As "scary" as the little witches and goblins scurrying around on Halloween may be, what's really frightening for parents is the thought of losing track of their children as they make the trick-or-treat rounds this Wednesday evening.
Well, never fear, technology's here, say purveyors of GPS tracking devices and services.
Major telecoms like Sprint and Verizon offer subscribers GPS-tracking services tied into a child's cell phone. Verizon's Chaperone service, for example, locates the little trick-or-treater's phone via a dashboard parents can access on a computer or another Verizon wireless cell phone, said Dale Beasley, associate director of location-based services at the New York, N.Y.-based carrier.
"This particular service requires that subscribers be in Verizon's Family Share plan. That's to ensure that all of the devices are in same plan, so mom and dad's devices can locate the children, but nobody else's can," Beasley said.
Chaperone is sold as a monthly subscription for $9.99 a month per child, with the parent's tracking application included.
Another Verizon service lets parents build a "geo-zone" around a location like a school or, perhaps, an approved trick-or-treating neighborhood. The parents are sent an SMS alert if their child's tracking device leaves the pre-set parameters of that area, Beasley said.
Meanwhile, parents who do deploy a tracking device shouldn't tell their young children about it. That's the advice of Todd Morris, CEO of BrickHouse Security, a distributor of audio alert units, and GPS and RFID tracking devices for children.
"We have trackers with panic buttons on them, but with kids that's really the last thing you want, to have them fumbling around with the device and calling 911. More importantly, if the child knows the device is there, they may draw attention to it and then the people you don't want to know about will know it's there," Morris said.
The busy season for companies selling child tracking services and devices? Right now, say both Beasley and Morris. "Clearly these are the times when parents are concerned about where their children are, certainly in the back-to-school time frame and around Halloween, we see additional demand for the Chaperone service," Beasley said.
Morris, whose New York, N.Y.-based company sells trackers that can switch from the GPS system to the cellular network when a child enters a tunnel or building, said much the same.
"We get a lot of interest for our smaller trackers for tracking children around back-to-school time, and parents tend to deploy them around Halloween, as well. The devices are like a pager, so a lot of parents will sew them into their kids' backpacks," said BrickHouse Security CEO Todd Morris.
Different situations merit different tracking solutions, Morris added. For very young children, BrickHouse Security offers a small audio alert device that attaches to a child's shoe or clothing. Set in a pink or brown plastic casing shaped like a teddy bear, the device emits an intermittent chirping sound when the child's parent clicks a keychain transmitter. The company's RFID trackers can locate missing children within a radius of 300 to 600 feet.
BrickHouse Security, the North American distributor of Lightning GPS products, also sells tracking solutions that tie into GoogleEarth and a GPS logging device that plays back all the places a tracking unit has been over a particular timeframe.
BrickHouse Security has a small channel of dedicated resellers but Morris said most solution providers like to work out joint sales agreements with his company on a case-by-case basis.
"It seems like this channel is mostly opportunistic. We've only had a few VARs who really get it, who have built their business or part of their business around these sorts of security and tracking technologies," he said.
"We work with a lot of solution providers, doing joint sales calls, where we'll even say we're with their company in the GPS department," he said. "It's an emerging technology, so there's not a lot of room for a million companies doing just GPS."
While tracking and mapping technology has made the most inroads in the commercial distribution and delivery space, recent changes in the pricing landscape for retail devices have made such units more appealing to parents, Morris said.
"Two years ago, these sorts of devices sold for $1,500 and were pretty much limited to high-profile executives. But now we're down to the $500 level, so parents are starting to pay attention," he said.