This post is brought to you by real life, my life. Its a story about what happens when a blogger who writes about GPS tracking ends up losing his phone, and how sometimes there is nothing you can do about finding it.
Recently, my family and I were vacationing in America’s Finest City. We were having a great time enjoying the 70 degree weather, the sunny skies, wonderful food, and sandy beaches. The weather was fantastic and a nice break from the frigid January we would have had to spend in the Midwest where we live. We went outside all the time and took several trips to the beach to enjoy the surf, smell the salty air, skip rocks, and get sand everywhere.
We really had a grand ole time.
Then it came time to get back to the car, get the kids clean, and get home. It was clearly nap time. We had to walk a good bit to get back to the car and upon arrival we quickly set about getting the kids ready for departure. While my wife changed one I was cleaning the other – a task made difficult by tiredness and sand’s ability to stick to anything. Frustrated and done it was finally time to get the kids in the car. As I was taking our youngest to his seat I took out my phone to see if I had any messages from friends who I would hang out with later that night. I had none and as I was transferring our child to his car seat I placed my phone on the roof of the car. Big mistake.
Our other child distracted me by wanting me to get him in buckled in too so I went over to his side of the car, got him in, and then got in the car myself. My phone, a Droid X, was still sitting on the top of the car.
We got in the car, popped a U-turn and started heading home. 10 minutes later as the car accelerates up the on ramp to get on the free way we hear a thud and look around the inside of the car to see what had happened. We think its just my son throwing one of his sticks against the side of the car. We continue driving and I think little of the thud and what it could mean.
It wasn’t until we get home, get inside, and lay the napping kids down that I realize I don’t have my phone on me. I panic, but stay calm because I know I have Lookout Mobile Security downloaded to my phone.
I get on the laptop, log into my account, and do a phone locate through their website. It was a long three minutes waiting for the app to tell me where my phone is and at the end of three minutes I still had nothing. So I did it again, hoping that there was just a minor glitch and the phone would figure it out. It didn’t.
Then I downloaded Plan B to my phone, not so much for the location of the phone but to see if it was on and had a network connection. In a lot of our tests in the review of Plan B the app downloaded within a minute to our phone and our GMail account received a message from Lookout telling us it would have a position on our phone soon. This didn’t happen this time.
I found myself in the worst case scenario for loosing your cell phone. My phone was either off, out of batteries, destroyed, or taken over by someone else who knew what to do as soon as they found my phone. At this point there was no technological solution to my problem. All I could do was go back, retrace my steps, and see if I could find my phone. GPS tracking would be of no help to me.
So I got in the car, drove the 20 minutes back to where we parked and surveyed the scene. After looking for a few minutes I faintly remember placing the phone on the roof and then I hear it, the thud as we accelerated onto the freeway. Its at that moment that I realize my phone is not stolen, its not off, and its not out of batteries. My phone is smashed into a confetti of plastic and silicon.
Here are some of my takeaways from this experience:
Sometimes being prepared doesn’t matter. I was certainly prepared in the eventuality that my cell phone might become lost or stolen. I had the necessary apps installed and had done my homework on how to use them. But there are some things that you just can’t control.
GPS tracking apps have their limits. This is really just a restatement of my first takeaway, but needs to be said. Tracking apps ARE NOT the solution for finding every lost phone. Good ole fashioned skills such as retracing your steps and remembering cannot be bypassed.
Don’t be an idiot. I was an idiot and did not properly secure my phone. I should have put it back into my pocket. Or better yet, gotten a magnetic case so it would have stuck to my car. 🙂
Finding that your cell phone was been stolen can be a gut-wrenching experience. It is your connection to the world and all of a sudden it is ripped from your life, falling into the hands of a complete stranger. Questions have to be racing through your mind at this point. Can I get it back? Can I keep my data private? What will happen to all my pictures?
Thankfully, we live in a world that has more to it than those who seek to steal mobile phones. We also have innovators who create applications for cell phones that keep our personal data safe and track down a stolen phone. A group of these good guys have created an app called Lookout Mobile Security and it is currently free to download on BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile smartphones. It does more than just use GPS tracking to find a stolen cell phone. It is a full ledge smartphone security suite that will let you protect your phone from physical and virtual threats.
How can I track my stolen cell phone?
Smartphones are an investment. If you buy one without a free upgrade deal or sign-up promotion it can cost hundreds of dollars. High end phones range between $500-$600 before the contracts and promotions bring the price down to (just) $200. Quite frankly, it does not matter what price you buy at – any smartphone is going to be a really expensive phone. Until the cell phone boom it was not normal for people to carry such an expensive piece of hardware with them everywhere, especially one that is so easily lost or stolen. When it gets stolen you want to find a way to get it back, now.
GPS tracking provides the solution for a lot of people who want to get their stolen cell phone back. By leveraging the smartphone’s location finding capabilities and the data plan that is almost assuredly included with the phone, users of the Lookout Mobile Security app will be able to find the location of their cell phone (provided that it is on, of course).
Now this brings up one of the three HUGE caveats that need to be understood about tracking a stolen cell phone. The first is that you must have already downloaded the GPS tracking app before the phone is stolen. In other words, the cell phone must still be in your possession when you put the app on it. You cannot download any apps that will let you track your stolen mobile remotely. Sorry, but that is just the way that it is.UPDATE: Android phones CAN install certain apps remotely that will let you track down a lost or stolen phone. You can find a write up we did here: How To Install GPS Tracking Apps Remotely To Find A Lost Or Stolen Android Cell Phone
The second caveat is that the cell phone must be turned on for the Lookout Mobile Security app or any other stolen phone recovery app to work. The phone needs to be on for several reasons. The first is that it needs to be able to receive the message from the Lookout servers to get the phone to use its GPS chip to determine the cell phone’s location. This is the same with all stolen cell phone recovery programs. Mobile Me, Lookout, et al work this way.
The second reason the phone must be on is that it power is required to use the cell phone towers and/or GPS chip to figure out where the phone is. A phone that is unable to find its own location is of no use to someone trying to find out where it is!
The third caveat is that the phone must be in range of a cell tower. In order to track the phone, it must in contact with the network to receive messages and to communicate with you, the owner. Both reception and transmission of messages is hindered if the phone is outside the boundary of its network or has some physical impediment to cell signals. Without the network you are screwed.
But given that the phone is on, it is in network range, and you have already downloaded the tracking app, how helpful will one of these apps truly be? Can it provide an exact location for a lost phone?
Precision depends on several important factors. Sometimes a location will be very good, reliably providing an exact address for the location of your phone. Other times it simply be a reasonable guess, one just good enough to give you a general idea where the phone might be.
Here is picture taken from the web interface of a GPS tracking app that will be illustrative of just how exact tracking can be:
If you have good eyes you will see that the circle around the phone is fairly large. It says it has an accuracy of 1,870 meters, or a little over 1 mile. The center of the circle, represented by a cell phone icon, is a pretty accurate representation of where my phone is, being off my perhaps several hundred feet.
This underscores the point that with GPS tracking apps you have little knowledge beforehand about how accurate the location is going to be. There are too many factors that can cause GPS errors. For example, my home is of an older, more solid construction than newer homes might be. I have had great difficulty getting a solid GPS fix for my location on several different devices. I may measure my location one day and get one set of coordinates only to measure it again the next day and get coordinates hundreds of feet away from previous measurements. While this is not good for tracking down a lost cell phone with GPS, it is reality.
In addition to the make up of the place where the cell phone has been taken you also have to consider other aspects of location that may come into play. Large surrounding buildings, lots of trees, canyon walls, and other inhospitable terrain features can cause GPS tracking equipment to give inaccurate readings. These can skew the position information just as wildly as the composition of the home.
You should not let these factors prevent you from downloading an app that will help you recover your stolen cell phone. You have no way of knowing who is going to steal it or where they are going to take it. For all you know, you could get an almost exact location for the cell phone, like in this picture:
My phone was in the same exact place when I used Lookout to find its location previously (see pic above this one to see the difference). I went from getting a location somewhere within a mile of the place they put my phone to being within 26 feet. That is a very great difference and it just goes to show how tricky GPS tracking can be for any device – let alone a cell phone.
But this location is really spot on. I live exactly where the tracking app puts me. Checking the location of a lost or stolen phone more than once is a good idea!
How can I get back my stolen cell phone?
Now that you have figured out the location of your phone there are a couple of things that you can do to get your cell phone back. The first, wisest and easiest is to call the police. If you were the victim of a mugging or other assault the police will probably be more than happy to use your information to find the criminal. They will want to get the crook off the street, especially since they were willing to be violent over something as simple as a cell phone. They also have an eye witness (you!) that can place the suspect at the scene, sealing the case for them and getting another criminal off the streets. There are several news stories circulating the press that confirm this.
