AT&T FamilyMap hunts 'em down

AT&T has launched FamilyMap, a fee-based service that will locate any number on your AT&T account. The service will locate and track the number from your wireless phone or PC. The service will not only use cell tower triangulation but also can activate the phone's GPS chip.

AT&T is offering a free 30-day trial period for FamilyMap and after the trial period, it will cost you $9.99 per month to locate up to two phones and $14.99 per month to locate up to five phones. Standard text message rates will also apply to any messages generate when locating a phone. But before you sign up, follow the break to see if this new service is worth the cost, and if it's really as creepy as others have found it  to be.

As a parent, the ability to locate my children can be a tremendous tool.  If my son is late coming home and doesn't answer his phone, FamilyMap will allow me to find out where he is located. FamilyMap can also be set on a schedule to alert me of a phone's location. So, if you want to know if your child has made it home by a certain time after school, you can schedule a location check at that time.

Tracked phones will receive an initial text message notifying them when they have become located and text messages after that point appear to be optional. The service appears to be similar to other Windows Mobile security applications we reviewed earlier this year but lack the data erasing capabilities.

There have been some reservations expressed over this new service. BoyGeniusReport tried the service and no text messages were sent alerting the phone that it was being tracked. Gizmodo tested the service with similar results but found that the text messages were  being sent but the recipient couldn't understand what was being sent and ignored them.    In the event SMS messaging is ignored or fails, Gizmodo has learned that AT&T also sends out snail mail notifications to parties being tracked/located.

Additionally, Gizmodo was able to access the service by creating a separate log-in without knowing the master password.  In these cases, the master account holder would be notified by AT&T with information on how to revoke these privileges.

In testing FamilyMap myself, enrolled phones received text messages when I signed up for the service as well as when I initiated tracking. After my wife raked me over the coals for tracking her, she acknowledged that this would be a nice thing to have when our son starts to drive. I could get a location on my wife withing a hundred yards of her actual location (her phone is GPS enabled) and my son's location was within about three miles (his phone isn't GPS-enabled). 

In reading the Terms of Service for FamilyMap there were two standout sections that made me pause. While it may be mostly boiler-plate language, one section reads: 

"By activating AT&T FamilyMap service, You acknowledge and agree that information concerning the location of Your device(s) may be disclosed to others as part of the service, and You further, agree to notify any users of Your device(s) concerning this disclosure of location information."

While the Terms of Service is wordy, I could find no clarification as to who the "others" might be that could have access to the FamilyMap information. I hope this language is needed for AT&T Customer Service to access your accounts should problems occur but it would be nice if the term "others" was better defined. 

The TOS also strictly forbid FamilyMap to be used for illegal purposes including stalking, harassment, threaten others or be used without permission on a stolen phone. While it makes sense to prohibit these activities, it makes me wonder how easily the service can be abused. 

As a parent of two children, I welcome these type services but expect them to be reasonable, secure, and safe to use. I'm less concerned about my child being notified that I'm checking his location than I am if the service is insecure or the the data can be accessed or shared with "others."  If it is indeed secure, FamilyMap appears to be a useful tool for parents and a likely annoyance for teenagers.

Phil Nickinson

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!