Ever since all members of my family started using a smartphone, I realized that it’s probably high time to finally install some sort of tracking software into all of the smartphones for the safety of everyone. Tracking an Android cell phone location that my kid has is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but until now not everyone in the family had a smartphone.
It’s not that I want to track my kids everywhere they go, but being a parent that’s very concerned about the state of the world today, I’ve signed up my kids for martial arts classes, we talk to them often about safe behaviors in public, and I most certainly want the ability to narrow down their location if they ever go missing.
The ability to remotely enable and track a cellphone can provide parents with the peace of mind knowing that no matter where their kids are, so long as they have their smartphone on them, that parent will be able to triangulate the location of that child.
Tracking an Android Phone
There are a lot of people out there that are constantly looking for ways to track a cell phone. I know this because ever since I wrote an article about Google Latitude years ago, I’ve received emails almost every month from people asking about how to track a phone in their particular situation – whether it’s tracking a cheating spouse, or the ability to locate a family member through their cellphone.
Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, considering your position on surveillance and privacy, there really is no way to track the location of someone’s cellphone unless you’re law enforcement. Yes, they can triangulate a cell phone position using cell towers, but as of yet it isn’t possible for a civilian to do that without installing software onto the phone itself.
However, in the case of tracking your kids’ cellphones, you do have access to their phones, so you can install InstaMapper’s GPS Tracker software without any problem. You’ll also set up an account on the website, and after doing so you can set up the new device and configure the units you want to use to track speed and distances.
Once you’ve registered the device on the InstaMapper website, you’ll receive a “key” for that device. This is the secret key you’ll need to link up the phone with this device that you’ve registered on the site.
To do this, install the GPS Tracker software on the Android phone, and then type the Device key from the website into the first field.
You’ll need to do this for every phone that you want to track. Register the phone on the site, get the key, and then install GPS Tracker on the phone and type in the code into the settings screen.
You can also update the frequency that the software sends out GPS coordinates on, which is nice if you are on a limited data plan and don’t want the phone transmitting data every 15 seconds. You can actually set the software to issue location updates every few hours or so.
Of course, keep in mind that continuously sending out location coordinates will eat up battery, so this is probably only a good idea if the phone is in a teenager’s car during a long trip, and plugged in during the ride. This will show you the current position and track (and even the speed!) of that car at all times.
If you’re more interested in throwing the phone in your young child’s backpack so that you can track them, the method to use in that case is the SMS activation. You’ll need to select “Allow remote activation via SMS” in the settings menu (see the screenshot above). Once you do that, you can send the following commands to activate the software, retrieve the location, and then close down the software to conserve battery power.
Text the phone:
“GPS_TRACKER_START <device key>” to launch the GPS tracker software
“GPS_TRACKER_FETCH <device key>” to force the software to send out its location to the InstaMapper server at least once.
“GPS_TRACKER_STOP <device key>” to turn off the software.
When the software is running in conspicuous mode, the screen shows the current position, speed, heading and time since the last data upload to the server.
I ran a quick test with the software running on my Android while taking a drive around town, and the tracking software did an excellent job updating the server every 15 seconds from my car, and tracing out the path of my drive in real-time overlaid on top of a Google map.
When you go onto the InstaMapper website to view the track, it shows you a map with the entire path up until the present time, and you can also see a text log of every data update that came from that phone.
When you click on any of those data points, it highlights that location on the map and displays the information about that point in the trip – including the heading, location and speed traveled at that time. With this software installed on a smartphone inside of a car that a teenager is driving, no teen will ever be able to get away with speeding again!
For programmers, InstaMapper even offer an API key for each device that you can use to integrate device tracking into your web pages or applications. This could be very useful for a developer that needs the ability to integrate cellphone tracking into their online application or computer program, but doesn’t have the programming prowess to write that feature themselves. The API given to you integrate fairly easily.
My main goal of using this software is to install it on my kids’ smartphones, and then really hopefully never have the need to use it. However, if you’re ever left wondering where your child is, having the lifeline of being able to reach out and track a cell phone location now can be a real lifesaver. At the very least it can set your mind at ease when you realize that they’ve only gone to a friend’s house after school, and there’s nothing at all to worry about.
GPS Tracker is a great app and it works really well on Android phones. Do you know of any similar apps that work well across Android and Apple platforms? Are there other Android apps that are as good or better? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.
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