Personal tracking tech puts you on the map

But is tracking your loved ones a big benefit or Big Brother?

Zoombak Zoombak map

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