Location tracking is only recently reaching the affordability level of the average Joe, but it’s still not ideal. So when Chris Molnar’s girlfriend wanted to track her stuff during a recent house move, he came up with a plan: A $99 iPhone.
Instead of a GPS-based uplinking dedicated tracker with a costly monthly fee, Chris opted for a cheap iPhone 3G from Best Buy. As a new AT&T user he was eligible for the cheap price and planned on using the company’s 30-day opt-out scheme to return the phone anyway. Combined with a $99 year’s subscription to Mobile Me, this gave the couple an ideal iPhone-based tracking system through the wonders of Apple’s “Find My iPhone” security feature. It was possibly even more powerful than the dedicated GPS tracker option, since the iPhone uses assisted GPS signals from Wi-Fi towers when the GPS signal isn’t good enough to resolve a location accurately.
And did this inexpensive solution work? You betcha. While the removal team was packing up at the Chicago start point, Chris turned on the iPhone, enabled push notifications, and made sure it could be located on Mobile Me. He then bolted on an auxiliary battery pack to keep it running and dropped it in a packing box. Over the next three days they were able to track the moving truck on its journey through New Mexico and into California to its destination–the only issue was a Mobile Me downtime problem, which meant for a period they weren’t able to locate the phone. It’s a neat way to track something if you’re not particularly comfortable trusting a delivery man with your stuff.
The story has a slightly dark conclusion, though. Chris also points out that there’s an unexpected spying loophole in the service too: If you get hold of someone else’s iPhone, you can add a special Mobile Me account to their device and then use the system to track it from afar. In an era where our smartphones are increasingly smart, stuffed with AR apps, all our personal details, Location-Based Services, and links to data services in the cloud, this sort of location tracking is becoming easier and easier and cheaper and cheaper. Obviously the legality of tracking someone via their smartphone is dubious, but I suspect that won’t stop nefarious government agencies do it, or some suspicious spouses making sure their partner’s business trips are actually legit.