21st Century Safety

How tracking devices and smartphone applications can help keep your family safe.

Sure, GPS is handy when you’re trying to find a destination in an unfamiliar city, but it can also help keep you and your family safe through a wide array of tracking devices and smartphone apps.

Cell phones are ubiquitous. In many families, every member has one, making it easy to keep track of each other.

“As long as they’re turned on, I can see where all the devices are that are on my family plan,” says Officer Mike Bowman, who has been a detective with the Ocala Police Department for 14 years. “You can set up your family on the Find My iPhone or Find Friends apps; I think most families do this nowadays.”

Bowman notes that certain GPS tracking devices allow you to set up “electronic fences” (also called “geo-fences”). Essentially, you draw an electronic barrier on a digital map, for example around your child’s school, around your home, etc. You can receive notifications every time the device moves out of one fenced area and enters another.

“If you know your child is supposed to be home from school by 3:00, the device will let you know when it exits the school fence and then enters the home fence,” says Bowman, the father of a teenage daughter.

Tracking devices are also extremely helpful if you have an elderly parent or relative with dementia and you’re worried they may wander off. Even if wandering isn’t a concern, some devices come with fall detection and can alert you or call 911 if the wearer takes a tumble and isn’t able to call for help themselves.

Navigating The Options

So how do you know which GPS device or app is best for you? 

“Devices come with different options. Because they work through satellites and cell towers, you need to make sure the cellular company covers the area where you’ll be using the device,” advises Bowman.

“One of the ways to determine the best device for you is to know how often the device reports back to you with information. Many devices report every 30 seconds, but this isn’t very often when you’re trying to track someone,” says Bowman. “You also need to realize that the more often a device checks in, the faster the battery dies.”

He points out that there are places where GPS signals can be blocked and where cell service is spotty, which directly affects the efficiency of any GPS device. In our area, the sprawling Ocala National Forest is one area where this can be a problem.

“A GPS tracker will continue to record information but won’t report in if it doesn’t have cell service,” explains Bowman. “Once it connects to a cell tower again, the device will report the history.” 

Legal Issues

With all this technology at our fingertips, it’s worth noting that using tracking devices and apps for the wrong reasons can land you in serious trouble.

For example, “spying” apps that let you keep track of someone’s cell phone without their knowledge can lead to criminal violations for violating one’s right to privacy.

Bowman points out that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Using a GPS device to illegally track someone without reasonable cause falls into that category.

“We had a case where a guy stuck a tracking device on his ex-girlfriend’s car,” relates Bowman. “That’s illegal. If you do something like that, you could be arrested on an aggravated stalking charge.”

Lots To Choose From

Here’s a sampling of just some of the many devices and apps available to help keep track of people or things, increasing safety for your family. (Most devices are purchased outright and require a monthly service fee.)

Find My iPhone

Enable the app in iCloud settings on your device and you can use it to find any iOS device. The app also includes a Lost Mode, so you can lock the device with a passcode and keep track of where it’s been, including recent location history.

“We had a customer come into the store after her iPhone was stolen. Using this app, she logged into her iCloud on a friend’s computer and was able to find her phone, which was on the highway heading toward Tampa at that moment,” says Robert James of TTC Verizon Authorized Retailer in Williston, Florida.

Sprint Family Locator

This app features a mobile browser so you can locate any phone on your Sprint family plan. It can also help locate a lost or stolen phone. 

LIFE 360
Download this location-sharing app for iOS and Android to make it easier to message and check in with family members. Create “circles” with private maps. Get notifications when family members leave a zone and arrive at another. The app also includes maps of registered sex offenders.

SpyBubble

A mobile tracking app with GPS location lets parents see where their child’s device (and thus, the child) is at any moment. It alows parents to monitor their child’s messages, calls and use of social sites.

Senior Safety App

Designed to work with any Android smartphones, this app has an SOS feature so the user can send text alerts to emergency contacts notifying them of the phone’s location. It also includes automatic fall alerts with adjustable sensitivity of the fall tracker. The app allows you to set up a geo-fence and receive alerts when the device exits or leaves that area.

HereO

Your kid thinks it’s a fun watch; you know it’s a GPS tracking device allowing you to keep tabs using either an iOS or Android device. Sync to it with the free HereO app using your smartphone and you’ll see a map showing exactly where your child is. Create geo-fence safe zones and get notifications if your child crosses a boundary. There is also a panic alert option.

Verizon’s GizmoWatch

This kid-friendly smartwatch has a GPS locator that provides automated alerts and allows you to program up to 10 contacts for two-way voice calls and messaging. 

AngelSense

One of the more popular GPS trackers for kids, AngelSense has numerous features, including two-way voice for instant calls, an ETA feature and a timeline map to show your child’s routes. It allows you to monitor transit speed and get notifications if your child is late or in a new place. You can even listen in on their location. Available on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.               

Amber Alert GPS Smart Locator

This pocket-size GPS device runs up to 40 hours on one charge. Use a browser or iOS or Android app to keep track of your child’s location. Set up geo-fence boundaries, and communicate using two-way voice function. The device sends you an alert if your child comes within 500 feet of a registered sex offender’s home. 

Trax

This sophisticated GPS tracking device has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, USB charging port and a pre-paid SIM that offers roaming in over 33 countries. The Android/iOS app provides real-time mapping, augmented reality for close proximity searches, geo-fencing and speed alerts. 

GPS SmartSole

Essentially a GPS tracker hidden within a shoe insole, this device is ideal for seniors or children with autism or developmental disabilities. SmartSole uses GPS and cellular service to automatically log its location, allowing you to keep track of the wearer. You can set up a safe zone for the user and receive alerts. With normal use, the battery life lasts two to three days. The device does, however, send alerts when the battery is low. Can be used wherever T-Mobile coverage is available. 

PocketFinder

Keep track of children and seniors with this small personal tracker. Locate and monitor the user from pocketfinder.com or from the free mobile app for select Android or iOS devices. Customize geo-fence zones and receive alerts when boundaries are crossed. Regular locates have a two-minute default setting but can be as quick as 10 seconds when in “track mode.” Device is water resistant to 3 feet and features an SOS button. 

Verizon Hum

Install the Hum hardware in your vehicle, download the Hum app and you not only have GPS tracking but numerous safety features, such as 24/7 crash response, stolen vehicle assistance and more. Upgrade to the Humx Speaker for additional features, like occupying kids on long trips. Passengers can stream, surf and game with a mobile 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot that supports up to 10 devices.  

How GPS Works

Short for “global positioning system,” GPS is a satellite-based radio-navigation system. Created by the United States military and first used in the 1960s, GPS didn’t become available for civilian use until the ‘80s and has expanded significantly in the decades since. 

The GPS system includes two dozen satellites deployed roughly 12,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. Each satellite broadcasts its current position, orbit and exact time. By combining broadcasts from multiple satellites (ideally four), a GPS receiver can accurately calculate its location. Depending on the power of the receiver, it can take anywhere from mere seconds to several minutes for a GPS device to connect with those satellites. 

The U.S. government continues to maintain the GPS system, but anyone with a GPS receiver can use it.

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