We have all been there before – our precious cell phone has suddenly gone missing and we have no idea where it is. We do a quick check of all the places that we normally put it; it is not there. We then try and rehash every event from the time we last remember having our mobile phone to the time when we first noticed that it was missing. We try calling our cell phone in the hope that the ringer is on and that it is going to be somewhere nearby. But when all of this fails us, we are left worrying about where our phone is and we have no way to find it other than hoping that some switch will flip in our brain and we will all of a sudden “remember” exactly where it is.
How can we increase the likelihood of actually finding a lost cell phone? GPS tracking!
GPS stands for the Global Positioning System and is a series of satellites that emit a radio signal that can be read by specialized GPS receivers. These receivers then use the information encoded in these radio signals to do a little math called trilateration which will then ‘inform’ the GPS device of its exact location on the globe. This is the way that all GPS device work from navigation GPS to marine GPS.
GPS tracking can begin to occur when the position information is either gathered by the device and stored locally or is sent out from the device so that real time GPS tracking can occur. Cell phone GPS tracking is of the second variety, and this is a key fact if it is to be used to help a person find their lost cell phone.
Once the cell phone has found its exact location using GPS or by a very similar mathematical process using cell phone tower signals it can send that information out over the wireless network to which it is connected. All the cell phone needs to be is turned on for this entire process to happen without a single thing being done by the user. You could be 5 miles away from your phone and as long as it is one and receiving a signal you can find out exactly where it is in real time.
Cell phone GPS tracking is a little tricky to talk about because mobile phones have GPS-like capabilities without having to be GPS devices. So, in some cases, a cell phone is able to be tracked even when it doesn’t have a GPS receiver installed in it. The reason behind this is rather simple and has everything to do with a principle I have already covered on this site: trilateration.
Once you understand the basics behind this principle you will see that is is obvious that a cell phone could be tracked whether or not it was GPS enable. Simply put, trilateration takes the know distance of an entity from 3 or more objects to calculate the exact location of that entity. I know, that sounds confusing – but it really isn’t.
Imagine that you are sitting somewhere in a room. The room is a 10×10 square and you are somewhere in it and you want to find out exactly where you are in the room. There is a desk in the middle of one of the walls that you are 5 feet from. On the exact opposite wall there is another table in the middle of the wall that you are exactly 5 feet from as well. Then there is a mirror on the third wall that you are looking at yourself from 5 feet away. Where are you in the room?
If you answered, “In the center.” Then you already know everything you need about trilateration to completely understand how a cell phone can work without actually having a GPS tracking device installed in it.
Let’s use the example of the two table and the mirrors from above to help us understand this. The tables and the mirrors here represent cell phone towers that are dotted across urban landscapes all over the country. In my city, they are dressed up to look like palm trees or other pleasant things but you still know what it is, a cell tower.
These cell towers transmit cellular signals out to mobile phones. The signals travel at a constant speed which makes finding out the distance between cell phones and cell towers very easy. All one must do is record the amount of time it takes between the time that the signal was transmitted by the tower and when it arrived at the cell phone. You then take the time that it took and multiply it by the speed at which the signal traveled. This looks something like this:
Distance Traveled = Speed x Time
This will give you the cell phone’s distance from the cell tower. Since the cell phone provider (a cell phone provider is a company like Nextel, AT&T, Verizon, TMobile, etc.) knows exactly where they cell tower is, they know that the cell phone is within x number of feet from that tower. Imagine a big circle surrounding the cell tower in the map in your mind.
Now imagine a second cell tower that also transmits a signal that is picked up by the cell phone. This is a certain distance from this second cell tower so imagine another circle around this second tower. Where the two circles intersect are the potential locations of the cell phone as far as the cell phone provider is concerned.
Once you add a third tower in the mix you should have a pretty darn good fix on the location of the cell phone – all without the use of GPS tracking devices.
It is important to understand that this is also exactly how GPS works, but instead of cellular towers on the urban landscape you have satellites in the heavenly firmament and instead of circles you have spheres around each satellite. This is pretty amazing stuff if you ask me.
Now that we have learned that cell phones can have GPS tracking without actually having a GPS device installed in it, let’s take a look at what can be done with GPS cell phone tracking.
There are several different applications that should be considered, but we will only take a look at three to give us a flavor of just how awesome this type of technology can be. Cellphone GPS tracking can be used for navigation purposes, to monitor a loved ones activity, and to learn useful things about your current location.
