It's a parent's worst nightmare. Your child doesn't come home one evening and is missing for several days.
When a 14-year-old boy from Atlanta disappeared earlier this year, his mother turned to her smartphone for clues using an app called Family Tracker that helped track his location. It is one of several apps that allow parents to track the whereabouts of their children.
"You can see where your loved ones are without having to call or bother them," said Roberto Franceschetti of LogSat, the creators of Family Tracker, with more than 100,000 users and available worldwide.
Parents can track the location of their child on a map, send messages and even activate an alarm on the phone remotely.
"We have an option for the sender to make a very nasty, noisy sound. It's a loud siren, and we repeat that sound every two minutes until the person picks up," he said.
Parents don't need to own a smartphone to track their child. The service is also accessible via the web, as long as the phone that is being tracked is running the app, which is $5-$6 and runs on iPhone or Android devices.
Family Tracker has an additional service that keeps a log of all data generated by the app for a two-week period; the company calls it GPS breadcrumbs. The service was used to find the Atlanta boy.
"With a subscription, we keep all the locations where people have been on our servers. You can see where your kid has been for the past two weeks. You can find out where someone was at a certain time, or when that person was at a specific place," Franceschetti explained. "When somebody gets abducted, usually whoever does this throws the phone away or takes the battery out. We were hoping that our app would at least provide information on where the person was abducted or where they had been in the past — that way the police would have a history or some clues as to who they may have been seeing."
"My advice to any parent is not to be shy about keeping tabs on your children," said the Atlanta boy's mother, who preferred to remain anonymous. "Technology cannot replace proactive communication and healthy parent child relationships but I have found that it is one more tool in a good parent's arsenal."