Cell Phone Flaw Puts Homeowners at Risk

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Ben Levitan, an expert on cell phone technology who holds 27 patents in the field, thinks the problem is arising, at least in Dobson's case, because of the way the cell phone location system works: If it tries and fails to get the exact location of the phone being sought (all cell phones being sold today, he says, contain GPS location-tracking technology) the system automatically resorts to finding the address of the cellular transmission tower nearest to the phone—for example, the cell phone tower near Dobson's home.

Levitan speculates that the address for the tower may have been entered incorrectly in the system: When a searcher seeks a missing phone, what he gets is the address for Dobson's home, not the tower.

A spokesperson for Sprint, the service provider for some of the people who have come to Dobson's house looking for their phones, offers a different but not contradictory explanation.

Stephanie Vinge Walsh of Sprint corporate communications says the problem arises from the fact that Dobson's house "happens to be in the center of a geometric circle denoting the coverage area." The address of that center is the address provided searchers "when a more precise location of a device is not readily available."

Whatever the explanation, it's all the same to Dobson when cops--or drunks--come pounding on his door at 3 a.m. "We sincerely regret the inconvenience experienced by Mr. Dobson," says Walsh.

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