Is It Ethical to Track Your Loved Ones?
The existence of the Global Positioning System (or GPS system) is often taken for granted, simply assumed to be out there somewhere, without so much as a second thought being spared on the matter. In developed countries, GPS systems are mostly used for direction, when travelling from point A to point B. However, GPS systems have a wide variety of useful applications, including tracking patients with dementia, tracking those who have been incarcerated and are out on parole, as well as for general law enforcement.
However, there are also ethical issues that come into play when you are real time tracking a person. This is in essence when a person carrying a GPS receiver has their location transmitted to a second party on an ongoing basis. Products that monitor the real time movements of individuals have been around for many years, especially in the United States.
Consider, for example, QamCare, a real time GPS tracking app, developed and promoted under the auspices of helping users track their loved ones. QamCare originates from the Kazakh word Qampor, and means care and support. Developed by four young girls in Kazakhstan, QamCare originated from the need to keep tabs on loved ones who are in a potentially dangerous situation, with Kazakhstan not always being a safe place to travel, especially not on foot.
Is It Equal To Geoslavery?
Safety and care aside, is it really ethical to track every movement of a loved one, knowing where they are at all times? The issue that comes into play is an individual’s right to privacy. This, coupled with the fact that real time surveillance has long been a contentious issue in American courts, as well as other legal systems around the world, warrants further consideration of the matter.
Two authors, Jerome Dobson and Peter Fisher, perhaps said it best when they put a name to the habit of the constant monitoring of a person’s movements by another person or people. Dobson and Fisher refer to this as Geoslavery.
In their article on Geoslavery, the authors not only considered the idea of real-time tracking and the ethical issues surrounding this, but also the predictive element. The fact of the matter is, if a person’s habits are monitored for long enough, certain tendencies will become identifiable. As soon as this happens, then those tendencies, or movements, will ultimately become predictable too.
Finding The Balance
As with most things, the secret to finding the middle ground is balance. With QamCare, for example, a user will only be in a position to track the person carrying the GPS receiver in the event that they have been granted the status of being a trusted contact by means of the privacy features that have been incorporated in the application.
Having your movements tracked by an unauthorised person would leave most people uneasy, and permission is definitely the key consideration. It would most definitely be frowned upon for one person in a household to constantly keep tabs on another to see if they really are headed towards the local store, and not towards the local casino for an evening of fun and games instead.
Nothing Is All Bad
The ethical issues aside, real time tracking of individual movements does hold many benefits for society and apps like Familonnet, Foursquare Swarm, Life360 Family Locator and GeoZilla can all be used to great effect.
The ageing population poses many problems in society. An estimated 6.6% of the elderly suffer from Dementia or some other form of Alzheimer’s disease. Being able to track the movements of a sufferer of Dementia can provide peace of mind for the partner or family of that person.
British and American prisoners are often tracked on a constant basis, the argument being that they have forfeited their rights to freedom of movement under the acts implemented by the criminal justice system. These prisoners are less likely to escape and not be caught, which in turn benefits law-abiding citizens on the outside of the prison walls.
Ultimately then, the question of ethics comes down to the intention behind the tracking as well as the fact that it has to be fully consensual.