Another thing that you could do to get your cell phone back is confront the thief and get them to give you your cell phone back. Just don’t pull an OJ and do it at gun point. You’ll probably go to prison yourself for being a total idiot. Instead, make it safe and do it in a public place. This also only really works if it is stolen by somebody that you know. Using shame and public confrontation is a great way to get the phone back once you know who stole it.
How can I wipe the data on my stolen cell phone?
Let’s say that you have tried to recover your phone but the thief is refusing to hand over the good. Maybe it was taken over the border by a drug runner and now lies in drug-cartel-infested territory and your value your life more than your cell phone. Fine, be a wuss. You still don’t have to let the thief know who are your emergency contacts. You can still stop them from seeing all those awesome photos you took last night at the bar. You can still keep your personal data personal.
Applications like Lookout Mobile Security allow users to wipe cell phone data clean. All personal information will be discretely thrown overboard with concrete shoes on, never to be seen again. Bad guys can’t steal your contact information or learn how to target you for future crimes from your cell phone. The wipe feature does cost a monthly subscription fee – but I can imagine only using it for one month, the month your cell phone was stolen in.
If you can’t get your stolen cell phone back with GPS tracking then at least you can wipe it clean.
Can I mess with the person who stole my cell phone?
One of the really cool things about the Lookout app is that you can make your phone scream. It is a great way to prove that you are the owner of the phone in those public confrontations or to help the police find the phone after they raid the location where your phone is.
A simple command from the app’s web interface and you can turn your phone into a screaming, vibrating, and flashing nightmare for the unsuspecting crook. This was originally designed to help users find a lost cell phone, but it really would be a great trick to play on a crook.
Stolen Cell Phone GPS Tracking Apps
Here is a list of some tracking apps that are designed to help you recover your lost or stolen cell phone:
If you found this post useful, feel free to share it with your friends so that they don’t have to worry about their cell phone if it gets stolen. Always having a tracking app on hand is a good way to make sure they can retrieve their phone. You can help them by:
If you have a cell phone then there is a good chance that you can find some way to track it for free. There are dozens of apps across all sorts of platforms that are going to enable you to either track your own cell phone remotely or give you the opportunity to share your location with friends and family in a social way. Some of these apps will have built in lost cell phone detection while others will not. Still more will make it easy for you to view the location of your cell phone or your friend’s phone through some sort of online interface. All this has made free GPS cell phone tracking a reality that more and more people are taking advantage of as they seek to get the most out of their mobile devices. Are you one of them?
In this article we hope to outline how this technology works by giving a brief overview of GPS tracking technology, cell phones, and how they work together. Then we will go into some of the various free GPS cell phone trackers that are available for some of the major cell phone platforms. These will include the Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows cell phone operating systems. This will be followed by a discussion of the various multi-platform trackers. Finally, we will look at the future of free cell phone tracking and see what the future will hold for us.
The essentials of GPS cell phone tracking are really quite simple. There is a built in GPS receiver in the cell phone which is able to get the phones exact location from the satellites that orbit the globe. Through a simple mathematical principle called trilateration the computer on the cell phone is able to take the data gathered from the signals of three different Global Positioning System Satellites (GPS) and turn that into information that includes the latitude and longitude of the phone.
In order for this data to be used to be able to track the cell phone there has to be some way for the cell phone to tell other people – other devices, really – where it is. This is where the cell phone comes into play. It is obvious that cell phones transmit data, though we probably never really think about it like that very much. They send out the digital signal that encases your voice when making a phone call. Now 3G networks can transmit lots of other digital data as well. This data can include text (SMS) messages, emails, videos, webpages, files, and a whole lot more. Most free trackers essentially use SMS messaging to transmit the latitude and longitude data that the GPS has calculated over the cell phone network to turn these devices into GPS tracking machines. The cell phone can now act as either a real time GPS tracker or just a simple data logger depending on the specific app and what the person wants to do with the information.
A cell phone has arguably become the most powerful GPS tracking device on in the world.
This is certainly a valid question. For the privilege of having a data plan that enables the cell phone to act as a GPS tracker you generally have to pay some sort of fee to your cell phone carrier. In my case (Verizon unlimited plan) this is going to cost you an extra $30 a month. For AT&T it will run you an extra $25 a month, but this plan in not unlimited any more. Sprint’s unlimited data plan costs you $20. T-Mobile has an unlimited data plan that also runs $30 a month.
These are definitely not free – but when you are already using these data plans for other things like streaming Youtube videos, checking Twitter, or surfing the web then adding a GPS tracking app to the mix is not really increasing your cost more for something you are already paying for. So in this way it really is free, but only if you are spending a good chunk of change on your cell phone already. Here is a really cool graphic from Billshrink.com that says it all:
Now lets take a look at exactly what free GPS cell phone trackers are out there for you depending on what operating system you use.
Free Android Cell Phone Trackers
Android is one of the main players in the smart phone wars that are raging right now. The child of Google, Android is an OS that is making it into many of the best phones on the market right now. It is powerful, open source operating system that often comes with free and powerful GPS apps on it when you buy it. These include Google Maps, Google Latitude, and Google Navigate – all of which are great uses of GPS by themselves. For some people, they don’t even need to get another free GPS cell phone tracker. But for those that do, here are some of the best trackers for everything from recording a sporting activity to recovering a lost cell phone to tracking a boyfriend:
Lookout Mobile Security
More than just a GPS cell phone tracker tracker, Lookout Mobile Security is a multi-platform security system for your mobile phone. It features a malware and spyware detection system that will help you determine what apps you should be downloading to your phone and what apps you are going to be leaving on the way side. It even helps you manage your various apps so that you can make sure that your private data remains private.
This feature by itself is incredibly useful, but when it is combined with GPS tracking, data backup, remote log in, and data wipe you really do have a complete security system for your phone. What is most interesting is the way that all the systems work together in sync. For example, imagine that you have lost your cell phone. Big bummer. But never fear, Look Out Mobile Security is here. Simply go to the website and find out exactly where your phone is using the GPS built into your phone. Is it in your house somewhere? Great – you’ve already looked everywhere but can’t find it. Use Lookout Mobile Security to make your cell phone scream! Even in silent mode, activating this command will turn your cell phone into a loud siren that will definitely uncover your cell phone.
This is a great app with lots of visibility. You might have even seen the commercial:
Pintail is a very interesting app. Download it to your phone an you automatically have a GPS tracker for a cell phone that you can use to pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen cell phone. Simply send a text message (SMS) to your cell phone and you will be sent a message that will require you to enter a pin code to view the location information of phone. Once you have entered this data you can know where your cell phone is. Simple and easy.
It can also be used as a way to stay in touch with family or friends. Just give them your pin code and they can text the phone to find out where you are too. This can be a great way for friends to meet up or for a loved one to check in and see where you are at if you are on a really long drive traveling by truck across country.
Everything is pin protected so you can change who has access to your location simply by changing your pin. Did you give your pin to a girl that you are now broken up with? Fear that she is stalking you? Simply change your pin and she will not be able to stalk you anymore. Like I said, simple and easy.
Billed as a family tracking app for Android cell phones, the Eye app is another one of those GPS tracking apps that uses the GPS in your phone to turn it into a mobile tracking device that will make your position known to all your friends – much like Google Latitude and other social tracking applications.
The app uses Google Maps technology to give you the position of your contacts in real time on maps that utilize images taken from satellites in order to give you a graphic understanding of where they are. You can also use the basic map interface too if all that green makes you go bonkers.
They also claim that adding contacts is easy and will work off of your existing contact list. If you want your latest BFF to know where you are at all times just them then an invitation to join the Eye App and you will be well on your way to sharing your location with your friend. They can even use Street View to get a better grip on the house where the party is at!
The Eye app also features bread crumbing, allowing watchful parents to track the movements of their children over the course of the day – something that a lot of other social GPS tracking apps fail to do. Bread crumbing is important because it helps you verify the story of a troubled teen or locate a missing child. Either way, its a useful feature and kudos for the people at the The Eye for including it in this tracking app.
Free iPhone Cell Phone Trackers
iPhones are cool. iPhones are hip. Let’s be honest – iPhones are some of the coolest, most user friendly phones on the market. They appeal to almost every age range and almost every demographic. Often simple to use and surprising versatile these phones have made a huge splash on the cell phone market. Once they introduced a GPS tracking chip, the iPhone became a useful tracking device for those savvy enough to take advantage of this excellent addition to this mobile device. Several generations later, the iPhone is definitely a competitive choice for anyone trying to find a smart cell phone that is going to fit into their lifestyle. Here are some of the free tracking apps available for the iPhone:
Are you self employed or a business owner? Do you use your car regularly for work related activity in a capacity that would enable you to deduct this expense from your tax return? If you answered yes to both these questions then you should seriously consider getting automilez. This free cell phone tracker is designed to help people such as these easily track their mileage so that they can maximize every deduction possible come tax time.
