Sometimes we just need an example of how GPS cell phone tracking actually works.  There are lot of ways that we can do that – we could actually own a cell phone that is compatible with one of the many tracking apps available, or we could create our own cell phone tracker using the build provided by the people over at Open Cell Phone Tracker, or we can just read the news.

All you have to do is open up the news paper, or do a search on Google news, and you are going to find the police using cell phones the track the location of someone.  Recently, the police used a cell phone owned by a 9 year old girl to track her location and recover her from her kidnapper.

The news paper articled opened like this:

Using technology more commonly seen in television crime dramas, an Athol police officer and a deputy chief in the town’s Fire Department were able to track a woman and her allegedly kidnapped 9-year-old granddaughter to a motel in south-central Virginia.

I mean we have all seen this type of thing happen in TV shows like NCIS, CSI, and Law and Order – but to actually read about it happening in real life is something else.  Police are able to use this technology and they are able to use with great efficiency and accuracy.  20 years ago this 9 year-old child would have been taken and long gone by the time police would have been able to get things going to find her and even then they would have had to use a lot of man power to try and get this little girl back to her family.  Now, with the advent of GPS technology in cell phone, all they had to do was turn on their computer.

You see, in 2005 the cell phone makers and carriers have been forced to provide a way to track calls made from cell phones to within 100 meters.  This was primarily meant for police and the fire department to be able to back track the location of 911 calls and other distress signals but has since been used to track criminals, provide surveillance on a suspected criminals activities, and to help families better keep track of their kids and teens.  This technology is extremely power and it is here to stay.

Thankfully, the police involved in this case were aware that the police have access to cell phone data like this in situations of child abduction and other criminal activity.  So they called the child’s cell phone provider and got them to provide some location information when the cell phone was turned on.

This is a very important thing about GPS cell phone tracking - it only works when a cell phone is actually turned on.

Upon receiving the information from the cell provider the police were able to narrow down the child’s location and to make an informed decision about where she was located.  They received some longitude and latitude coordinates from the cell phone provider and plugged it into one of those very handy and useful applications that everyone should become familiar with – Google Maps.

What they saw was nothing that special, just a field on a road.  A little perplexed they when to street view to see if they could see anything that might be where the girl would be staying.  Sure enough he found something that could be the child’s location:

Looking across a field, he said he saw a long building with a red roof that looked like a motel. He then did a search on Google for motels in Natural Bridge and found the Budget Inn-Natural Bridge, which, on a map, appeared to be close to the intersection he was looking at.

The police were then notified and the child was recovered and taken back to be with her family, all thanks to GPS cell phone tracking.  This whole episode highlights a lot of the things that I love about this powerful technology:

  1. It is highly, highly accessible.  With the power of Google Maps and other free internet mapping applications you can use the information that you gather through your cell phone to get a great understanding of your location without very much effort.  Simply type the coordinates into the search bar and you not only have your location on a map, but you also have pictures that help you understand exactly where you are.
  2. It is very, very cheap.  Tracking a cell phone requires no extra money to be paid since it is a capability that already exists within your phone.  Now most cell phone carriers do charge consumers for the ability to track their own phones for personal use, but they don’t charge the police to do so and that is really the important thing.  Sure it is nice to be able to know where your kids or your teenage daughter are at any given moment, but you really want the police to be able to do that more than you want to be able to do that.
  3. It is accurate.  100 meters is pretty dang close, especially since you often have no idea where a person is located without the use of the GPS in the cell phone.  If the police knew where she was within a 1000 meters they might have had a much harder time finding her – but 100 meters turned out to be a perfect number for them in this circumstance.

GPS technology is extremely powerful, but when you integrate it into one of the most widely available communication devices in the world you get a one of the most agile, unique, cost effective, and useful devices in the human arsenal – GPS tracking cell phones.