Finding Your Friends via GPS

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Most mobile/cell phones have a built in GPS device on them these days. These devices, if queried, can give out the current location of the device, which also means the location of the person carrying the phone. Many cell phone operators provide services that can display the location on a map. Some providers help implement an assisted system known as “A-GPS” that helps locate the person with closer accuracy, including inside a building where GPS reception may not be as good. Here we’ll take a look at some services available from major service operators that are typical.

Find Friends

The services we look at help you find where your friends (or family members for that matter) are. They are not some kind of tracking service such as kid tracker or even a pet tracker. Though they use similar technology, this discussion is not about them. We discuss below four services. Two of these are meant for locating family members, but do not have the reciprocity required between friends- though they can be adapted for use. The Google and Mapmates services are for interactions with friends and do have that reciprocity of features.

AT&T Family Maps: That’s what AT&T calls their service. This uses cell tower triangulation to improve accuracy of position, besides reading off the GPS coordinates from the phone. Anyone with a cell phone on the network can be tracked. You are able to track the designated individuals from your mobile or a PC. Best accuracies are possible when the phones work with A-GPS and have clear line of sight with the GPS satellites. People being tracked are given periodic alerts that they are being tracked via text messages. You can receive the location data on a PC or a mobile phone. You can track the people on your family plans, which costs as little as $9.99 for two and up to $14.99 for five people. The other services are similar.

Sprint Family Locator: Sprint’s service is called the family locator. Sprint Family Locator uses GPS technology to locate a designated phone on any web enabled mobile phone (including non-sprint ones). This is typically for a parent to keep tabs on family members, specifically children that carry phones. For $5 a month for 4 phones to be monitored this is quite inexpensive. Safety ChecksSM send you automatic notifications of your child’s location on date & times you set.. You would be able to find out if the child arrived at school in time or got back home before curfew time. Monitored phones are alerted by text messages as with AT&T service. The people being monitored do not get your position in turn automatically. You could have an arrangement by which your friend can have a similar position data feedback from you.

Google Latitude: With this service from Google you would be able to get position details on a mobile phone or a PC. The current location of friends or family members will be shown up on maps with icons. You will have to agree to be tracked. Even then you can completely hide or set your location at some arbitrary place. You would be able to communicate with the friend of family member via mobile, chat, or email. Were you to hook up with the friend, you could get driving directions, too.

Mapmates: It is another service meant for finding friends. Mapmates are the friends with whom you share positional data. Your records from your phone are collected. The company would send the data encrypted via GPRS to your mapmates. You have control over who gets to see you for privacy reasons. Google maps API is used to display positions over maps. Charges are based on “finds” or the number of times a friend/mapmate has been located for you.