The Present State of Human Tracking

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting story regarding the reality of human tracking. According to the story, near field communications chips (such as RFID) are being implanted subcutaneously to enable those at risk of kidnapping to be more readily recovered.

The Post article points out, however, that such technologies have ranges from a few feet to a few hundred meters – and the latter require significant power. Nonetheless, in Mexico this has become big business. Xega’s VIP Localización satelital de personas provides some of the leading products in the field.

“Unfortunately, it’s been good for business but bad for the country,” said Xega executive Diego Kuri, referring to the kidnappings. “Thirty percent of our clients arrive after someone in their family has already experienced a kidnapping,” added Kuri, interviewed at the company’s heavily fortified offices, opposite a tire shop in this industrial city 120 miles north of Mexico’s capital.

Xega calls it the VIP package. For $2,000 upfront and annual fees of $2,000, the company provides clients with a subdermal radio-frequency identification chip (RFID), essentially a small antenna in a tiny glass tube. The chip, inserted into the fatty tissue of the arm between the shoulder and elbow, is less than half an inch long and about as wide as a strand of boiled spaghetti.

– Washington Post

The implant might be able to be read by a nearby receiver but it could not broadcast directly to a cell tower. From the website, however, the description of the service suggests that help can arrive at the touch of a button – suggesting that the subcutaneous implant is not the emergency device – though it could be used if the primary device fails and a body needs to be later identified.

Emergency devices, of course, are used not just for kidnapping but also for seniors and those who live alone. Some are little more than pre-programmed phone handsets designed to be worn on pendants. Life Alert has a mobile system but it is a cell phone service not a button or self-operating device. More sophisticated devices include cellular phone wrist-bands that have GPS and Cell phone data, such as the Laipac watch device. The equipment knows when it has been removed from the user’s wrist, pre-defined safety zones and voice-over features.

The Washington Post implies there is a great deal of over-selling, if not fraud, being perpetrated using fear to grow the market. Certainly tracking devices the size of hair strands or grains of rice cannot call 911 or interact with global tracking satellites – but other devices can and do.

Whether the use of these devices is good or bad depends on the risks being managed. But the field is changing and fear is a powerful motivator.

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