Cell Phone Tracking and Navigation
There is little doubt that the use of GPS for navigation purposes is a huge industry. That was, after all, one of the initial impetus behind the Department of Defense creating the satellite system. They wanted a way to know where they assets were but they also wanted to us it to tell where there assets were going.
GPS navigation has become the norm in many families across America with Garmins or TomToms or Magellans replacing the friendly AAA triptiks of two decades ago. I still remember as a child going into the AAA office with my mother to get a triptik ready for a family vacation. Now, you just enter your trip into the GPS and it does all the routing for you.
Cell phone companies realized that this was a huge market and that their technology could easily break into it. They could either us GPS technology to do the mapping just like a Garmin can, or they could leverage the cellular signals they were already broadcasting to create new navigation systems. Some companies decided to go with GPS and other stuck with the cell signal.
Either way you look at, cell phones now use GPS or a GPS-like technology to give turn-by-turn directions to drivers all over the country. While this isn’t GPS tracking as most would think of it, it still is using a cellular phone to track and record position information. It can tell people how to fast you are traveling, an ETA (estimated time of arrival), and it can actively tell you your current location. This is GPS tracking if you ask me.
As we will see this information can be used for other purposes other than navigation.
Cell Phone GPS Tracking And Location Monitoring
Location monitoring is another useful application of GPS in cell phones. Unlike the type of tracking that goes on for navigation purposes, the information used to track the location of a cell phone is actaully transmitted from the cell phone back to the cell company. This process is often referred to as “tracing a cell phone.”
We hear about it all the time if we watch any crime show drama. They are always putting “a trace on the cell phone” or “triangulating the cell’s position” – especially when a kidnapper or other bad person decides to call up our favorite detectives for a to have a chat. Essentially what is happening in these instances is that a third party, in the case the police, are using information gathered by a cell phone provider to find the location of a caller.
The police obviously find this information particularly useful, especially when responding to a 911 call made from a cell phone. But there are other interesting applications for this as well. One of them is to GPS track a teen in order to monitor their driving habits or to make sure that they are not lying to you about where they are. All teens use cell phones these days so this service is relatively painless for you and for them. It is also relatively cheap and can be as little as $6 a month for 4 phones.
Another application of cell phone tracking is for getting fitness performance metrics. Just take your phone with you on a run or bike ride when you have a certain application installed and you will automatically get information like the average speed of your run and the distance traveled. You will even be able to see your entire course on a mapping application like Google Maps.
Another bit of information that cell phones have been regularly used to monitor is the activity of a spouse or lover suspected of cheating. In situations where this could be going on it is imperative that the suspecting spouse snoops around the other’s activities. This can involved GPS tracking or it can be through other methods, it just has to get done. Cell phone GPS tracking can be a good solution for individuals that find themselves in this situation so you might want to consider using it. It might be difficult if you have separate cell phone plans or they regularly pay the cell phone bill since any tracking charges will undoubtedly show up on your bill. But if you are in charge of this you might be able to set up GPS tracking without them even knowing it.
Finally, cell phones can be a great way to introduce GPS into a kids life. You could use the phone for GPS tracking for kids or you could just use it to help your child learn about the world around them. Kids do great with mapping applications and it can really help them get a better understanding of the world around them. They can also be used to keep kids safe in case of an emergency or other terrible occurance.
These types of location monitoring and tracking applications are going to become more prevalent over the next decade as we experiment with this relatively new technology. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
GPS Tracking Cell Phones and Random Data
The last way that I wanted to talk about was the use of cell phones to communicate random data based upon the location of the user. What I have in mind for this are apps (like those found on the iPhone) that tell you something specific that you can take action on or find interesting about your location.
If you are on a street and are feeling like Chinese food but don’t know the area you can type “Chinese” into this cell phone tracking app and it will give the location of the 5 closest Chinese restaurants along with some customer reviews and relative price points for the meals.
This idea can have many different applications in areas as diverse as real estate and movie theaters; fishing and ball room dance classes; or finding a replacement part on a car and finding a nanny. Whatever someone is willing to write an app for the GPS tracking cell phone is going to be able to provide laser-like access to position information that can be used to make life simpler and finding the closest solution to a problem easier.
