Every time you turn on your cell phone, it broadcasts its location. Cell phones manufactured in 2005 and earlier may only announce that location relative to the nearest cellular transmission tower. More recent models are more precise, locating themselves within 100 meters of their exact location. Using embedded Global Positioning System (GPS) software, these phones also transmit location data whenever you make a 911 emergency call. Such cell phones are GPS equipped. Cell phones that extend this GPS capacity by allowing you to locate them at any time are also GPS enhanced. Understanding the difference between these terms is essential if you want to find a cell phone by using its GPS capability.
Determine if your cell phone and any others you want to locate are GPS enhanced. If your cell phone is a third-generation (3G) cell phone--also called a smartphone--it will include this feature. Earlier cell phones may not. Contact your cell phone manufacturer to find out if your phone is GPS enhanced.
Find out if your wireless service provider supports GPS location tracking. GPS tracking applications are data intensive and place a heavy load on your service provider's equipment. If you have an account with one of the major service providers such as AT&T, Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint, you will have this functionality. If your account is with a less well-known company, you may not. Check with your provider to be sure.
Locate tracking software that matches your needs. Your wireless provider may supply tracking software. Verizon, for example, offers Chaperone, which you can use to track the location of cell phones your children use. If you are more interested in staying in touch with your friends, social messaging products like the iPhone application Loopt and Google's Latitude may be more appropriate. Both were recently reviewed by "PC World."
Check if your cell phone brand can use the tracking software. Loopt, for instance, only works with iPhones. Latitude currently supports only Google Android phones, color BlackBerry devices and Windows Mobile phones.
Determine the cost of GPS tracking. Loopt and Latitude are free applications, but you will be charged your usual wireless provider's data transmission rates while using them. Chaperone charges a flat $10 to your monthly Verizon bill.
Locate the tracking software you want with your phone's browser and download it. If you want to also use your computer for cell phone tracking, you will need to download companion software to it as well. Google makes this easy with Latitude. All you need to do is add a Latitude gadget to your iGoogle page.
Run your tracking program. You will need to input additional data for the program to operate. Loopt and Latitude will ask you to identify the friends whose cell phone locations you want to track. Once you select them, they will receive email messages asking them to give you permission to track them. If they grant that permission, their icons appear on a Google map of their locations. As they and their cell phones travel, their icons move to different map locations. Your cell phone's location will be pinpointed too, making it easy for you and your friends to get together.
Things You'll Need
Service provider that can transmit maps and GPS data
Software that uses maps to transmit location data
Some tracking software vendors also sell cell phones that already have the tracking applications loaded.
Using cell phones to track others without their permission is illegal.