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You are likely being tracked, just not by a vaccine

There has been a lot of talk this year about people being tracked. You are being tracked, without a doubt, just not in the way that some people think.

It is unlikely for so many reasons that the vaccine millions have gotten in their arms is doing anything other than preventing them from getting COVID-19.

There is no need for it. The device that you are likely holding in your hand right now has been tracking you for years and you likely consented to letting it do so.

There are just so many ways that you are tracked that it is surprising anyone would think there was a need to add another method.

Just using a cell phone means that you are being tracked. A cell phone works by picking the closest tower to your locations. When people have needed help, officials have used the information from several towers to determine the location of the person.

Of course, most cell phones are loaded with applications that promise better service by sharing your location. This better service normally involves targeting the advertising that reaches you. This can be a good thing because it will deliver messages to you that are targeted to what you are doing. It can also be a little unnerving at times. These programs use the built-in Global Positioning System.

My wife and I visited a local furniture store recently. When we got in the car, she checked her iPhone we immediately saw an ad for the same business we just walked out of.

This is called geo-fencing and it allows content and advertising to be displayed based on your exact location.

Some apps need to know where you are to function properly. WAZE, for instance, is a mapping program that pinpoints your exact location as you travel across the country.

Without you telling it your location, it would not know where you are. Google does the same thing with its mapping app. It also shares it with other Google programs.

If you allow it, Google will track you wherever you go and store it for you to see later. It uses this data to enhance other programs, such as returning search results for businesses near you.

Of course, there are many times that you may want to be tracked.

When running, or hiking, it is interesting to see where you have been. To do this you have to let something track you.

My watch for instance, will literally track every step I take. It will record the elevation change and my heart rate while taking those steps and it will record the route that I took onto a map. As soon as I get near my phone the two will communicate without me doing anything and the phone will, if I allow it, upload it to the web.

It’s a little creepy when you think about, but handy if you want to keep track of things. It seems to be accurate to within about 5 feet.

Sometimes people allow themselves to be tracked to save a little money.

I have a little device in my car from my insurance company that provides them with information about how fast I go and how quickly I stop and go around corners. The promise of a discount lured me in. The software clearly wasn’t written by someone who drives the roads of southeastern Ohio.

Tracking, of course, reaches your life beyond your phone. Loyalty cards are a long-used way of tracking you. They know what you buy every time you use it.

They use the information to target special offers to you. Credit card companies also know your spending habits, what kind of food you eat and where you travel. The government has been tracking you for years. Social Security knows how much I have made every year since I was 14.

Think about the wealth of information you give the Internal Revenue Service each year.

A lot of tracking uses what is called an RFID tag. The tags are incorporated into things like running numbers that register when you cross the finish line. They are also used on retail items to make sure the item is paid for before it walks out of a store.

These devices register when they pass near a check point. This type of passive tracking does not require a power source like your phone, but you have to be pretty close to a receiver for it work.

I understand why some people want to live their lives freely off the grid and disconnected from modern communications.

Allowing companies to track you can help your quality of life, just make sure you are getting more out the arrangement than the company.

Art Smith is online manager for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at asmith@mariettatimes.com

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