All of these applications of cell phone GPS tracking have current uses today, but can only be expected to be improved upon with time and advances in personal tracking technology. You simply cannot underestimate the power of GPS tracking in a cell phone package – it is, in my opinion the future of all things GPS.
I have compiled a short list of free GPS tracking software and applications, with the majority of the applications working on mobile phones. Feel free to check out this list and see if your cell phone is already compatible with one of the systems. If it isn’t, you could always buy a new phone, right?
I also have made some comments on how free free GPS tracking really is - if you are interested in reading those as well. To sum up I said that if you already have everything that you need (i.e. GPS smartphone and a robust data plan) then it will truly be free. If you don’t have either of these things then getting free GPS cell phone tracking is going to be anything but free. You will have to pay the costs associated with getting the new phone and subscribing to the data plan.
But there is something that you need to do if you want to make this system work for you as a way to locate a lost cell phone. The first thing you need to do is verify whether or not your phone is actually GPS enabled. Chances are you chose the phone that you did because it had GPS, but if you are uncertain contact your service provider to make sure.
Then, you are going to want to find free GPS tracking software that is going to be compatible with the phone that you are using. This should not be too hard because there are literally dozens of free options out there for cell phone tracking. Also, if you feel like paying for something that you could do for yourself for free then you could always go with a one of your provider’s tracking plans. I have seen a family plan for a little as $5 a month depending on your current service agreement. While this is a nominal payment, it is ∞ more expensive than free! If you can get the same service for free, why not do it?
Anyway, (getting off my high horse) no matter if you pay for the tracking or get it for free you are definitely going to need to have a data plan that will permit your GPS tracking. Most people already have some sort of data plan anyway and if they don’t they are not the type of person to be worried about losing their phone because it only cost $40 bucks and isn’t a Blackyberry, Palm Pre, or iPhone. The reason that you need the data plan is that your cell phone will have to send the information about its position to you for the real time GPS tracking to work like you want it to. You can’t find your lost cell phone without your cell phone telling you where it is. It can’t do that if it doesn’t have any way to send its coordinates out over a wireless network.
I would even recommend getting a pretty robust data plan because of all the great things that real time cell phone GPS tracking can be used for. For example, cell phones make great fitness GPS tracking devices. A lot of people take their phone with them anyway when they run in case they get into an emergency or in case they get a call from work or whatnot. There are plenty of ways that you can safely and easily bring one along and it can do so many different things for you while running that cell phone also make great fitness tracking devices as well. If you download the right software, your phone can give you all sorts of interesting workout metrics like your distance run, your average speed, your time running, and it will even put all this information on a map for you to look at when you get home.
Another example of the usefulness of cell phone tracking with GPS is its use in keeping teens honest about their activities and their driving habits. Since most teens are connected to their phones at the thumbs, cell phones are the best GPS tracking for teens on the market. It is relatively cheap, it is simple to use, and you know that your teen will never go anywhere without their cell phone.
Still another useful application of cell phone tracking is its ability to provide fleet tracking support for small businesses. This is a pretty novel application of free cell phone GPS tracking, but I think that in the right environment it could work extremely well for a small company looking for ways to save money but still implement a technology that is going to help them route their drivers better, perform more service calls, and develop better customer interactions.
GPS tracking for teens can be a useful tool in the hands of a concerned or watchful parent – and not just for the behavior problems that a teenager may be expressing. These devices can help empower parents who make the decision to give their teens freedom by giving parents information that they would never be able to gather on their own. This information can help parents keep their teens safe from the dangers presented by their rebellion or by the world around them. Teenagers are just bigger kids in many respects and many parents still feel a degree of responsibility in keeping their child safe.
If you have a teen with behavioral problems or you just like to know where your child is for safety’s sake then there are some real GPS tracking solutions for you and your family. Whether or not solution will work for you and your family will undoubtedly depend on your own specific needs and desires, so be sure that you think about your solution carefully before purchasing a device. There are three main categories that your tracking device can fall into – car tracking, cell phone tracking, and covert tracking.
Tracking Your Teen’s Car With GPS
Cars have become the dominant way for teens to travel. It seems that as soon as they are able they are hounding for the keys at every opportunity. They want to drive to and from school. They want to drive to their friends house. They want to go out to the movies. They want to go out on dates. And then they want you to pay for gas!
