A woman whose car rolled 500 feet down an embankment near San Jose, California, was located through the Find My iPhone feature on her smartphone after spending 19 hours in the ravine where her Chevy Cruze ended up.
The OnStar feature in Melissa Vasquez’s car triggered a call to police at 2 p.m. Monday, but placed the car near her home in the town of Campbell, California.
Police searched the area fruitlessly for two hours, and reportedly received another alert at 4 p.m. giving her location as downtown San Jose.
At 3 a.m. Tuesday, Vasquez’s stepmother called Campbell police to report her missing.
Officer Dave Cameron, who responded, got Vasquez’s iPad, guessed the password after three tries, and activated the lost phone feature, which displayed a map of the phone’s location. Cameron forwarded screen shots of the map from the iPad to the San Jose Police department, and Vasquez was found within 20 minutes.
The 28-year-old reportedly suffered major injuries but is expected to survive.
Saving Lives Through Technology
“This suggests a service you might opt into that could provide an OnStar-like experience from your phone,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “As we get wearable devices with body sensors, a heart attack or major injury could trigger an automatic call for help.”
A basic version of such technology already exists.
“We are already using this type of technology today with my wife’s 97-year-old mother, whose Verizon phone has a real-time tracking feature, as well as a push-to-talk feature that lets us see where she is at all times,” remarked Phil Lieberman president of Lieberman Software.
The tracking service can be used for family members or by businesses for fleet management, he said.
AT&T offers a smartwatch-like device called “Filip” that keeps kids constantly in touch with their parents and tracks their locations, said Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI Research. Kids can call one of five preprogrammed numbers, or push an emergency button that, among other things, constantly updates their locations.
Enter Wearables and the Internet of Things
“We have all this technology that’s accessible in a lot of places — child trackers, OnStar concierge and location-based services, medical bracelets or pendants,” Orr told TechNewsWorld.
“How can we reconstruct products and services to meet these different audience needs?” he asked. A communications infrastructure, devices, and a software framework are necessary and “the Internet of Things will address a lot of that.”
Vasquez’s rescue highlights another aspect of a debate that has been raging over tracking people through their cellphones.
Law enforcement contends that being able to track cellphones helps fight crime, including terrorism.
The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting against government and law enforcement tracking of peoples’ movements through various means, including cellphones.
Meanwhile, there’s considerable debate over Stingrays, which are devices built for spy agencies that police departments are using to track cellphones without warrants.
Privacy advocates contend this is illegal, but several police departments now use private funds to purchase Stingrays.
Vasquez’s rescue “is the other side of the coin,” said Enderle.
The Need for Rules
The circumstances of Vasquez’s rescue are unusual, as law enforcement “does not have the technical competence or resources to [track devices] according to the law in most cases,” Lieberman said. “It would be better to have a universal policy of authorized third parties that can access your device as part of your initial purchase.”
Or, the device could generate a unique code that could be shared with others to allow tracking, he suggested.
That brings its own dangers. Cyberstalkers are using smartphones to track victims, often in cases of domestic violence, NPR reported.
“If you’re the person suffering a heart attack, I think you’d argue [the tracking capability] is worth it,” Enderle said, “but there have to be controls that prevent abuse.”