Tracking and Other Cell Phone GPS Services

What a Cell Phone GPS Can Do for You

People Using Cell Phone GPS
 Arnold Media/Getty Images

Most cell phones come equipped with GPS capability. Each of the big mobile phone carriers offers a number of GPS-enabled models. For the consumer, GPS opens up a world of services that are based on the phone's location, and it introduces the possibility of real-time cell phone tracking. Yes, it is possible to legally track a cell phone, but there are privacy and user notification requirements to consider.

Location-Based Services

The number of services based on your location as you use your cell phone is increasing rapidly. They help you:

  • Navigate, whether you are walking or driving
  • See your position on a map in real time
  • See the location of friends or family in real time
  • Help you locate and assess restaurants, stores and other nearby points of interest
  • Track, analyze, and store workout data
  • Listen to informational recordings based on your location, such as in museums 

These services are readily available on touch-screen smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android operating system smartphones. However, location-based services are becoming available on a wider range of phones, and that trend will likely continue.

Cell Phone Tracking Via GPS

There is a lot of interest in tracking cell phones via their built-in GPS chips. Tracking falls into three categories, including location sharing, voluntary tracking, and secret tracking.

  • Location-Sharing Tracking. Location-sharing social media applications are commonly available for touch-screen smartphones. These applications, such as Apple Find My Friends and Glympse, show your real-time location to a group of friends you select, or they broadcast it publicly. These applications help you connect with friends or business associates but should be used with care, especially the public access feature. You may view friends' positions on your phone or via a web browser.
  • Voluntary Tracking. Real-time tracking of cell phones via GPS moved into the mainstream with the introduction of AT&T's FamilyMap service, Verizon's Family Locator, and Sprint's Family Locator services. These services show tracked phone locations on a map accessible via a web browser or mobile phone. Users may set alerts for when the tracked phone enters or leaves certain locations. This is useful for providing automatic notification when children arrive at home or sports practice, for example. In addition, cell phone location is built into the national enhanced 911 service.
  • Secret Tracking. Secret cell phone tracking by individuals is not legal and is not available through the carriers. Be careful if you are seeking to implement secret cell phone tracking because there are a number of scams centered on this practice.

Cellphone GPS is part of our lives, and when used properly, it provides valuable services and peace of mind for parents and loved ones. As with any technology, care must be taken to respect privacy and to prevent the release of private data to individuals who should not have access to it.