What they are essentially after is the freedom to do what they want when they want to. This is a pretty normal thing for teenagers to experience since they are just at the beginning stages of becoming an adult and will try to emulate many of the things adults can do with their freedoms.
Many teens even have their own car these days; given to them by parents who enjoy the freedom that having a driving, mobile teen provides. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it can create some challenges in keeping tabs on your kid in the case of a rebellious child. It even makes it harder to know where they are at any given time if your teen is generally well behaved, and that can be a safety nightmare.
How Does GPS Tracking By Car Work?
GPS tracking in your car is going to work like any other GPS tracking device you are going to find out on the market. These data pushers are going to gather its location from the Global Positioning Satellites orbiting around the earth and then take that information and send it out to a some data center via radio or cellular frequencies. The company that you are working with will then make that data available to you from some web-based interface.
Your GPS device will be able to report the vector of the vehicle (both speed and direction). Many companies will also make the vehicle’s history available to its users. This history can be very helpful in verifying a child’s story about their whereabouts or driving practices. They won’t be able to so much as speed without you knowing it! And that is a big deal when it comes to safety.
What Are The Limitations On GPS Tracking A Teen By Car?
There are some limitations to this method of GPS tracking for teens. The first is that it only works on teenagers who are legally eligible to drive. In most states this is at the age of 16 1/2 while in others it can be as old as 18. By the time they are 18 most teens should be sufficiently mature to make good decisions about how fast they drive, who they hang out with, and what activities they participate in without their parent’s watchful eye hanging over them.
However, that does not mean that a GPS tracking device installed in the car is not going to be useful – it just might be less of a parenting tool and more and an emergency tool. It can still help you locate a stolen car. It can still help you find the location of the car in case of a medical emergency. It will still help you find the scene of a crash or a lost vehicle. These are all useful things that the GPS can do for you.
The second limitation is that it only works when your child is using the car. This is probably a much bigger limitation than most people realize. Cars can easily be ditched by savvy teens or sinister assailants depending on what function you are expecting the GPS tracking device to serve.
Imagine for a second that the teen you want to track is aware that their car has a GPS unit installed in it. They tell you that they are going over to a friend’s to hang out and watch some teen flick like Epic Movie. However, what they tell you is not really what they are going to do. They have really planned on going to a drinking party with this friend in the friend’s automobile, leaving the car with the GPS tracking unit safely at the friend’s house.
When you check up on your teen in your web-based account that provides real-time data on their whereabouts you find that the car is at the friend’s house. You breathe a sigh of relief, but your child is out making some bad peer-to-teen choice behaviors at the drinking party and you will be none the wiser. That is where the next teen tracking device comes into play – the GPS cell phone.
Tracking Your Teen’s Cell Phone With GPS
This is probably going to be the most useful and the most widely used method of using GPS tracking for teens. Unlike cars, cell phones appear to be in the hands of 99% of teenagers. This is an unprecedented proliferation, but is not surprising given how useful they are for communicating between family members and for entertaining their users.
Even a large population of elementary-aged school children have cell phones and some even have kids GPS phones.
Most teens will use their phones to text friends, others will use it to take pictures, others to chat, and still others to browse the internet or update their Facebook page. But now parents can use the same cell phones that are already in their tee’ns hands to track their whereabouts and keep them safe.
Tapping Into To Cell Phones To Track Your Teen
Because cellar phones are everywhere, big wigs in the telecommunications industry decided that they wanted to compete with GPS companies like Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan in the navigation market with their cell phones. They have since made some pretty significant inroads here because GPS technology and the radio positioning technology that cell phones use works off the same basic mathematical principle – trilateration.
Once that market was penetrated, cell phone providers realized that they could leverage the technology that they produced for GPS navigation for GPS tracking. This birthed kids GPS phones and teen tracking as well as enabling law enforcement to recover missing children with cell phones.
Many cell phone providers now offer plans that let you begin to track your child’s position information. They even help you get a lock on their vector (speed and location), which is one of the main benefits of using a GPS tracking device in car. Since they are also generally going to be with your child at all times they do avoid some of the limitations that car based tracking runs into. Also, if you ever want to verify that your child is with their phone all you need to do is call them – there voice on the other end should be proof enough.
Another great benefit is that your teen has every incentive to keep their cell phone charged and ready for use – they want to use it to talk to their friends! This means you won’t have to change the tracking device’s battery because your teenager has a very large incentive to do it for you. Its a win-win for both of you.
