The Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite program wasn't just designed for acquiring correct directions to a particular location. It was also set up so that people like yourself can accurately track the location of your loved ones. The available methods, however, differ based on the type of phone you possess and the type of provider with whom you're registered.
Six GPS Tracking Options
There are a number of different options available for GPS tracking of cell phones.
AccuTracking is a paid service that enables individuals to track the status of a Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iDEN, or Android mobile phone in real time. The service provides the exact locations of the device, providing the speed and direction of travel. The service claims to be a low-cost child locator, ideal for concerned parents who are on a budget. Account holders log into the secured web server and view the phone's position using a Google Maps style layout.
2. Carrier-Based GPS Tracking Options
Some major cellular service providers in the United States offer location-based tracking for their mobile customers. For instance, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all offer GPS tracking for both families and businesses. The phone's location is constantly updated and then transmitted to an interactive map that the mobile account holder may access from the Internet. Upcoming features include the ability to track friends and families directly from a social network like Facebook.
3. Smartphone Tracking
Smartphones offer even more advanced tracking, courtesy of advanced operating systems and complex applications like Btracking. Plus, some smartphone tracking options are entirely free.
Btracking requires a paid subscription for every device that you would like to track. The price as of March of 2012 is $19 per month per device. The device needs to be GPS enabled, of course, but it also needs an active wireless data plan. Btracking caters to businesses, families and individuals alike.
Buddyway is a free option permits you to track, save and share your trips with friends and family members. As a result, your loved ones need not fret in anticipation of your call when you are on the road. They can simply log in to Google Earth and view your exact current location in real time.
6. Check-In Applications
Foursquare, Facebook Places and the GyPSii social network permit friends to voluntarily "check in" to a location, after which the "check in" is then visible to people in their networks. This is not real-time tracking, as the location of a device (or person) is not visible until there is a "check in" at that location. There is no cost to use these applications.
Using GPS to locate a cell phone without a person's permission is an invasion of privacy and is illegal. Legal exceptions exist, as parents can track their children's phone and employers can track the whereabouts of their employees using GPS. However, it is illegal under United States federal law to install tracking software on an adult's phone without his or her knowledge. Carriers are permitted to utilize triangulation, GPS and other tracking technologies in the event of a kidnapping. However, such actions are usually coordinated with the police and thus immune to any form of prosecution.
Limitations of GPS Tracking
Tracking a cell phone using GPS can provide peace of mind to concerned parents and family members. However, there are many limitations to consider. GPS typically requires a relatively good "line of sight" to the GPS satellites and it can sometimes take longer than expected to get "a fix" on a satellite using GPS. What's more, GPS can draw a lot of power from a smartphone or cell phone, significantly reducing the battery life if the GPS chip is active for extended periods of time. Some standalone GPS tracking devices can provide better battery life, but they may also carry a monthly subscription fee. Shop accordingly.
To Pay or Not to Pay
The paid tracking options clearly provide the most accurate, real-time results. Thus, they're optimal for families. If you're simply worried about losing your phone or having it stolen, your best bet may be to opt for a free smartphone application. Keep in mind also that as technology progresses, more free options may appear on the market.