Q: Is a free laptop tracking program safe to use or should I look for a pay service?
All of your mobile devices are much more vulnerable to being lost or stolen, so planning ahead is really smart.
Various options are built into operating systems, such as Find My Mac, Find My iPhone from Apple, Find My Device from Google for Android devices, or Find My Device in Windows 10 from Microsoft.
These built-in options are great, but they have limitations and only provide a possible location based on the last time it was connected to the internet.
They’re great for those times that you can’t find your device in your home or office because you can combine the location info along with a command to make a sound even if it’s set to be silent.
Third-party options will expand what you can do when a device has gone missing, which can greatly improve your chances of retrieving it.
A couple of the helpful options include the ability to have the lost device take a picture of who’s using it and grab a screenshot of whatever is currently open on the laptop screen.
Both of these options can be very helpful in deciphering where the laptop may be located along with who’s using it. This additional info can be invaluable if you contact law enforcement for help.
If you only have location information, there’s not much law enforcement is likely to do for you.
You can also camouflage the software, which makes it hard for a thief to know that they’re being tracked and protect the removal of the software with a PIN in the event they do discover it.
Another useful feature that can be an early warning system is the ability to create a “geofence” around your primary location of use. By creating this invisible fence, you can be automatically alerted when the device leaves your pre-determined area.
Other advanced features may include the ability to retrieve files, wipe data or perform a factory reset on smartphones and tablets.
Free or pay?
The only reason to pay for a device-tracking program is if the “premium” features are something that you find important.
My personal favorite, Prey Project, offers both free and pay options for personal or business use.
The free “basic” option will allow you to track up to three devices, set one geofence control zone, device tracking and remote locking, front and back camera shots, and screenshot snapshots.
Camera access can get a little tricky because of all of the protective steps that have been taken to protect access, so this is one feature that may not be available on some devices.
You’ll have to switch to a pay account if you want remote file access, remote data wipes and faster reports when you set a device to missing — every two minutes instead of every 10 minutes in the basic package.
The combination of what is already built into your devices and Prey’s tools should provide most users with everything they need to protect their mobile devices.