Zoombak's Advanced Car and Family Locator is the latest in a long line of devices that aim to help us keep track of our loved ones, possessions and pets.
However, its use also raises ethical and personal questions about the privacy of those we want to watch, and how we wanted to be watched ourselves. It's not just Big Brother, but Big Mother, Big Sister and Big Daddy, too.
The Zoombak Advanced Car and Family Locator is an Assisted Global Positioning System (A-GPS) service. It works by marrying a cigarette lighter sized transponder with
back-end support that enables you to keep tabs on your belongings - organic or non.
You do that by logging into an account which you set up on Zoombak's website, where you can also set up alert zones that also notify you by email or mobile phone whenever family members or objects move outside that area.
This comes in handy whether you want to make sure your kids are safely ensconced at school or your car is still in its garage. Zoombak even offers a version that can help you track your pets.
Individual locators cost £99.99, plus a monthly service charge of £9.99 or for an annual fee of another £99.99. It could well give you peace of mind.
As we outlined at the start, Zoombak isn't the only company to offer such solutions. Four of the more popular ones are outlined below:
1. Spot Satellite Personal Tracker
€199.99 • Spot Europe 00 353 1 299 1071 • www.mespot.com
Ostensibly aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, the Spot Satellite Personal Tracker uses true GPS to enable you to be located anywhere - even outside the reach of mobile phone networks.
Spot comes with a 911 emergency 'panic' button that alerts emergency services to your location. It also includes a Check In facility that automatically pings an SMS alert or email via satellite of your current location to a list of specified contacts every time you switch the device on. It also has a Help button to alert those keeping tabs on you for non-life threatening emergencies.
2. G-Sat TR101
£129.99 • Maplin UK 0844 557 6000 • www.maplin.co.uk
Like the Zoombak Advanced Family and Car locator, the G-Sat combines GPS and GSM technology that enables you to keep track of family members via Google Earth. The black and silver transponder also comes with a panic mode that enables it to send SMS text messages to three different contacts giving your last known location. You will, of course, need a mobile phone SIM for the panic option to work - a pay-as-you-go SIM is fine.
3. Trace A Mobile
From £5.88 per month • Trace A Mobile.com 0906 732 0383 • www.traceamobile.com
The benefit and drawback of Trace A Mobile's service is that it requires no special hardware to run - it will work with any mobile phone, with up to five family mobiles covered using a £5.88 per month subscription.
To find a member of your family you simply search for their phone online using the traceamobile.com website. Each search uses up a search credit - the first 10 of which are free, with additional searches costing as little as 20p-35p depending on the tariff you choose.
Trace A Mobile claims its service is accurate down to 50 metres, although it obviously won't work if your mobile phone is switched off. It also currently only works in the UK on O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone networks, although Trace A Mobile are expecting to make more announcements soon.
The system is, however, claimed to be secure from snoopers since each person using a phone has to give permission for tracking to be activated.
4. FollowGB Person Locator
£149 • FollowGB 0871 435 4422 • www.followgb.co.uk
This GPS tracker is around the same size as small mobile phone and uses GPS technology with an accuracy of 10 metres.
Like the G-Sat, it can be used in conjunction with a SIM card, enabling you to make one 'panic' call to a person of your choice. They can track you online using FollowGB's pay-as-you-go web mapping software. It also works internationally - so you needn't get 'lost' when going abroad. Like the Zoombak it also includes alert area SMS texting.
You get 50 free 'tracks' or searches when you buy the product. Additional 'tracks' cost between 5p and 40p depending on tariff.
While we can all think of examples why personal tracking is great idea - the Madeleine McCann case for one, relatives with Alzheimer's Disease another - is also raises a lot of ethical and personal privacy issues.
The biggest of these is that such devices may offer a false sense of security. You may think you know where you kids, car, dog are, but what if they've lost the device, or had it deliberately removed from them. GPS and mobile phone trackers also suffer from a common problem - it may be easy to keep tabs on someone while they're out in the open, but what happens if they go inside a building? Chances are you'll lose the signal.
The other worry, raised by the Privacy International pressure group, is that it may make anxious parents even more protective of their children, so damaging their relationship.
In April 2006, Privacy International director Simon Davis told the BBC:
"There is, particularly for young teenagers, a very important space that needs to be nurtured, for the development of the adolescent psyche. Parents have to be careful not to intrude too closely on that neutral zone."
Davis also warned then that hacking personal tracking devices was also very easy, enabling someone with evil intent to also keep tabs on your children.
Claude Knights, Director of child protection charity Kidscape, told TechRadar:
"Kidscape would be very supportive of any effort to protect children. But just because you've invested a lot of time and money into equipping your child with this it shouldn't lead to you to putting your own radar down. Other forms of vigilance are required.
"One of the things [we're concerned about] is that the technology could have a glitch in it and, if that very day your child is at risk, it doesn't work.
[Protecting your child] should be about your own internal wiring as well - knowing what the safe things are to do, what is not safe, trust between parents and children. All of these things have always been true."