An increasing number of cell phones come equipped with GPS capability. Each of the big mobile phone carriers offer dozens of GPS-enabled models at ever-lower price points. What does it mean for the consumer?
GPS opens up a world of services that are based on your location, and it introduces the possibility of real-time cell phone tracking. Yes, it is possible to legally track a cell phone, but there are privacy and user-notification requirements to consider.
The number of services based on your location as you use your cell phone are increasing rapidly. At their most advanced, they help you:
- Navigate, whether you are walking or driving.
- See your position on a map in real time.
- See the location of friends or family in real time.
- Help you locate and assess restaurants, stores and other nearby points of interest.
- Track, analyze, and store workout data.
As you would expect, these services are most readily available in touchscreen smartphones, such as the iPhone3G, BlackBerry, T-Mobile G1, and the Palm Pre. However, location-based services are increasingly becoming available on a wider range of phones, and that trend will continue.
Cell Phone Tracking Via GPS
There is a lot of interest in tracking cell phones via their built-in GPS chips. Tracking falls into three categories, including location-sharing, voluntary tracking, and secret tracking.
Location-sharing "social media" applications are commonly available for touchscreen smartphones. These applications, such as Loopt and Google Latitude, show your real-time location to a group of friends you select, or broadcast it publicly. These applications help you connect with friends or business associates, but should be used with care, especially the public access feature. You may view friends' positions on your phone or via a Web browser.
Real-time tracking of cell phones via GPS moved into the mainstream with the introduction of AT&T's FamilyMap service, Verizon's Chaperone, and Sprint's Family Locator services. These services ($5 to $9.99 per month) show tracked phone locations on a map accessible via a Web browser or mobile phone. Users may set alerts for when the tracked phone enters or leaves certain locations. This could be useful for providing automatic notification when children arrive at home or sports practice, for example.
There are cell-phone GPS tracking services for commercial users, and cell phone location is built into the national enhanced 911 service. However, secret cell phone tracking by individuals is not legal and is not available through the carriers. Be careful if you are seeking to implement secret cell phone tracking, because there are a number of scams centered on this practice.
Cell phone GPS will increasingly become part of our lives, and when used properly, it can provide valuable services, and peace of mind for parents and loved ones. As with any technology, care must be taken to respect privacy and to prevent the release of private data to those who should not have access to it.