Apparently, even regular Joe’s like you and me can use an app like this to log our mileage for deductions at the end of the year. Medical and moving trips we can deduct $0.165 a mile. For charitable trips we can deduct $0.14 a mile. I guess you learn something new everyday.
While it is obvious that this app has a limited roll as a free tracker it is useful. Just be warned that you are not going to be able to share your current position with anyone or recover a lost cell phone with this app.
GPS-Logger is simple GPS tracker created by iMasterofDesaster that is designed for travelers that have a digital camera in tow that does not currently have a GPS built in to it. The way it works is simple. The iPhone acts as the GPS by going through the process of trilateration and stores the position data with a time stamp on it. During the trip the digital camera takes photos and then time stamps those photos. The GPS-Logger software then does some fancy code work and places a GPS stamp on the photos by taking the nearest time stamped location from the GPS and slapping it on the photo.
This seems to be pretty standard fare for travel GPS data loggers. Another example of this type of technology is the i-Gotu GT-600. But that device is not a mobile phone, it is just a stand alone personal GPS tracker.
GPS Tracker from Instamapper
Instamapper is one of the most powerful and free GPS cell phone tracking apps out on the market. They only ask that your register an account using a valid email address. For this pittance, you get to turn your cell phone into a real-time GPS tracking device at no extra cost to you. The phone will periodically send its position to the Instamapper services which makes 30 days worth of tracking information available to its users. This amount of tracking is equivalent to nearly 100,000 specific locations for a single device.
User’s can share their data with a loved one by sending out a link to a map of their data hosted on the Instamapper website. This link can go either to a computer or to another mobile device. If users feel really safe about sharing their position information with the world, they can even embed a map on a website, a blog, or even Facebook.
An embedded map looks something like this (from Facebook):
While it probably is not the best idea in the world to share your position on Facebook – especially if you are a teenage girl – it is pretty cool that you could do this if you wanted/needed to.
This tracking app even has position buffering so if you hit a dead zone in your coverage the phone can store up to 100 waypoints so that the track log can be brought up to speed once you get back inside your cell phone carrier’s network. Of course 100 way points is not very long (over 8 minutes at one waypoint every 5 seconds), but it will help in those odd dead zones that line urban, semi-urban, and semi-country areas.
Overall, this is a very powerful real time GPS tracking app that can be used in a wide variety of applications by many different people.
Waze is a tracking application built for the iPhone with a very specific purpose. Let’s just say it isn’t for tracking your girlfriend. 🙂 The folks at Waze have done an excellent job of creating a video that explains exactly what this product is all about. Instead of talking about it too much, here is the video:
For those that could not see the video, Waze is essentially a real time tracking community with a purpose. That purpose is to provide the very best real time traffic data for Waze users. This is not a sport tracker. It is not a data logger. It is not even a social tracking app. Its only purpose is to get people around in as little time as possible.
With that being said, it relies solely on the efforts of its users to make the app work. Users build the map, report traffic congestion, and share traffic related material with other users. If you have a small or nonexistent community in your local this free GPS cell phone tracking app is probably not going to do you much good no matter how cool it looks.
Free BlackBerry Cell Phone Trackers
BlackBerry has been the name in work cell phone for the past several years. Their physical keyboard and secure email have made them a household name in the world of business. You almost never hear a business person ask, “Where is my cell phone?” They talk about their BlackBerry like it was the only type of cell phone that exists in the world. As a result of this business customer base, free GPS tracking applications for the BlackBerry are much harder to come by. After all, isn’t it easier to justify spending a little of the business’ money to buy a tracking app than it is to justify spending some your own money to buy it? Despite this, there is an impressive number of free apps designed for BlackBerry users:
BlipPlus is an application created for use on BlackBerry smartphones and is designed as a social tracking application for those with GPS enabled phones.
They have a feature on the app called Share Your Where that enables you to broadcast your location to anyone within your social network as defined by the app. There are all sorts of benefits that can be gleaned by using this sort of application. You can meet with your friends with greater ease. You don’t even have to tell them where you are, just say look up my location using Google Maps or something like that. It can even be used to stay in sync with work associates who need to know when you are speaking with a certain client, etc. Families also benefit because knowing where the whole family is can increase safety, make things more efficient, and give everyone some peace of mind.
BlipPlus offer assistance by letting others choose how and when to contact you based upon you location data that you share with them. Efficiency is key when it comes to location information and this free cell phone tracker will help friends, family, and co-workers be exactly that.
GPSLogger is a essentially just that – a GPS logging application for the BlackBerry. It will record such information as your elevation, speed, and location over time. All of these are essential components to all personal tracking devices and applications, making ideal for people who like to record hikes, adventures, or trips in the car (for business or pleasure).
This free app will also let you use previously recorded or manually entered way-points as a way to remember where a parked car is or to point out an interesting Geocache. They call it the “Guide Me Home” feature and this is pretty standard fare for almost every data logging GPS tracker that has an interface on the tracking device itself. You can even use it to remember where a sweat restaurant is or the place you meet a beautiful woman.
Because all GPS loggers can be used as a sports tracker as well, the developers of this app have added a lap timer element to it as well, making this a full featured, if predictable, position logging app.
GPS Trackdown is a social tracking app that with a slight twist. If you choose to share your location with your Trackdown compatriots then you also have the ability to find get directions to their exact location. Did they move form the spot they were at five minutes ago? Just update their location and the turn-by-turn directions update as well. Pretty cool.
Other than that it is pretty standard location based search with ads that make the developers some nice coin. You can search for pizza, ATMs, hotels, and more with no real need to tell a search engine where you are since all searches already know your current location. This is generally useful, but can get pretty annoying sometimes if you ask me.
Another interesting thing about this is that you can only share your location by text, email, or tweet. No link posting on websites like Facebook or MySpace. This is certainly okay, but some people may find this a little off setting.
And, of course, this GPS cell phone tracking is free – which makes it way better than if you had to pay to use it.
WhereAreYou GPS Tracking
WhereAreYou is the tracking app for all those people who want to secretly track the cell phone of a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or child. It runs “silently” in the background with no way for the person being tracking to tell that something is on their phone broadcasting the location to the person that set it up.
The app is really easy to install and get going. Simply:
Download Silent GPS from BlackBerry App World to the mobile phone that you are trying to secretly track
The app will automatically install itself, asking you to create an account that you can log in on the web and see the phone’s location
The app will run silently in the background, tracking the cell phone and telling you where it is when you log into the web account
The app will track things silently – this means that no user interaction or application icon is going to visible at all on the BlackBerry. This means that you can track secretly without them knowing. You just have to get the phone and do the installation for them.
Tracking is also very easy with this app. Just:
Go to p46.qitlabs.com and enter user/password that you created when installing the program on the phone
There you will see a map with the mobile’s location clearly marked for you to see
There you can also set up tracking intervals to keep the life of the battery so the person you are tracking doesn’t know what is going on – conserving their battery life is key hereY
This app certainly has applications in the business world, but it also can be used by private citizens to track a teenager or to catch a cheating spouse. Before you start tracking someone, please check to make sure that it would be legal in your area to do so.
GPS Fox Hunt
GPS Fox Hunt is definitely an interesting take on the free GPS cell phone tracking app. It takes a cell phone’s ability to track itself and share that information with other cell phones and turns it into a game where each phone becomes a piece in a game. Social tracking has simply been taken to one of the many different possibilities available to it.
The game essentially is a version of hide and seek. There is one phone that is it – this is the fox. All other players in the game are trying to find the one phone that is it. They get to see how far away from you they are which can be useful because they can tell if they are heading in the right direction or not.
This game would be fun to play inside a shopping mall or some other public place with lots of people to “hide” among. It could also be fun out in the wilderness somewhere too – but you have to have connection with your cell phone tower for that.
Here is a video from the game creator that explains the game well enough:
While the idea is interesting and exciting this particular app doesn’t seem to have the favor of users on the BlackBerry Appworld website. It only has a few reviews and has only been around for a few months, so this is likely to change given that new releases of free products and have some kinks that need to be ironed out. But in all this is a pretty cool idea for an app and I hope that things work out for the developer and it makes it big.
Free Windows Cell Phone Trackers
It seems really strange to be including Windows Mobile phones in this list of free cell phone tracking apps, but here it is. Windows Mobile is certainly trying to keep pace with the likes of iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. With the release of Windows Mobile 7 they may be on the right track to getting back into the fray, but it could also be too little too late to be a major player. I doubt that Windows will ever go away completely, they just probably won’t be the market giants that they are on PC. That will almost certainly go to either Android or iPhone – but perhaps I am too young to see the usefulness of Windows.
Unfortunately, we could not use the Windows App Store to find any free GPS cell phone tracking apps. If you have any suggestions please use the contact form linked to at the bottom of this post to alert us to some of the Windows Mobile apps available.
