Sprint Guardian brings parental controls to mobile phones

Sprint Guardian is a suite of services and Android apps to help parents monitor and control up to four Sprint phones.

In a recent story,  Janell Hoffman gave her thirteen-year old son Greg Hoffman an Apple iPhone for Christmas along with an 18-point contract outlining the terms of use. The reaction was mixed with people debating the validity of various points as either too controlling or on-point. The story became viral in part because parental control of their children’s phone usage has been a hot debate for the last several years. With the processing power of smart phones exceeding some computers, smart phones can be a tool or a burden. Many fear today’s generation is becoming slave to their mobile devices. While the debate rages on on many fronts, Sprint has been working on leveraging mobile technology to try and solve some of the more common problems facing parents as it pertains to smart phone usage.

Sprint Guardian

Sprint Guardian is a suite of services and Android apps to help parents monitor and control up to four Sprint phones with one phone serving as the control phone. It includes Family Safety Essentials and Lookout Family Mobile Security. This article focuses on Family Safety Essentials which consist of three apps/services: Sprint Family Locator, Sprint Mobile Controls, and Sprint Drive first. The bundle cost $9.99/month for up to five lines with a free 15 day trial.The apps are intuitive and easy to use with minimal effort to get started.

Screenshot_2013_01_03_11_49_52Sprint Family Locator

Sprint Family Locator is a location service, as opposed to a tracking service. It will not show the path the phone takes. The parent must initiate the reporting of the child phone’s location. Think of it as a reverse Facebook or Foursquare Check-in. Although it does not continuously track the phone, the app does keep a history of previous checks. It works even when the target phone’s GPS is off using cell tower signal triangulation as a backup. Once the parent phone locates the child phone, the parent has the option of sending a text or calling the phone. It also features a geo fence where a parent can get a notification when the child arrives home or at school.

It’s interesting that apps like Fake GPS cannot be used to report fake locations to this service. Even with Fake GPS installed and running reporting a false location, Sprint Family Locator located the child phone correctly. Obviously this feature is defeated by the child or anyone else removing the battery or turning off the phone but the parent phone will get an immediate notification that the phone is not found when the parent attempts to locate the child’s phone. There are many legitimate reasons why a phone may not be able to receive a GPS or mobile signal such as a dead battery or poor reception but that’s a limitation in any GPS tracking/location app. In testing, the speed of the location function was good but the accuracy was mixed. In some cases, the first attempt at locating a device used cell tower triangulation instead of GPS data even when the child phone had a clear GPS signal. Immediately relocating the device sometimes resulted in more accurate positioning which used the child phone’s GPS. In other cases, the parent phone kept reporting that the child phone was not turned on when it was clearly operating with an active GPS signal. Note that cell tower triangulation can be off by as much as 1/2 mile whereas GPS positioning is generally accurate to within a few feet if there’s a good signal. However, this difference does not take away from the utility of this feature. Parents will most likely use this to get a confirmation that the child is at school or at a friend’s house. To get an accurate confirmation of where a child really is, nothing beats a pair of eyes on the child.