Mobile carriers in the U.S. will soon have expanded Family Locator solutions in place that offer far more controls than simply tracking family members' whereabouts. Instead, these services will offer tools that allow parents to stop teens from texting while driving, stop "sexting" from occurring and stop kids from communicating with unwanted parties. Parents will also be able to read the content of text messages, preview mobile photos before being posted publicly on the Internet or sent to friends and will be able to specify what types of applications can be downloaded to kids' phones and when those apps can be used.
Personal Security is Big Money Maker in Location-Based Services Market
For those who grew up before the era of mobile phones, these type of "mom and dad are your Big Brother" services may strike you as a bit disconcerting with the level of access they provide. But for mobile operators and the service providers, that access has proved both valuable in retaining customers, as well as quite lucrative (to the tune of a $50 billion personal securities market, no less.)
According to the CEO of one such service provider, Tasso Roumeliotis, founder and CEO of Location Labs, there's a high willingness to pay for "Family Locator" services like AT&T's FamilyMap, T-Mobile's FamilyWhere and Sprint's Family Locator, for example.
Carriers like selling such services, too. When a mobile operator is able to convert an account to a family plan, it reduces its churn rate by 75%, Roumeliotis says. Currently, 65% of subscribers in the U.S. are on this type of plan. Within this market, there are now millions of users who are happy to pay for Family Locator solutions at a cost of $5 to $15 dollars per month, generally speaking.
While there's much debate over the future of location-based "checkin" services like Silicon Valley darling Foursquare or Facebook's Places, there's no question that families are finding the real value of location-based services in tracking their family members' movements. To put these numbers in perspective, Roumeliotis says there were more "paid-for locates" last year than there were Foursquare checkins. And according to Foursquare's own data, there were 381,576,305 checkins in 2010, to give you an idea.
Parental Controls and Access Baked Into Handsets
But while location-based tracking and alerts (child arrives at school, spouse left the office) have been available for some time, other types of services are now on their way to users' handsets, too.
Location Labs is now providing solutions that address the texting-while-driving problem, via partnerships with both Sprint and T-Mobile at present, and more are on the way. Unlike smartphone applications, these services reside deep in the phone's firmware and cannot simply be switched off by closing an app or turning off GPS. Instead, the service, provided by Location Labs' security platform called "Sparkle," works by using APIs (application programming interfaces) that provide developers access to location, velocity plus controls for data, voice and text. And it works on both smartphones (iPhone, Android and BlackBerry) and select feature phones (Brew Mobile for now).
In addition to being able to track where a family member is located, or turn off the ability for someone to text while the car is in motion, this service also provides access to other data and activity taking place on the device. For parents, this means that they'll soon be able to observe and control more aspects of how their children are using their phones.
Parents will be able to preview photos before they leave the device, read the content of text messages, stop kids from downloading apps or games, restrict Web searches, restrict when apps or other features of the phone can and cannot be used, whitelist or blacklist specific applications, restrict who can contact kids (and vice versa) and much more.
And unlike some of the Internet "net nanny" solutions from days past, those being tracked on their mobiles are never unaware. The service sends out messages at intermittent (but for security reasons, random) intervals, alerting users that they are being located or monitored.
While these advanced features are not available on phones today, their arrival is just around the corner. Location Labs says it will make an announcement related to this technology in Q3 2011 involving at least one major carrier here in the U.S. And in two years time, says Roumeliotis, ubiquitous parental controls like this will be the norm on all carriers.Come to the ReadWriteWeb 2WAY Summit, where danah boyd of Microsoft Research will explore the practice of teen sexting, highlighting why entrepreneurs should care, what the social and legal implications of this practice are, and how technology companies should respond. Learn more.