Free Multi-Platform Cell Phone Trackers
Multi-platform cell phone trackers recognize that the best way to reach the most customers is to have a product that can be used by the most people, irregardless of the cell phone that they use on a day to day basis. This makes these free trackers particularly interesting because they open up the world of social tracking to users of all stripes and styles. The iPhone user can track their BlackBerry business friend just as easily as they can other iPhone users. They bring everyone together and make tracking everyone can engage in. While these multi-platform trackers are often anything but perfect and often favor social aspects of tracking over secret or covert tracking they are still extremely powerful in any number of functions not specifically endorsed by the programs creators. Here are some of the best free multi-platform GPS cell phone trackers:
GPS Tracker from Instamapper
This is a powerful GPS tracking application for cell phones that is available on lots of platforms. Right now, it is available on Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry phones (we talked about it under the iPhone section). There are some restrictions for BlackBerry phones – like it doesn’t work on Verizon, lame.
But by far the coolest thing about the Instamapper software is that it works on Boost Mobile phones. You can buy a really cheap iDen phone for under $50 and then get a data plan that could run you around $0.35 a day. Hard wire the sucker to the battery of your car and you have a real time GPS cell phone tracking system for your car. This works great for teen drivers, cheating spouses, and theft prevention. They even have instructions on how to do it all on their website.
Instamapper is definitely the way to go for a DIY, free GPS cell phone tracking solution.
We talked about this one under the iPhone heading, but it is another one of those apps that is designed to be used by lots of other cell phone operating system. It works on iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, and Symbian mobile phones. They have even made an effort to get this application on the BlackBerry by just releasing an app for this cell phone brand that is still in Beta. As a result it really on works on the Bold 9700, Curve 8900, Bold 9000, and Tour 9360.
You won’t get the world with this app as it really is only designed to use GPS tracking to create excellent, real time traffic data and it relies exclusively on the efforts of its users to make the app work. But it really is a great concept and it might just work as planned if not overshadowed by Google Navigate which tries to do the same thing. Who knows, maybe Waze will get bought out by the internet giant before all is said and done.
Google Latitude is one of the premier social tracking apps available right now. There are a few different reasons for this. The first is that it is created by Google. Google already has a huge user base for everything that it does. Maps and Navigate a huge apps that work of the same framework as Latitude and already have a huge buy in from lots of mobile phone users. Their free cell phone tracker is certainly going to benefit from this market position.
The app is also available on a huge number of platforms. We didn’t even include it in one of the mobile phone operating system categories because it is available on Android, iPhone (and iPad), BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian S60, and most Sony Ericsson devices. Because it is available on so many different platforms it is widely used – boasting 9 million users. That is more than any other GPS tracking app by far.
There are some significant weaknesses to the whole Latitude idea. For example, all tracking is constant and done in the background. While this is great for families or other close knit groups it really doesn’t work to well with friends, work buddies, or acquaintances. There is also not much to actually DO with Latitude other than broadcast your location and see where other people are at. Great for families and possibly for business, but not that fun otherwise.
This app has a strong base and could be something great. Possibly.
Lookout Mobile Security
We learned about Lookout Mobile Security with the rest of the free Android GPS cell phone trackers, but it is available on Windows phones and the BlackBerry. This is a very powerful app for the security conscious and should be downloaded without the slightest bit of hesitation. There is a difference between the free app and the pay app, so don’t expect the moon. You still get a lot with the free app, its just not the whole shooting match.
This make sense because the company has to make some money on it, but with 2 million users in 170 countries you have to expect that at least some of them are paying the 2.99 for the premium service. If just 30% are paying customer then the folks behind the app are making nearly $2 million a month. Wowza. That is a lot of money.
A run of the mill social tracking application I am not sure why you would use this app unless you have lots of friends who are already using it. It was mentioned under our BlackBerry section but it is also available on the iPhone.
The Future of Free GPS Cell Phone Tracking
Where are all these free cell phone trackers pointing? I think that what all this is leading up to is a world where location based information is going to be widely available and consumed by consumer and business alike. People are already beginning to share their location more with each other and businesses are starting to use location based targeting in ads they deliver to customers. Companies like Google, Palm, and others are poised to make lots of money if this type of advertising is going to be as effective as some think it will be. Coarse location based targeting is already available on the web and seems to be fairly effective at reaching the intended audience. It is only a matter of time before it becomes the main way to deliver ads to consumers.
There are also increasing concerns about cell phone tracking in the legal world. Who can track whom? In what contexts is this tracking legal and in what contexts is it illegal? When does tracking become stalking? All these questions are beginning to be answered in the courts and this will have an impact on how this technology is going to be used going forward. I can imagine one case making mobile phone tracking too dangerous for any company to touch is a ten foot pole, but we shall see how all this plays out.
For now anyway, GPS cell phone trackers are going to on the rise as more and more people realize that these can be extremely useful applications that will enhance the usefulness of their phones and make their lives more interesting. They can also let their users know information that would have otherwise not have been available to them. Cell phone tracking is too powerful a technology for people to ignore.
Have a free GPS cell phone tracker or know of a great one that we didn’t include? Let us know about it through our suggestion form. We’d love to hear about more free content for our users.
For being someone who blogs about technology I have a confession to make – I have never owned a cell phone. I know this is incredibly strange and does not make sense but it is the honest truth. It just never seemed necessary to be able to be contacted at any time by any person so I just never wanted to fork out the money to get one.
However, the steady prodding of my wife, the fact that I have this blog about GPS tracking, and the super cool Android cell phones that are coming out have all pushed me towards a decision to get into the market.
Going From Nothing To A GPS Smartphone
Now that I am pretty certain that I am going to get a phone I had a decision to make – do I just get any old phone or do I go big and bold and get some top of the line cell phone. Being the type of guy that I am I had to go with the biggest, best phone that I could find. If I am going to cave and a mobile phone I might as well get something that is going to be both fun and useful.
Naturally, it would have to be a cell phone with GPS so that I could use it test out cool and fun GPS tracking programs on it as well as have some pretty sweet features that could be interesting to use in a whole host of other applications. A good camera would be nice. The same holds true for a super fast processor. However, the absolute must is going to have to be the ability to work all over the country.
The immediate front runners for my phone of choice are the iPhone, the HTC Incredible, and the Droid X. I am sure that there are some other phones that fit the above criteria on other networks like Sprint or T-Mobile, but Verizon and AT&T are really the only ones I am considering. Verizon has the lead because my wife is already on that network, but AT&T is also a consideration because they are the only one with currently carry an iPhone.
Verizon vs. AT&T
When it comes to quality of network I think Verizon is beating AT&T, especially since now AT&T has decided to drop its unlimited data plan. Here is just a simple graphic stolen from Verizon advertising to show some of the difference:
To be fair, AT&T claims to cover 97% of all Americans, as the video below demonstrates:
I think when it comes down to it, Verizon beats AT&T in this department – at least from an advertising perspective. Add to this the fact that I have not heard one good thing about AT&Ts service from anyone I know and you have a clear case for Verizon in the carrier department.
Apple vs. Android
Now that I’ve talked about the carrier situation a little I should turn my attention to the actual devices I am thinking of making my phone. The most obvious distinction between the two are that one runs an Apple OS and the other two run the Android OS. I have to be honest again, I don’t know jack squat about operating systems. I am not a technonerd. I just like things to run fast and run smoothly. Besides that I don’t care. And as far as I know both OSs work great.
But there is something that I kind of do think is important that separates the two sides: one is open source while the other is proprietary. To me, this is a huge deal. Giving users the ability to create programs for the phone that can increase its functionality and improve user experience for free is a huge benefit in my opinion. To me, this makes the Android OS better.
What follows now is a brief discussion of each of the phones:
The HTC Incredible
The HTC Incredible has been out for a few months now and is looking to be a very solid cell phone. It definitely has some GPS features built in to it so it can be used for my GPS tracking tests if I were to get it. It is also a fast phone with a 1 GHz processor which means that it is already a better computer than my first desktop that my family owned 10+ years ago. With 8 GB of physical memory it also vast outshines that old machine that ushered me into the computer age.
The phone is also appealing to the eye – or at least so say I – and it looks like it has a host of other features for those who like to look at things. The 3.7″ screen is a decent size and seems large enough to view webpages and such with ease. I also like the 8 Megapixel camera that it sports and think that being able to take pictures at night is a plus – yay for flash!
From what I can tell, it looks like the HTC Incredible looks like it should run for 5 hours under constant use, 146 hours in standby mode.
I also think HTC has some cool things included in it like their social networking mashup program or something. It makes my wife excited about the phone. For me, it doesn’t really matter.
Overall, it looks like a great phone worthy of my consideration.
The Droid X
Compared to the HTC Incredible, the Droid X is pretty much the same phone in the sense that you are going to be getting the Android OS on Verizon. It also sports an 8 Megapixel camera with night flash. It has a 1 GHz processor two, but of a different variety (I think). In general, you are going to be getting the same phone with the same features, just different.
