GPS Tracking in the Age of COVID-19


This is certainly valuable data, but the medicine can be hard to swallow.

Many business owners use Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to optimize the deployment of their valuable assets, such as vehicles and people. GPS tracking apps provide a variety of data, including real-time asset locations (where they currently are), historical data (where the asset has been), and other related information (what the asset is). ‘asset did). These apps often have analytical components that present assessed data, such as a driver scorecard, that can help the business owner take action to further optimize their assets.

GPS technology is easily transferable to the healthcare field, where researchers can record real-time information and history and couple this information with other existing clinical data. There are wearable devices that provide heart rate, breathing, steps, and GPS location. There are other GPS trackers worn by the elderly or disabled to inform caregivers about their daily activities. There are even wearable devices that can translate and track gestures to recognize key tasks, such as smoking and eating.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, technological surveillance can play an important role (current and future) in monitoring social engagement and distancing. Simple GPS tracking apps could be downloaded to phones, and local authorities could assess the data to verify that residents are only visiting essential businesses and not traveling outside of designated areas. Additionally, public health officials could use it to enforce quarantine of infected people or their contacts.

This idea is being played out at home and abroad. In the United States, GPS data has been used to show the spread of beachgoers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at a time when social distancing was strongly recommended, but not enforced. The data showed the distance traveled and eventual spread of the disease from a single beach in Fort Lauderdale in a week to cities in the eastern United States, including New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Houston.

South Korea has also leveraged smartphone technology and geolocation to track symptoms and locations. In addition, Finnish research, published in the International Journal of Computer Applications, examined the use and impact of GPS tracking in a cohort of older adults. The authors determined that successful use is related to ease of use and GPS connectivity. Study participants reported that they felt an increased sense of independence and found it easier to carry out routine daily living using trackers. Interestingly, in this use case, individuals felt a increased sense of independence under increased personal surveillance.

As powerful as this information is, the role of ethics in mass surveillance dominates the discussion. These discussions are happening at the highest levels, including at Google, Facebook, the White House, and even at the family dinner table. The ethics surrounding the use of GPS technology were discussed in an article published in the Journal of Global Health in 2019. The authors reviewed a case study of mothers seeking care for their children under 5 and raised concerns about data privacy and that the GPS device could be turned off or given to someone else. another, which would skew the data. The authors included a powerful duality that defines this concept in today’s society.

GPS movement tracking presents a classic example of a “double-edged sword” when it comes to its use in health research, since the detailed information it can reveal is the source of both its value for research and the ethical concerns it presents.

It’s easy to see the value of GPS tracking apps during a pandemic, both in business and in healthcare. It is perhaps just as easy to see the concerns that many people have raised about surveillance itself and the exploitation that can occur during times of social crisis, such as COVID-19. Some recent and practical applications have shown that these concerns, while important, are addressed in a more practical than philosophical way.

Kathleen Zemlachenko, VP of Marketing for Guardian Tracking Systems, has extensive experience deploying GPS-based tracking and data analytics. As an advocate of this technology, his insights clearly establish the precarious nature upon which success can be built:

Our experience is that function evolves when fear is appeased. From business owner to clinician, good data leads to better decisions. Gaining trust by establishing successes and benefits has made monitoring less of an option and more of an essential tool embraced by all stakeholders. It is this trust that is the keystone of our success.

Today we live at a technological inflection point. Or, as some might say, a technological tipping point. The social imperative to mitigate and contain the COVID-19 virus has changed the intellectual and social landscape, forcing us to consider what may be life or death versus good or evil. The reality is, as has happened so many times before, change defined as “the rule of punctuated equilibrium”, where innovation is thrust upon us in times of human upheaval. As we flatten the curve, we need to keep our minds sharp and apply the power of technology with a human touch.


Comments are closed.