GPS Tracking and Teens — Recommendations

    I get a lot of searches on "Tracking Teens" and "Teen GPS" so I thought it was time to do a comprehensive rundown on the subject.

    It’s certainly a hot item these days.  One of the first issues that always comes up is privacy and legality.  These amazing days parents seem to have to live in fear of their children suing them.  Of course, parents who let their teens get in trouble also are often in a legal bind as well.  Here’s a very interesting article on FindLaw teen tracking Legalities .  In general it’s about what you would expect from a lawyer not working directly for you … a confirmation that there is currently very little actual law on the subject and that in general, parental rights are going to trump any rights that children might have.  I’ll have bit more to say on this subject in my recommended techniques and implementations at the conclusion of this piece.

    Given that you have the right, and the duty, how can you go about it?  There are a number of common techniques and services available and I’ll give you my professional opinion on the pros and cons of each one:

      • Cell Phone tracking:  this is currently a big commercial venture by a number of major carriers.  GPS-enabled cell phones are readily and cheaply available and many of the plans are quite inexpensive.

          • Pros: 

            • Cheap

            • Readily available

            • Commonly known (the kids won’t have to feel like geeks)

            • No installation, software installs, etc.  Buy the phone, buy the service, track the phone

              • Some of the many vendors:

                • ULocate: Available for Motorola Phones on Nextel or Verizon only ~$15 extra per month

                • Mobile Locator this service offered by Sprint is also tied to the Nextel network ~$15 extra per month

                • Sprint also offers a separate Family Locator Service which has been talked about a lot but is hard to find hard data on.

              • Cons

                • Cheap … un the GPS world it’s still very much a case of you get what you pay for.  These services use very cheaply-built consumer grade cell phones, somewhat of a "catch as catch can" tracking "back end" and are offered by companies to whom tracking is a very foreign thing.

                • Reliability … poor.  In addition to cell phone coverage issues, most of these phones make it amazingly easy to defeat the tracking application.  Merely receiving a phone call requires the phone user to manually re-enable tracking … “Ooops, mom, I forgot”.

                • Premise … backwards.  You want to track your teen and keep him or her safe.  So instead you track their phone.  Well if I’m going to drag race at two in the morning I’m going to leave my phone with the ‘stake holder’ in the drive in while I go out an run a hundred and fifty through traffic.  If I don’t wind up killing someone from the Tongan Royal family, mom will just think I have been in the drive-in drinking Diet Doctor Pepper.

                 

                  • In Car dedicated GPS Tracker, Live: These typically are the same units used by many small businesses to track employees and trucks.  They can be mounted out of sight and semi-permanently so at least you know you’re tracking the kid’s car and not his phone in his girlfriend’s handbag.  They send reports back to parents at regular intervals and thus have some sort of monthly subscription fees.

                      • Pros:

                        • Significantly better reliability.  Most install easily and just plain work

                        • Much better resolution.  If these units say Jane is driving on Maple Street, she’s driving on maple Street.

                        • Long-life.  One of these systems will last through several teen’s driving careers.  A cell phone is out of style in 6 months.

                        • Cons:

                          • Upfront investment

                          • Monthly fees

                          • All require some installation work

                          • Only track the car and not the driver if s/he goes "walkabout"

                           

                            • In car dedicated GPS Tracker, Historic (data loggers):  These are offered in both consumer and commercial grade.  they report the driver’s activity after the fact, such as when the car returns home for the night.  This doesn’t sound as "sexy" as real time units but they are preferred by many businesses, security fleets, school districts, etc.  they offer the most "bang for the buck" in reporting.

                                • Pros:

                                  • Low initial cost

                                  • relatively simple installation

                                  • NO monthly cost

                                    • Some typical suppliers:

                                      • Travel Eyes2 The Internet’s low-price leader.  List price ~ $200 USD, no monthly cost

                                      • Shadow Tracker  About $500 USD.  Reports for free at home on a wireless link

                                      • GO RF or Key About $500 USD, reports by key chain fob or private wireless

                                    • Cons:

                                      • Not real time, only report after the fact

                                      • Installation is required

                                      • All cost more than cell phone based solutions

                                       

                                        • Non-GPS Services:  Typically these revolve around bumper stickers and 1-800 numbers asking fellow motorists to report egregious or even exemplary driving behavior.

                                            • Pros:

                                              • No equipment required

                                              • Cheap .. costs can be as little as the price of a bumper sticker if the parent wants to use their own phone number

                                              • Many eyes are watching:  Parents may get reports of behavior that wouldn’t be noticed by GPS … riding friends on the hood, basting their 20,000 watt stereos in public places, having sex in the school parking lot, etc.

                                              • Cons:

                                                • Very much hit or miss.  Who among us hasn’t seem a driver doing something dangerous and just shaken our head and gone on our way.  In my own experience I would _never_ call one of these numbers on a private car, because the typical parent will want to argue about how good his or her little angel is … not worth my time or blood pressure.

                                                • Subject to abuse:  teens are always getting into disputes with each other … it’s a part of growing up.  Billy gets pissed at Frankie, Frankie has a "how’s my driving" sticker, Frankie’s dad is going to get a call … facts of life.

                                                • Responsibility:  If I want reports on my child’s behavior, I am going to gather the data.  It is not the responsibility of others to look after my child, nor is it my responsibility to monitor yours.  It may "Take a Village" in today’s world, but it takes individual responsibility within that village to make it work.

                                              • Hope some of these meanderings have given you some insight into the issues and what’s available.

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