The main difference is that the screen is going to be bigger on the Droid X. It comes in at 4.3″. It also is going to let you shoot video in 720p, which isn’t too bad. It’s not 1080p, but it definitely is better than the standard 480p that comes through your TV. Another difference is that the Droid X comes with 24 GB of memory out of the box, which is probably more than I will ever use.
I guess I should also note that both the Droid X and the the HTC Incredible come with Google Latitude and Google Maps Navigation standard. The former is a free GPS tracking application for cell phones and the later is a free navigation application for cell phones. Both rock.
The iPhone 4
The iPhone is a different breed of phone. Coming from Apple you are going to get a completely feel and different operating system. They even market their product differently, which means that it is going to be appealing to a different type of person. Just take a look:
And this one:
Let’s be honest here, the iPhone is definitely outside of my demographic when it comes to the marketing campaigns. But that is neither here nor there. The iPhone 4 is a serious phone with a host of things to offer its user. Built in GPS, a video phone feature, tons of apps, a slick design and intuitive operation – some think that the iPhone has it all.
The phone definitely seems fun to have, but I don’t think its for me. Its just too cool to have an iPhone and I am not very cool. Sorry Apple.
I think that when it comes down to it I am going to be getting the Droid X. But I think I am going to cheat and actually get both the Droid X and the HTC Incredible. The former is going to be for me. The later for my wife. That way I can test the GPS tracking applications for each phone. It will also help use test things out and see exactly what our Android GPS cell phones can actually do. If you have any questions or things you would love to see us take a look at with the phones just leave a comment below and we will be sure to get around to testing it out for you. It might take us a few weeks/months to get both phones since they are nowhere to be found – but once we get them we will let you know everything we find out.
Almost everyone has had the experience of misplacing or losing their cell phone. We also all know what it is like to search and search for our lost cell phone in the hope of finding in some obvious or not so obvious spot. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to leverage a cell phones built in GPS technology to help it “find” itself? Lost cell phone GPS tracking is real and is a very powerful and efficient way for people to recover their mobile phones once thy have misplaced them.
This article is going to attempt to give an introduction to how GPS locates cell phones in the world and how this information can be used by owners to find their lost cell phone.
GPS: What Is It?
The Global Positioning System (of which GPS is the acronym) is a network of satellites that orbit the earth and specialized receivers here on earth that interact with each other. The system was developed by the US military in an effort to get a better understanding of where their forces were at any given moment and has been around fro several decades. It was made available to the public under President Ronald Reagan and since then there has been an explosion in the use of GPS technology by regular citizens. We are all familiar with GPS navigation technology, and this is one of the most prolific uses of GPS in the consumer market.
The way GPS works is through a mathematical principle called trilateration. The simple explanation of trilateration is this – if you know where three things are in the world and you know your distance from each of those things then you can figure out exactly where you are. If that doesn’t make much sense then just take a look at the picture to the right. You can know where Point B is in the world if you know where P1, P2, and P3 are.
The world of the Global Positioning Systems, the satellites that orbit the earth are represented like P1, P2, and P3 in our picture above. These satellites emit a signal through the air the travels at a certain speed. This signal contains information like the time that it was sent and a uniquely identifying id. This information is then process by a GPS receiver, which is the same as point B in the picture above. The receiver takes the information sent by the satellites and finds out its distance from each of P1, P2, and P3. It then does some fancy math and finds out exactly where it is right now.
Some GPS receivers that are used for navigation will then show the user this data in map form so that they can know where they are. GPS tracking devices will take the data and send it out over a cell phone network (GSM tracker) or over a communicate satellite (satellite tracker). Still other devices, known as data loggers will simply store the data on its hard drive for download at a later time. Whatever GPS device you are using, they all work of this same principle of trilateration and all fit into the same category.
GPS In Cell Phones
A few years ago GPS receivers began to find their way into cell phones. Then there was a move by the federal government that required cell phone carriers develop a way to help them find out the location that 9-1-1 phone calls made from cell phone originated. The carriers had the option then of using their own GSM networks to create a tracking system based off of the same principle as the GPS network. Some carriers went with this option. Other carriers decided to go ahead and put GPS in cell phones that they were going to provide to their customers.
There are a lot of different things that people use GPS in cell phones now these days. The first and most obvious is navigation. Almost everyone likes to get turn by turn directions spoken to them, especially when traveling in new and unknown places. Cell phone navigation has become to prevalent that some industry experts suspect that the cell phone is going to surpass the PND (Personal Navigation Device) as the navigation device of choice in just a few years time.
Cell phone GPS is also used for all sorts of fun apps and internet surfing features. If you want to know of good restaurants that are near you right now, there are internet searches and apps for that. If you would love to find out the prices of homes in your neighborhood then there is a real estate GPS tracking app for that too. There are literally tons and tons of different ways that GPS is being used by everyday people for any number of normal activities. It is safe to say that GPS receivers in cell phone are making the world a thoroughly more navigable place.
GPS Tracking of Cell Phones
But this article is about lost cell phone GPS tracking, not about all the cool things that GPS is doing for cell phone technology. So to help us understand how GPS can help us find lost cell phones a quick word needs to be said about the GPS tracking of cell phones. A brief definition of GPS tracking should be given: GPS tracking is the ability to track the location of a person, vehicle, or object as it moves throughout the world. There are two types of GPS tracking, passive and active. Active tracking occurs in real time and lets you find out where something is right now. Passive GPS tracking has to do with data loggers, which find out your position and then store it on the device for use later when you can download the information into some tracking software.
Anyway, the tracking available in cell phones is real time GPS tracking – and this is important because it will allow you to use it in order to find a lost cell phone. It would work something like this. You download a GPS tracking application onto your cell phone from among one of the many different free GPS tracking applications or software available. Once it is downloaded and installed you just keep it running on your phone so that you will have a running GPS log of your location. If you ever lose your cell phone, you can find out the last place it was when the battery still had a charge.
In order to use your GPS to help find your lost cell phone you need to have the following conditions met:
Your cell phone must be turned on.
You must have a GPS tracking application installed on your phone.
The tracking app must be running. This will ensure that the GPS is actively reading signals from the satellites in order to find out its location. It will also then send that information over the cell phone network so that you can view it on the internet.
Your cell phone must be receiving signals from satellites. If your phone is buried beneath 100 feet of concrete then there is no hope of finding it!
Your cell phone must be getting a signal from cell phone towers. If it is not then you will not have a method of sending information to the Internet for you to look at it.
If you meet all of these criteria then you should be able to find a lost cell phone with GPS tracking.
We have also included a larger list of apps that you can download to smart phones of several different varieties. Just check out our post about free GPS cell phone trackers.
Ways to Use It
One of the most important ways that this technology can be used is to help children keep track of their cell phones. GPS cell phones for kids are great because they provide excellent safety for our children, but they are no good to use or to them if they lose them. If you need to know where their lost mobile phone is just log onto the computer and figure it out.
The same is true for businessmen who have a cell phone with all their work contacts and email on it. If they were to lose this device it could disastrous for their next sales call if not for their entire career. If they have GPS tracking installed on their Blackberry then they should have no problem finding their phone and avoiding certain disaster.
If you would like more information on how to use your cell phone to find itself, please check out How to Find a Lost Cell Phone with GPS Tracking. It should provide you with some helpful tips on what you should do and give you some ideas of the different programs available for use in this type of tracking.
GPS tracking works great in cell phones. Their small, light-weight nature makes them a perfect fit for the way that most people live their lives. It also is the perfect vehicle for tracking because it is connected to GSM cell phone networks, giving them the ability to send large amounts of information long distances almost instantly. This could not be done with standard telephones. Telephone GPS tracking wouldn’t even make any sense since they are static and do not move anywhere.
Do you have any helpful tips for people trying to utilize lost cell phone GPS tracking?
Recently I read an interesting article in the local paper about Google’s entrance into the world of cell phones. If you have not already seen the plethora of commercials out there about all the cool stuff the Motorolla Droid cell phone can do then you need to get your head out of the sand and watch some TV. Heck, I don’t even have a TV and I have seen tons of commercials advertising this mobile phone aimed to take away some of the iPhone’s market share in the world of high-end smartphones. If you think about, cell phones like the iPhone and Droid are the future of not only mobile communications but also the internet and GPS tracking. The future goes through the smartphone.
Because of what is at stake here, the advertising has become downright cutthroat when it comes to pointing out the flaws of other phones and a competitor’s cell phone network. If there was any doubt about this, then you have to look no farther than the following advert:
The message comes across loud and clear: iPhone = iDon’t ; Droid = iCan. Everything about this commercial screams out against iPhone and tries to offer the Droid as an alternative smartphone. They even get the same sort of feel that an iPhone commercial tries to give with their choice of music, all of which is used to enforce the message of the mobile phone commercial that iPhones suck. Again, you can clearly see this for yourself by looking at this commercial that has the ubiquitous “iPhone commercial song” in it.
