By 2016, 70M families will keep tabs on each other with GPS

If you thought GPS in your phone was only useful for finding the closest Starbucks (s sbux), think again. A growing number of North American and European households are using GPS and cellular location services to keep track of their family members. Berg Insight forecasts that the number of active users of family locator services in those two regions will grow from 16 million in 2011 to 70 million in 2016, driven by smartphone usage.

Tracking vehicles and assets is a big and growing segment in the machine-to-machine (M2M) communications industry, but tracking people is becoming just as important, according to Berg. Companies are using location services to keep tabs on their mobile workforces. Doctors and hospitals are tracking patients with conditions such as autism and epilepsy using special monitoring devices. The trend has spread to encompass the elderly living at home or in assisted living facilities.

The advent of cheap family tracking apps on the smartphone, however, means that these kind of social alarm services can expand beyond a specialized sector into the mainstream. All of the major mobile operators now sell some form of family tracking and monitoring service, often linked to a family plan, but a growing number of apps such as Life360, Family Locator + and Family Tracker are appearing in smartphone app stores, undercutting the operators’ services in price.