For some parents, a new cell phone service offered by Sprint represents peace of mind for them and independence for their children. But others see it as a potential breach of trust.
On Thursday, Sprint Nextel began offering Family Locator, a service that allows parents to see where their children really are by tracking their cell phones. At a Web site accessed by cell phone or computer, parents with the service can find their child’s location pinpointed on a map.
Cell phones with global positioning system technology are already eligible for the service, which costs $9.99 per month for each parent phone to which it’s downloaded.
Jaime Breedlove of Chandler said it’s a little early to purchase the service to track her 16-month-old daughter, but that she would definitely consider it when she’s older.
The monthly fee would be worth it, “just to know where they are,” Breedlove said. “So they have independence, but you still know where they are.”
Jim Murphy, a Gilbert father of two girls, ages 12 and 15, said he wouldn’t want to have to use the service.
“It’s sort of sad that parents would need to do that, but I can see certain situations where it may be necessary,” he said. “I trust my children to be where they say they’re going to be.”
Murphy said he could see how the service could be helpful if a child was abducted, but that the ability to thwart the service by turning the phone off or taking it out of range hurts its effectiveness.
Kerry Kuperman, a 17-year-old Scottsdale resident and Chaparral High School junior, said she already would get in trouble if she didn’t answer when her parents call her cell phone. She added that, though she has nothing to hide, knowing her cell can be tracked isn’t a good feeling.
“As a teenager I don’t like it,” she said. “It doesn’t give you good privacy; it doesn’t feel like your parents trust you.”
Trust issues aside, Sprint is aiming its kid tracker at a growing market — families with multiple phones on one plan, known as family plans. Almost half, or 9.6 million, of Sprint’s wireless subscribers are part of a family plan, according to M:Metrics, a Seattle research firm. That number doesn’t include the company’s Nextel subscribers.
Phil Shearon, a communications consultant at a Sprint store in Gilbert, said the store sells most of the 17 parent phone models that can track other phones. About 30 cell phone models can be tracked by the service.
No one has stopped by the store at Gilbert and Germann roads to sign up for Family Locator yet, but Shearon said he could see it being a hit with the parents who come by. He compared it to a high-tech version of an old tactic used to track teen drivers.
“So many people have those bumper stickers on the back of their cars that say, ‘If this car is out past 11 p.m., please call . . .’ “ he said. “I think this would be very effective for parents.”
Other cell phone providers also hope to cash in on busy, young families: Disney Mobile last week unveiled its new wireless phone service targeting families at CTIA Wireless 2006, a wireless convention in Las Vegas. Among other things, the service allows parents to monitor where their children are. The service is set to launch in June. And Verizon Wireless also is expected to launch a similar service called Verizon Chaperone next month.
Matt Lewis, an 18-year-old Chandler resident, said his parents and younger brother share a family plan on Verizon, but that he recently got his own cell plan from the provider. He said his parents probably wouldn’t need a locator service to keep track of him.
“My parents text me a lot,” he said, adding that he usually calls or texts them back to check in.
How Family Locator works
WHAT TO DO: Parents stop by a Sprint Nextel store or shop online to order the service on a new or existing phone equipped with global positioning technology. Both Disney Mobile and Verizon plan to offer similar services soon.
THE COST: For $9.99 a month added to the existing cell phone bill, the Family Locator application is downloaded to one parent’s phone. The application allows unlimited location requests for up to four child phones.
HOW IT WORKS: Parents access the service from their phone or from their computer with password protection and choose from four options: Locate, Messaging, Manage or Exit. “Locate” accesses the global positioning system to track the child’s phone, but if GPS is unavailable, the phone can be tracked via the nearest cell phone tower.
PROBLEMS: The service will not work if the child’s phone is off or out of signal range.
NOTIFICATION: Parents can set up features like a daily text message or e-mail that notifies the parent when the child arrives at school, day care or a specific address.