The cell phone wars are upon us, but do we ever stop and let ourselves ask the question, “Why?” Why is Google, Apple, Verizon, AT&T, TMobile, and Sprint spending millions upon millions of dollars in an effort to come out with the most widely used smartphone and cell phone network?
The answer is money, plain and simple. According to David Yoffie*, a professor at the Harvard Business School, “The new paradigm is mobile computing and mobility. That has the potential to change the economics of the Internet business and to redistribute profits yet again” (as quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune, January 5th, 2010, section C3). People like Google and Apple want to corner the smartphone market because if they can do it they have the potential to ‘control’ the way people use their cell phones and the Internet. This control is has the potential to make huge profits for whoever is on the cutting edge.
* This is pulled from David Yoffie’s bio page at the Harvard website: Professor David B. Yoffie is the Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean, Chair, Executive Education at Harvard Business School. Professor Yoffie’s research and consulting have focused on competitive strategy, technology, and international competition.
Google made their money on the cutting edge of Internet search. Their search advertising business, Adsense, makes billions of dollars each and every year. Now they want to be able to ‘control’ mobile phone search and to be the premier ad service for these devices as well. From this standpoint, you can see why there is so much fighting going on over cell phones and smartphones.
But what about GPS tracking, where does it fit in?
The answer really has two parts. The first is that mobile technology and mobile Internet surfing is enhanced with positioning technology. People like to be able to find restaurants that are near their exact location, get instant turn by turn directions from their cell phone, and to be able to surf the web or stream Pandora while riding the bus to work. They love the Internet, they love GPS, they love cell phones and they love it when you can combine all three into a seamless user experience.
The second is that ads can be better served when a person’s location is know by the person serving the ads. To a certain extent, companies like Google already are able to do this by taking information from a person’s IP address. Their rough geographic location is then taken into consideration when serving them the ad. For example, a person living in San Diego might get ads relevant to San Diego divorce lawyers when they are on a website that serves Google Adsense and is about divorce law. To a certain extent, this enhances a users web viewing experience, improves the click-through rate for the ad unit, and helps Google make some money.
We have already seen how the Palm-Pre is trying to make use of GPS tracking to serve better ads and how this has caused quite a stir in the cell phone and Internet community. Hopefully other phone companies are learning from the thrashing that the this phone has been getting and will let users know about how their location information is going to be used and give them clear and easy ways to opt out of this ‘service.’
Either way you look at it, GPS tracking is going to be a huge part of cell phones in the future. The only question is who is going to be in the drivers seat of the smartphone era?
The other day I was watching my wife play some Farmville on Facebook when I noticed this very strange ad in the left sidebar. From what I could tell by looking at it, it appeared to be a GPS cell phone tracking service. The text of the ad read, “Do you think your husband is cheating? Find out instantly where he is right now LIVE.” Doesn’t it seem like this is going to offer someone the ability to track their spouse with some sort of GPS tracking device?
Well, I should probably come out with it right away. This is not a genuine GPS tracking service. It is a scam that is only going to end up costing you money in the long run and violating your privacy. This Facebook cell phone tracking ad is designed to get careless people to opt in to receive text messages to their cell phone that will end up costing them money.
This is the way the deal works. You click on the ad in Facebook and you are taken to a webpage that looks something like this:
Pretty snazzy, right? Looks legit, right? Well, it isn’t. A closer at the fine print at the bottom of the page will tell you exactly what you are going to be getting. Here is a copy of what the website says:
*Service Explanation: By enrolling in TheMobileSpy.com’s service, you will receive three pieces of content. First, you will receive a report of the three most recent phone numbers to have searched for your location with our service. Second, you will be able to search three phone numbers by area code and prefix (NPA-NXX) to see their registered geographic area. Due to the nature of mobile phones and privacy laws, we will be unable to provide real-time location information. However, you will receive the most up-to-date information regarding NPA-NXX registration. Third, you will be enrolled in a periodical fun facts subscription on your cell phone. You must have cookies enabled for this service to operate properly. Remember, the numbers you search for with our service will be recorded and may be disclosed in someone else’s report!
For those that don’t want to read the big block of info you here are the three things that you get by handing over information about yourself and your cell phone:
You will get access to three numbers that have searched for your number. I’m not exactly sure what happens if no one has bothered to search for your number yet, but I suspect that nothing happens. You are out of luck.
You will also get to search for three numbers to find out “their registered geographic area.” This, I assume, is code for saying that if the number you searched for is in their data base then they will tell you in what geographic the phone was registered. But be careful, “due to the nature of mobile phones and privacy laws, [they] will be unable to provide real-time location information.”
You get a lame “fun facts subscription” that will text “fun facts” to your cell phone for 6 dollars a month. Now that is really lame.
If you are still confused about how this service works exactly, let me try and explain it a little better. Since this ad was targeted to wives tracking their husbands I am going to use that throughout our example. A wife is on Facebook – since everyone and there mother is on that thing – and she comes across this cell phone tracking ad while commenting on photos of her elementary school friends. She is a little intrigued by the promise find out instantly where her husband is right now LIVE and clicks on the ad.
She then goes to the website and fills out her information including her location and her phone number. This information is then stored by the website in some database for them to use later. After she submits her number, she gets information on all the people in the websites database that had searched her number in the past. Since she has a relatively new number nobody shows up. She feels good that she doesn’t have any crazy stalkers out there.
She is then prompted by the website to ask about three numbers she is interested in knowing the location of. She obviously enters her husbands number since that is what the ad is promising – being able to track her husband’s cell phone live – and she also enters in two of her best friends’ numbers just for fun. The website then searches its database to see if it has information on any of the numbers that she searched. It doesn’t, but it keeps track of her number and all the numbers that she searched.
Sometime later she gets some stupid text from a strange number saying something like, “Penguins are really birds that cannot fly. Isn’t that crazy?!?” When she gets her cell phone bill at the end of the month she sees this strange charge for $5.95 and wonders where the heck it came from.
This is where this service gets really terrible. Let’s now assume that her husband sees a similar add on Facebook about tracking his wife’s cell phone. He clicks through and fills out the stuff. He puts in his number from step 1 and gets his wife’s number in the results. How did this happen? The website remembered his wife’s search so that it could use that information for future searches. Now the husband know that his wife has been searching for him so he turns around and does a search for her. He gets some information that he already knew about her location, like a zip code or something, and that is that. He gets the same stupid text a little bit later and the $5.95 fee for this “service.”
A word from the wise, do not fall for this Facebook cell phone tracking ad! It does not deliver what it promises and is not a GPS tracking service. Instead, it is a scam designed to cost you $6 a month for the rest of your life you can’t figure out how to cancel this crappy thing. Don’t waste your time, your privacy, or your money on this crap.
There is recent news that an Apple application called MobileMe has been instrumental in recovering a stolen iPhone and catching the individuals who stole it at gunpoint. This isn’t the first time that a GPS enabled iPhone has been used to catch criminals red handed, and it certainly won’t be the last. GPS tracking for cell phones is only going to become more prevalent, and stories like this are going to spread the word about just how powerful GPS is on our mobile devices.
According to reports from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the owner of the iPhone was mugged by two individuals around 1 a.m. The thieves took the man’s wallet, pin numbers, and iPhone while one of the assailants held what appeared to be a gun. As the police would later discover, the “gun” was just a pellet pistol.
After handing over his belongings, the victim ran away and called police. The victim then got on a computer and used MobileMe’s Find My iPhone feature to locate his cell phone. He presumably passed this information along to the police who were then able to track down the thieves at a gas station.
Even though two suspects were involved in the robbery, three were arrested in connection with the crime.
GPS Tracking As Theft Recovery
Using GPS tracking as a way to recover lost or stolen property is a great way to make use of this powerful technology. The example from this news story is just one of many different ways that being able to track your phone could be useful. What if your purse gets stolen at a night club with your cell phone it? Or how about your car? Or your backpack while you are at school? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just rush over to a computer and be able to give police laser targeted information about where you think your belongings are? Of course it would. That is why we think that the use of GPS tracking in cell phones is such an important thing for consumers to do if they can afford it and are able to do so.
In fact, you don’t even have to use the tracking on the cell phone primarily for theft recovery. Many of the tracking applications available on mobile devices are social in nature, letting friends or family members know where you are during the course of your day. If this is the type of thing that appeals to you then it also works great as a GPS theft recovery system as well. All you would need to do to make use of it would be to go to a computer and log on and check out where your phone is.
