Parents, here’s what you need to know about GPS tracking devices
Safety • Devices allow you to not only watch where your child is going, plus set up geo-fences that alert you whenever they’ve left a set boundary.
Published: February 27, 2014 12:54PM
Updated: February 27, 2014 12:53PM
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In this Dec. 10, 2011 photo, Anil Remer, 11, of St. Paul, shows off one of the 79 cars he has taken pictures of and saved on his cell phone in St. Paul, Minn. An increasing amount of technology, including cell phones, allows parents to track their children. (AP Photo/St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sherri LaRose-Chiglo) MANDATORY CREDIT

I’m not sure that our kids are any less safe than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but the makers of GPS tracking devices sure do want us to believe they are just seconds from being abducted.

“You would be surprised that every 40 seconds a child becomes missing or kidnapped. You may also be surprised that only 24 percent of the time is the child kidnapped by someone unknown by the family. The rest of the time, your child is kidnapped by someone you already know … Another harsh reality is that 74 percent of murdered children are killed within the first three hours after abduction,” the makers of TraqCloud say on their website.

The solution, of course, is to purchase a tracking device, attach it to your child and then follow their every movement via your smartphone, tablet or computer.

If you’ve ever wished you could microchip your kid just like you did the family dog, this brings you one step closer.

Here’s what you need to know:

GPS tracking basics • The same technology that tells you how to get from point A to point B and lets all your Facebook friends know every time you enter a Starbucks can help you follow your kids.

You need a receiver – usually a cell phone or a standalone device – which your child carries with them. The receiver sends location information via satellite so a user can track movement via a desktop or mobile device.

Often these devices allow you to not only watch where your child is going, but also set up geo-fences that alert you via text or email whenever they’ve left a set boundary. Many trackers also allow your child to reach out to you if there’s an emergency.

There are several tracking options available.

If your child already has a cell phone, you can check if your wireless provider offers locating services (like Verizon’s Family Locater or AT&T’s Family Map), or you can download a third-party tracking app (there are plenty of options) or buy third-party tracking software.

If your kids don’t have phones yet, you can purchase a stand-alone device the size of a deck of cards or smaller that your child carries with them.

There are plenty of trackers on the market, including eTrak ($130 plus a monthly fee starting at $10), eZoom ($100 plus a $19.99 monthly fee) and PocketFinder ($149.95 plus a $12.95 monthly fee).

For extra vigilant (or paranoid) parents, consider the AmberAlert GPS ($220 for device and a year of service), which alerts you if your child gets within 500 feet of the residence of a registered sex offender.

If you’re looking for a less expensive option, check out TraqCloud. The startup has launched a Kickstarter campaign and backers who spend $19 or more get their own TraqCloud Anything GPS device, USB charger and pre-activated SIM card with three months of service. After the campaign, the company will charge $69 for the device and a $10 monthly service fee, making it one of the cheapest GPS trackers out there.

CommonSense.org offers great advice on using GPS location services.

Other potential uses • GPS tracking is not only for wandering children. Families also use it to monitor senior citizens who may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, as well as adults with special needs and family pets.

Last month, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer even proposed a law that would require the federal government to pay $10 million for GPS tracking devices to be worn by autistic children, who often have the tendency to wander.

CBS News recently reported on the MyStop App, which allows parents to follow a school bus’ route so that their kid doesn’t have to stand out at the bus stop for longer than necessary. The app offers an estimated time of arrival for the bus and also allows you to check if the bus made it to school safely.

You can also use GPS technology to monitor new drivers. Those with AAA insurance can take advantage of the organization’s free OnBoard Teen Safe Driver Program, a GPS monitoring system that allows parents of teenage drivers to track their kids using a desktop or mobile device. Parents can set up speed limit alerts that will notify them when their kids have exceeded a pre-set speed limit, as well as boundary notifications to let them know when their teen has left one location and arrived at another. Have a tech-savvy teen? The device will also alert you when it’s been disconnected and re-connected.

Coincidentally, it’s not just kids that people, business and governments are interested in tracking. A startup in Seattle is convincing smartphone users to download their new app, which tracks everywhere they go in exchange for $5 to $10 gift cards and the chance to win bigger prizes like Apple iPads. The company can than sell this wealth of marketing data to other businesses and mobile advertisers. So far 125,000 people have downloaded the app.

There are most likely apps on your phone that are geolocating you without your knowledge or permission. Researchers are in the process of developing an app that will track these nefarious apps and warn you about them.

I guess our kids aren’t the only ones who’ve been microchipped.