When the Lee family’s 80-year-old senile grandfather would wander out of their house in Myeongil-dong, eastern Seoul, the family often had trouble finding him.
So when a new location detection service began in January, the Lees were one of the first to sign up, said a family member who asked not to be identified further. The senior Lee went missing one day, and the family searched for him for three hours. The family called the location service provider, which sent out a couple of its security members.
They found Lee in less than an hour.
While location detection services have been used in the past mainly by official agencies such as the police, more and more citizens are paying for commercial services.
The detection services range from people finding, including children and senior citizens, to pets, automobiles and even expensive products.
The Korea Location Information and Communications Co. offers a location information detection service for individuals and corporations.
Its technology is based on a small chip, which is placed in a small plastic container or embedded in a wristband, the firm said in a release.
The company uses signal towers to narrow the site of the chip to a certain area, and then uses a handheld monitor on the ground to narrow down the target.
The company developed its service in September and began commercial service earlier this year. The service is only available in Seoul and the metropolitan area now, but the company plans to expand it this year to metropolitan cities, then begin nationwide services next year, the company said.
As of the end of March, the company had about 4,000 subscribers. KLIS said in the release that inquiries jumped threefold after a young child was kidnapped and murdered in Incheon in March.
Due to privacy issues, however, cell phone service providers will not allow “anyone” to look up someone else’s cell phone location.
Prosecutors and police can only trace a person’s location with a search warrant obtained from the court; the general public can only seek information on another person’s location if that person has been officially reported missing.
Minors, however, can be monitored by their parents, and such services are growing in popularity as the rate of child kidnappings increase, cell phone companies said.
Even if the child is not using the phone, the location can still be detected as long as the phone is turned on because the phone continues to communicate with the nearest base station.
All three of Korea’s cell phone service providers offer location detection via cell phones.
SK Telecom’s “child safety service” sends a message to the parent every hour, with a message of where the child is. Parents can also designate a certain region as a perimeter, and be alerted if the child leaves that area, according to a release from the company.
KTF also has a similar service call “Child Search.” In April, 13,000 people subscribed to this service, which can send the location of the child to up to four family members, the company said in a release.
Parents can also trace where the child has been. For human rights reasons, such child-monitoring services are only available for children under the age of 12.
Location detection is also being increasingly used to keep a tab on pricey objects.
Cosmos Corp., a musical instrument dealer, last month began a service for customers who want to keep an eye on expensive instruments, the company said in a release. The price for the location tracing service starts at 9,000 won ($9.72) per month. The service is also linked with a home security and bodyguard service.
A flat, square plastic device about as long as a thumb is placed within the instrument’s case. If the instrument is missing, a security agent will search for the instrument, responding to signals that can trace the object to a 1-meter (3.3-foot) radius, according to the release. Users can also confirm the location of the instrument around the clock through the Internet or their cell phone.
Zeus Guard, a private bodyguard company, uses detection services to monitor its cars and agents that are on duty. In the past, agents had to call in for their precise location to be determined, the company said in a release.
LG CNS tagged vehicles transporting important computer equipment when it had to move from Suwon, Gyeonggi Province to Seoul.
Beginning in July, regional governments plan to use location detectors for the welfare of their residents.
Suwon city plans to offer elderly people who live alone devices that not only reveal their location, but have buttons that the user can press to call an ambulance.
By Wohn Dong-hee for JoongAng Daily