Last month in the middle of the night, you may have been alarmed by siren phone alerts about missing children in San Diego County.
If you don’t remember signing up for these phone alerts, it’s probably because you never did. The Federal government used this opportunity as a test for their new mobile emergency alert system.
According to the article, “About Those Startling Government Phone Alerts That You Never Signed Up For” by Tarun Wadhwa, the program was launched in April 2012 and has generated a wide range of feelings about how the message was delivered. Tarun continues that “the alerts are delivered as notifications instead of less-invasive SMS because those sometimes get delayed if there is heavy traffic. Although it is voluntary for carriers, customers are only notified if their carrier does not take part in the program.” Additionally, the messages contained ambiguous information regarding the incident. The lack of information quickly began to upset the very people it was intended to inform. Tarun suggests that more information received with better geo-targeting alerts will encourage people to stay opted in the program. How do you feel about this new smartphone emergency alert system?
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Instead of dealing with the privacy implications of a device that the government can use to solicit your participation in a manhunt within seconds, the program has chosen not to focus on them. That decision is both unwise and counterproductive. If they are unable to convince people to participate now, they will close off an entire avenue for solving crimes in the future.
These alerts become more useful the more precise they are. If you could target people down to the level of the building, street, or neighborhood they are in, you are more likely to find what you are looking for. It is not a stretch to imagine a future where your phone flashes an image of a stolen bike just seconds after it’s reported missing in your neighborhood, or if there is a wanted suspect, their picture and description are sent to everyone within the area. And while these types of developments will require new limitations and oversight, there are certainly some instances where it can be used to benefit the public in general.