices, are largely to thank for the advance in tracking technology. These sensors help determine the altitude of a person, accurate within a few feet.
Although the new technology makes it easier for emergency personnel to rescue someone trapped in a building who can’t communicate where in the building they are, some experts are worried about the ability for hackers to map three-dimensional movements.
The FCC has put forward a new proposal for how wireless carrier handle 911 calls. If the proposal is adopted (which could happen as soon as January), wireless carriers would be required to have systems capable of locating callers anywhere, including in a multistory building. “We are committed to both improving public safety and protecting consumer privacy,” says David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau. “The goal of this proceeding is to use technological advancements in the marketplace to help first responders better locate 911 callers. We’ve sought public comment on our proposals, including any privacy implications, and will consider all input as we move forward.”
Possibilities of altitude tracking go far beyond basic emergency and government uses. Shopping malls could send consumers tailored coupons based on where in the mall they are, casinos could keep tabs on high-risk gamblers, and companies could monitor the movement of expensive products.