If you are using the phone to monitor the driving of a teenager then this too will work in the theft recovery role. Heck, it could even work in a find a lost cell phone role too since teenagers are so absent minded sometimes. Again, all you would need is to have the phone turned on and for it to be receiving a signal from cell phone towers. If these conditions are met then just run over to a computer and you can find out exactly where your phone is through the power of GPS.
What Is MobileMe?
The truth of the matter is there are literally dozens of different GPS tracking and phone location programs for cell phones – but the program used in the this particular example was MobileMe for iPhone. This is a subscription program that currently runs for $99 a year (~$8.30 a month). If this were just a GPS tracking application then this would be way over priced, but it isn’t just a tracking app.
It allows iPhone users to sync there data between their personal computer, whether it is a laptop or a desktop. You are given a single email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) that is always kept up-to-date. If you check your email on your iPhone while you are out on the town then when you get home that email is going to be marked as read. The same is true of your work PC as well. This can be a pretty useful feature for on the go professionals or students.
Another feature is the ability to push contacts from your iPhone to your PC without having to hook anything up. If you are out and you meet a client, contact, or study partner that you want to shoot an email all you will have to do is get their information into your cell phone and the information will automatically be synced with your Outlook account or Address Book on your Mac.
The last push feature that MobileMe offers is the push calander option. Like the other two features, this turns your iPhone it the perfect mobile calendaring device. You don’t have to worry about manually updating your home calendar of manually syncing your different devices together to make sure that appointments you make at your desk get put into your cell phone and vice versa. MobileMe takes care of it all and does so seamlessly.
You also get a cool photo gallery feature, online file storage, and access to me.com.
In additional to all this, they have a Find My iPhone feature that is the source of interest in this news story. What this feature does is it allows users to put a special message on a lost or stolen iPhone, wipe person data from your iPhone remotely, and get a GPS derived location of your cell phone.
As you might suspect, each of these features is pretty powerful. Being able to display a message on your phone could help in the event that you forgot is somewhere. You could say something like, “Oi! I left my mobile phone at the coffee shop. I am on my way to pick it up right now. Please leave it at the counter for me please.” Or if it is stolen you could say something like, “You shall not steal. – God.” Either way, you get a message across that will keep your cell phone safe and hopefully get it back into your hands quickly.
The information wipe feature is also useful because it helps protect your privacy and the privacy of those on your list. Do you really want a thief to have the information of all your most intimate contacts? Do you want them to know your Grandma’s address? Or know where all your girlfriends live? No! Being able to wipe this data off your phone is a very useful feature.
And finally, MobilMe lets you find the location of your phone. If it didn’t this news story wouldn’t be much of a story.
Is all this worth $99 a year? For some it is going to be. For others it will not be. Thankfully, there are other options for those who want to use GPS tracking on their cell phone for theft recovery.
Free GPS Applications For The iPhone
Many phones on the market have the ability to be tracked with GPS, not just “cool” mobile phones like the iPhone. As a result, there are many free tracking programs available for a wide range of mobile device. Many of these programs only work with subset of all the GPS enabled cell phone on the market, so finding one that works for your particular phone is going to take some work – but free is a really nice word, so the work is worth it.
One free GPS tracking software package that is particularly well received is Instamapper. This program works on a lot of different phones and communicates the tracking information in a lot of different ways. It is completely free to use (but check out some warnings about free GPS cell phone tracking) so you really have no reason not to at least give it a try. It could be the difference between catching a criminal and letting them get away with their crime.
But, according to some interesting patent information recently uncovered, the folks at Palm want to use your location information for a lot more than just helping you use Google Maps. They want to use it to sell you stuff.
Here is the actual language in their patent, taken from the very first line under the claims heading (emphasis mine):
1. A mobile device, comprising: a processor; and a memory coupled to the processor and configured to store user-specific data; wherein the processor is configured to access data indicating a position of the mobile device and provide advertisement data based upon the position of the mobile device and the user-specific data.
To cut through all the patent speak used in this … patent, let’s sum up what they said in the following manner. Palm wants to use your position and information specific to you in order to display laser targeted ads to you on your mobile phone. This then raises the question, What user specific information do they want to use? And how are they going to go about getting this information?
Well, as one might expect, there is more of this information in the patent. The next 5 entries in the patent read as follows (emphasis mine):
2. The mobile device of claim 1, wherein the user-specific dataincludes data associated with at least one of a date stored in the memory and data provided by an address book of the mobile device.
3. The mobile device of claim 1, wherein the processor is configured to provide the advertisement data further based on a prospective position[presumably from the date book] of the mobile device.
4. The mobile device of claim 1, wherein the processor is configured to provide the advertisement data further based on a historical record of the mobile device, the historical record including a record of at least one of a historical rate of travel of the mobile device and a historical position of the mobile device.
5. The mobile device of claim 1, wherein the processor is configured to access a rate of travel of the mobile device and provide the advertisement data further based on the rate of travel of the mobile device.
6. The mobile device of claim 1, wherein the processor is configured to provide the advertisement data further based on a likely mode of transportation of a user of the mobile device.
Now if we let ourselves think about this, we can see that this is some pretty scary stuff. Palm just wants to use GPS cell phone tracking to make a buck or two, but they are doing so at the expense of your privacy – and that is just wrong!
There are a couple points that are particularly disturbing, and remind me a lot about the decision made by the New York State Court of Appeals that ruled a warrant was needed to use GPS tracking on a suspect. What you will find next is an edited excerpt from the courts majority opinion expressing their deep concern about warrantless GPS tracking:
One need only consider what [companies like Palm] may learn, practically effortlessly, from planting a single device [to track your cell phone with their advertisement driven cell phone tracking software] . The whole of a person’s progress through the world, into both public and private spatial spheres, can be charted and recorded over lengthy periods …. Disclosed in the data retrieved from the transmitting unit, nearly instantaneously with the press of a button on the highly portable receiving unit, will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on. What the technology yields and records … is a highly detailed profile … of where we go, … of our associations — political, religious, amicable and amorous, to name only a few — and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits. When multiple GPS devices [or cell phones with webOS running] are utilized, even more precisely resolved inferences about our activities are possible. And … it will be possible to tell … who we are and are not with, when we are and are not with them, and what we do and do not carry on our persons — to mention just a few of the highly feasible empirical configurations.
Again, this is talking about the police tracking a suspect with GPS, but it also correlates rather nicely with the activity of Palm in this instance. Do you really want Palm delivering ads on your phone based upon your current destination or one of your previous locations? Is that really going to make your life better?
For example, let’s say that you have been having some bowel problems lately and have been going to get a colonic regularly as part of the treatment. Once you have made a recovery are you going to want to have ads displayed on your cell phone for a colonic every time you drive in the general vicinity of the clinic?
Or what if you made an appointment to get a massage at a local massage parlor. You have never gotten a message before and this place was close to your home when you looked on Google Maps. You add it to your mobile phone’s address book. When it comes time for you appointment you head on over to the massage parlor and you enter it and there are tons of scantily clad Vietnamese women walking around the waiting room. You get this sick feeling that this might not be your sort of massage parlor and you leave.
Well, if you were using a cell phone that didn’t feel a need to invade your privacy and track your position with GPS then this embarrassing experience would be over. However, it seems possible with the vision expressed in the patent application submitted by Palm that you would be reminded of that fateful day with advertisements as you head in that general direction. Yuck.
Then there is the issue of what Palm could do when they start correlating different pieces of data between cell phone users. Let’s say that you are a generally very respectable, moral person who attends an event that draws people from a bunch of different backgrounds. It could be a church service, or a PTA meeting, or even just a mom event at a park. Now let’s say that another person who attends these events does not necessarily hold the same value system that you do – they could drink, or smoke, or go to clubs, or do something else that you don’t necessary disapprove of, but certainly don’t want to do yourself. Now, would you want Palm to suppose that because you meet with this person you also must like doing what they do and therefore display ads for these activities on your cell phone?
While this last scenario isn’t necessarily in the patent information, it sure seems possible – and that possibility is scary. What business does Palm have knowing this type of information about us and serving advertisements on our cell phones? I think that this is pretty bad and should be stopped.
Now I need to make it clear that I don’t think GPS tracking is bad in and of itself. I think that it can be a great way for a business to improve efficiencies by tracking their fleets. Fleets that utilize GPS for the purpose of driver routing and maintenance have been able to realize huge cost savings and increase the overall output of their fleets. This is a great way for businesses to utilize GPS tracking, whether by cell phones or by traditional GPS tracking devices, and to benefit their companies bottom line.
But a business should never invade their users privacy so that they can better target them with advertising – that is just lame.
Another perfectly viable use of GPS tracking in my opinion is the use of this technology by the police to catch criminals. While some may think it odd that I think that the police can track a suspect without the use of a warrant in light of my disgust with Palm for invading their users privacy, I don’t see a contradiction. The police are trying to uphold justice – catch murders, stalkers, rapists, thieves, etc – while Palm is just trying to make an extra buck. Which aim do you think is a little more noble?