Teen Cell Phone Tracking Limitations
Despite cell phone tracking’s relative superiority over car based tracking there are still some serious limitations to tracking your child in this fashion. The first is that in some circumstances – like abduction – your child is probably going to get their cell phone taken away by their abductor. This is probably the most dire of situations where you would want the tracking device to work perfectly, but because of the knowledge that cell phones can be used by the authorities to locate individuals it is probably going to be the first thing searched for and gotten ride of by an assailant.
The other limitation is that cell phones do not always receive signals from cell towers. This is particularly problematic in remote areas where cell phone penetration is less established. If you have a true GPS tracking cell phone then you shouldn’t have to worry because where cell phone reception fails GPS usually works, but this is not always guaranteed. GPS does have its limitations.
In the end though, the cell phone is probably the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable of all the teen tracking options available to parents on the market today. It should definitely be a strong contender in your quest to use GPS tracking for your teen.
Tracking Your Teen With Covert GPS
The last method I am aware of is using more covert methods of tracking your teen. This is different than tracking the car they use or utilizing their cell phone to keep tabs on them. While you may track them in these ways without them knowing (i.e. in a covert way) I like to think of covert tracking as something rather different.
It is more spy-like in my mind and has more to do with sticking a GPS tracker in a shoe, or a bag, or an iPod. These types of trackers are designed specifically to avoid detection – by the person who the device is tracking or by someone who would steal the asset or abduct the assets bearer.
Covert GPS devices are small, compact, battery operated, and extremely powerful.
What Types of Covert GPS Are Available?
You’d be surprised at the large number of GPS tracking devices that fall into this category. They can range from stuffed animals to watches and from shoes to jackets. Almost any device can be turned into a set of watchful eyes over your child if you get a data pushing GPS that is small enough for the task at hand.
It is important that you pick items that your teen uses every day, like shoes or a winter jacket, since these devices will have the highest probability of staying on your child no matter what happens to them.
Why Choose Covert GPS Tracking For Teens?
The only reason to go with covert devices for your teen is if they are at high risk for abduction and you want to be able to locate them quickly and efficiently. This is the situation when cell phones simply won’t do since they will be quickly destroyed by attackers.
Another good reason to use covert devices is that they can go without detection for longer periods of time – but they do suffer from battery life limitations so be careful how you use them. The last thing you want to do it so get caught while you change the tracker’s battery!
Should I Be Secret Or Open About Tracking My Teen?
Now that we have discussed some of the options that can help you keep track of your teen it is really important that we evaluate any moral problems with using GPS tracking for teens. Is it wrong to track them at all? If I think it is right, do I need to tell them that I am doing it or can I ‘keep it secret?’
I think that each person is going to end up answering this question differently, but my take on it is this – it is okay to track a teen without their knowledge. This is also my answer when thinking about GPS tracking for kids as well. It is an okay and acceptable practice given certain circumstances in my humble opinion.
My reasons for this is threefold:
- Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their child. It is even my opinion that parents are supposed to protect their children even if the child expresses a desire not to be protected. If a teen is going to engage in activity that directly affects their safety – such as speeding, drinking, doing drugs, having sex before marriage – then it is a parents obligation to take measures that help them ensure their teenager’s safety.
- Teens are still under the care of their parents. The main source of the parents obligation to their teen is that the teen still lives under the care and provision of the parent. If the teen was self-sufficient I could definitely see an argument for restricting a parents right to know the location of a child at all times. However, this is often not the case for children between the ages of 13 and 18 – and is often not even the case for kids between 18 and 22. They often still rely heavily on their parents for financial and moral support.
- Many teens do not own their cell phones and cars. At the very least you have to give parents the right to track their assets, right? The car is the property of the parents so they should know where it is and how it is being driven. The cell phone is paid for and provided by the parents, so they have a stake in where it is and how it is treated. The fact that they are also able to track their teen’s location is merely a consequence of the teen using something that the parent owns. If they want to avoid this type of tracking then they should buy their own phone and car.
As you can see, cell phone GPS tracking not just a way to find a lost cell phone – it can provide a great many other benefits to people with enough imagination to think big about its application. But it is nice to know that if you ever do end up loosing your cell phone that GPS is going to be there to help you recover your phone and get back to life as usual.