7 Disadvantages of GPS

Updated on June 15, 2019
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Paul's passion for technology and digital media goes back over thirty years. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida, USA.

Originally developed by the US Department of Defense for military usage, GPS technology is now widely available. It is used principally in navigation devices, as well as for land surveying and the monitoring of the movement of tectonic plates.
Originally developed by the US Department of Defense for military usage, GPS technology is now widely available. It is used principally in navigation devices, as well as for land surveying and the monitoring of the movement of tectonic plates. | Source

GPS (or global positioning system) was originally developed by the US Department of Defense for military purposes. The technology is now widely commercially available, mainly for use in navigational devices and smartphones, but also in land surveying and the monitoring of the movement of the fault lines that can cause earthquakes.

GPS technology has brought with it many positives, but also some downsides. This article lists the seven main disadvantages of GPS.

The 7 Main Downsides of GPS

Here are some of the most prominent downsides of GPS systems, which I'll be covering in this article:

  1. Inaccuracy
  2. Lack of Local Knowledge
  3. Driving Distraction
  4. Signal or Battery Failure
  5. Reliance on US Department of Defense
  6. Privacy Issues
  7. Commercial Exploitation

1. Inaccuracy

GPS devices rely upon receiving signals from at least four satellites. If they connect with only three, the positioning is not fully accurate. Problems can occur when obstacles, such as walls, buildings, skyscrapers and trees obstruct a signal. Extreme atmospheric conditions, such as geomagnetic storms, can also cause problems. In addition, the mapping technology which is used in conjunction with the GPS may not be up to date and cause navigational errors.

2. Lack of Local Knowledge

Local knowledge counts for a lot when traveling. Relying solely on GPS technology means that you can miss out on information that might be useful for your journey. For instance, whether a piece of road is prone to flooding or other hazards at certain times of day, whether there are any scenic views, or whether the road is closed during certain periods.

3. Driving Distraction

GPS devices are by their very nature distracting. In theory, they relay you audio instructions and all you you have to do is glance over at the map occasionally. But in practice, you can end up trying to adjust the destination, key in data, or alter other settings while driving. It's a recipe for disaster.

4. Signal or Battery Failure

Sole reliance on GPS can cause problems if you suffer a signal failure, or you are using a battery-operated device that runs out of power (GPS devices are almost always power hungry). Unless you have some form of backup, such as traditional paper maps, you can easily find yourself lost with no idea which way to go.

What Happens When It Fails?

One of the biggest dangers of GPS systems is our over-reliance on them. In the event that a signal can't be found or the device's battery dies, you can easily find yourself lost in an unfamiliar area.

5. Reliance on US Department of Defense

GPS was developed by the US Department of Defense (DoD) for military purposes. As well as helping with navigation of land and sea vehicles, it has other uses, such as accurately targeting missiles. The system is currently universally available for free, but the DoD is able to selectively restrict usage, or degrade the service, at any time it chooses. This happened in 1999, when service was denied to the Indian military during the Kargil War. There is also nothing to stop the DoD from charging for the service if they wanted.

6. Privacy Issues

GPS devices can be used to stalk people without their knowledge. A device can be placed in a car, for instance, so that the victim's location can be tracked. This method can also be used for criminal purposes. These tracking devices are easy to obtain.

7. Commercial Exploitation

When GPS is combined with internet technology, such as social media or mobile phone apps, it can become easy for commercial organizations to track someone's movements and exploit this information to gather data on a person's shopping habits, or target them with advertising based on their location.

GPS is global navigation satellite system that was set up by the US Department of Defense. The system provides geolocation and time information to GPS devices.
GPS is global navigation satellite system that was set up by the US Department of Defense. The system provides geolocation and time information to GPS devices. | Source

Facts About GPS

  • GPS was invented by Bradford Parkinson, Roger L. Easton, and Ivan A. Getting.
  • The GPS project was launched during the Cold War by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973 and became fully operational in 1995. Initially, the system was for military use only.
  • GPS was originally called Navstar.
  • The Russian equivalent of GPS is known as GLONASS. Japan has QZSS, China has the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, India has IRNSS, and the European Union have Galileo.
  • In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan decided that GPS should be available to the general public. However, access to high quality GPS signals was kept for military use only until May 2000.
  • The first road vehicles to have GPS were launched in 1996.
  • Many devices and vehicles use GPS nowadays, including mobile phones and boats. There are even GPS shoes for keeping track of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Paul Goodman

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