Another perfectly legitimate use is to track family members, such as your child, teenager, or spouse. I think that this is entirely in line with the dynamics of a family and the way that it ought to work, as long as GPS is used as a supplement to good parenting techniques and with open communication between spouses. It should never be used as a replacement for these things, and if it is it is being used poorly.
GPS tracking is also great in fitness applications. GPS running watches are just one of the many different ways that tracking technology has been appropriated for use in fitness. These devices are powerful training computers that fit easily on your wrist and work, look, and feel like a regular watch that has all the power of GPS infused within it. When paired with a heart rate monitor there are few things that can compare to the power of a GPS tracking watch.
Finally, GPS tracking is also a great way for people to stay connected with friends and family. The cheapest alternative out there is certainly the cell phone, and this is why it is so tragic that Palm is turning GPS enabled phones into privacy invading devices. All that you needed to do to make your phone into a GPS tracking cell phone was download some free GPS software and you were already well on your way to having an easy to use tracking system for your family or friends to use to find you. Now that Palm is invading your privacy many people might be more wary of pursuing this route, and that is unfortunate in my opinion.
While there is little doubt that GPS tracking is always going to have a commercial aspect to it, it is sad that the desire to make money off of position data has led some companies *cough*Palm*cough* to disregard their user’s privacy and use their information without communicating it to them in a useful way. I hope that other cell phone companies and GPS tracking providers are watching this debacle and learning the lessons the easy way: don’t steal users GPS location information for advertising – make sure they opt in to it themselves!
The power of GPS tracking is truly phenomenal if we let ourselves sit down and think about all the ways it can be used to improve our lives. But it is not every day that an example of how a vehicle tracking system could save lives comes to the forefront. On July 26, there was a terrible crash on the Taconic State Parkway in the State of New York that left 8 people, 1 woman and 4 children and three men, dead on their way home from a camping trip. Sadly, the tragedy could have been avoided if there had been an appropriate use of GPS or cell phone technology.
The details of the event are this: one Diane Schuler was driving five children home from a camping trip that sent them to upstate New York. She was experiencing some trouble seeing and had become disoriented (due mainly due to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana) and made a phone call to her brother to let her know that she was not feeling well. Her brother told her to pull over and let him come and get her. The brother then called the New York State Police to get them to assist them in finding Diane Schuler.
This is exactly the point where a GPS vehicle tracking system would have been the perfect thing to help resolve the situation in a timely manner. If there was such a system installed in the car, perhaps using something provided by by one of the many different GPS tracking device manufacturers, then the brother would then just had to log into the account for the car and get all the details on the location of the vehicle. That would have made his call to the police much more useful. Instead, the police were forced to begin search the Taconic State Parkway in a effort to locate the vehicle being operated by the woman.
Another option other than having a vehicle tracking device installed in the car would be to use the cell phone as a tracking device. Many cell phones can be tracked using one of the many different free GPS tracking software packages made freely available on the Internet. All you have to do is make sure that your cell phone is compatible with the specific system that you are thinking about using, download the software, install it onto your phone, and begin tracking. You’ll want to have a good data plan if you plan on using it for everyday use – but in a situation like this you use it even if you don’t have a good data plan!
Heck, you do not even need a vehicle tracking system or a GPS tracking cell phone. All the lady would have to do is call 911 and stay on the line for a few minutes and the police would be able to have tracked down her location with ease. Even if she had just called and immediately hung up the phone the police would have had a ten mile radius with which to work with in locating her. The longer she stays on the phone the better the location information becomes. But it is pretty obvious why this particular lady did not call 911 – she was drunk and high.
This tragedy puts the use of GPS tracking into perspective. Getting a vehicle tracking system or enabling your cell phone for GPS tracking can be really helpful. For many, getting a vehicle tracking device is going to be cost prohibitive. We simply don’t have the $100s to spend on a system like that. These devices are definitely better suited for GPS fleet management and other commercial applications. And the car tracking devices that are within a normal consumers price range lack some of the features that make them useful for constant use. Since you never really know when a tragedy is going to strike you need a tracking solution that is going to pretty much be on demand. GPS tracking for cars just isn’t up to those levels in their current form.
That is why I am such a fan of cell phone tracking. These device can be used to track a person anywhere they have a cell phone signal, making them great little devices for GPS tracking. There are plenty of free software packages for people to use and we almost always keep them with us and keep them charged. If you want to find a way to get free GPS tracking for cars, then this is definitely the solution that you should be looking for.
Real time GPS vehicle tracking system are invaluable tools in helping us live safer lives. Sure, these tools are so powerful that they can be abused by the wicked and evil, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon their proper use. I would encourage everyone to set up a vehicle tracking system in case of a roadside emergency – it could be a spare cell phone, your main cell phone, or even a stand along GPS tracking device. Just put one in your car and talk about your plan for using it in the event of an emergency. You’ll be happy you did if you even need it.
We are all aware of the many different free GPS tracking software applications that are available for cell phones. The different developers and tracking companies who provide this software have done so out of the goodness of their hearts and the hope that the advertising in the application or the up sell market is going to make them some money. Even if they do not monetize these tracking systems they are at least hoping that the reputation they establish will benefit them in some other way in the future.
Either way, you have a market today where there are dozens of 100% free to use cell phone GPS tracking systems. But the question is, are these free cell phone tracking systems really free?
I think that as we look deeper into this issue we are going to find that the answer is that it depends on a person’s particular circumstances. But in order for any of the discussion of cost to make sense to us we first need to establish a basic understanding of how free cell phone tracking actually works.
How Free Cell Phone Tracking Works
When coming to this question we need to divide our understanding into two distinct parts. The first is how does the cell phone determine where it is in the world. The second is how does the cell phone communicate that information to outside parties. Once we understand these things we will see just how free free GPS tracking really is.
For the first part we need to look at the principle of trilateration. This geometric rule says that if you know your distance from three or more known points you can determine your exact location. Cell phones that can be tracked tap into this geometric principle via GPS. The way this works is like this:
Certain phones (iPhones, Blackberries, and other smartphones) have a GPS receiver installed in them when they are made. Once the phone is bought and activated by a user the full functionality of the GPS can come alive, all it needs is for the cell phone to be turned on (some GPS functionality, like GPS tracking, will also require that the cell phone be receiving a signal, but more on that later). If you do not have a GPS-enabled cell phone then you cannot take advantage of the free cell phone tracking available for download on the Internet.
The second part we need to understand about GPS tracking with cell phones is how these devices transmit the position information that they gather from the GPS. For this, cell phones are going to need to have access to one of two things: the Internet or GPRS. Once the cell phone has its location from the GPS receiver it will then process filter it through the free cell phone tracking software. This software will package the information in such a way that it can be made available online for the for the users friends or family to view.
If the free online GPS cell phone tracking software is a real time tracker, this information is going to be sent in a nearly continuous basis for as long as the program is running on the phone and the phone is receiving a signal from a cell phone tower. If either of these items is lost, so is the real time tracking ability of the software.
So now that we have a cursory understanding of how free cell phone tracking services work I hope that it is fairly clear how this can be less than free for some people. The main points of cost are in the cell phone itself and in the data plan that you must have in order to make use of the tracking software.
The Costs: GPS Enabled Cell Phones
The free, online GPS cell phone tracking software ceases to be free when you have to upgrade your phone to one that is compatible with the software and that has GPS installed in it. Some of these phones can be pretty pricey. An iPhone 3G will run you $99 and a Blackberry Curve can run you $129. This is certainly not free. Now if you already owned one of these mobile phones then downloading the free GPS tracking software onto your mobile phone isn’t going to cost you anything extra.
This is why up above I mentioned that the answer to the question posed in the title of this article was, “It depends.”
The Costs: The Data Plan
The second cost that is going to be associated with GPS cell phone tracking is going to be that data plan on your phone. I recently looked to see if this was something that my wife and I should get on our cell phone plan. She was about to get a free upgrade for her old phone and some Blackberries were available. But in looking at the data plans her carrier offered it would cost an additional $30 a month. Since we wouldn’t have gotten the data plan otherwise this seemed like a lot of money to us.
As a result, she went with another phone instead (the LG Envy) because there was no use in getting the Blackberry since we weren’t going to pony up the cash for the data plan. Paying $30 a month will quickly turn into $360 over the course of one year. That is a lot to be paying for a “free” GPS cell phone tracking service.
Can GPS Tracking Truly Be Free
But this leads us to another important point – GPS tracking is probably never going to be free in my lifetime. There are too many powers that be that have a vested interest in making me pay for this type of information. If it is not the GPS manufacturers, it is going to be the cell phone companies that I would be using to send my position information wireless to my wife who would be sitting at a computer, checking out where I am online. At almost every point in the system there is someone to pay. So, if you are already paying all those people then you can say that your cell phone tracking is free – but it is not truly free.