AT&T FamilyMap, keeping tabs on your “loved” ones

On April 15th AT&T Wireless launched its browser based service FamilyMap which allows account holders to track mobile phones using cell tower triangulation or GPS (when available). Think of it as a personal lo-jack – only instead of tracking a vehicle or motorcycle, it’s purpose is to track individuals. To fulfill my curiosities concerning the service, I promptly enabled the feature on my account.

What I was surprised to find was that FamilyMap acts and feels like a completely different service offered to subscribers. Rather than redirected to your online Account Management at http://wireless.att.com/ to register, you do so on the FamilyMap site. Signing up requires 1) an AT&T phone number, 2) name and social security number verification of the account holder, and 3) the phone numbers associated with the account to track.

A service for cautious parents

FamilyMap [undeniably] targets the needs of parents who prefer to know where their children are at any given moment. Here’s a peak at the service tracking myself (for those that are curious):

Wide result returned

Curious to know where Derek is at any given moment? After logging into FamilyMap, you would simply select "locate" underneath the picture and phone number of the individual you wish to track. FamilyMap will prompt you with a modal dialog explaining the fact that the result may take up to 2 minute or longer. Once the individual is located a small pin is placed on the map.

Send a message

The only options offered after locating an individual are to place a bookmark or compose a message to send via SMS.

Schedule a locate me check

Because of the wait time required to track an individual, it is probably a good idea to setup a series of scheduled checks which FamilyMap will keep a historical record of.

Up to 2 minutes or more for results

Time required for location

A lot can happen in 2+ minutes when it comes to tracking a handset. The accuracy of the result while tracking myself through the service were quite disappointing; especially when you compare the results against something like Google Maps Mobile + Latitude (free). My personal tests took anywhere between 3-4 minutes per request.

Lack of main Account Management integration

FamilyMap really should be a integrated with the main account holders home page. Unless AT&T has future plans to turn FamilyMap into more of a &qout;social" service, it should be integrated as a separate tab inside a users Account Management page. Lack of account integration means that in order to cancel the service, you need to call customer service directly to request the change. With a monthly charge of $9.99 for two lines, or $14.99 for up to 5, the service is not something you want to forget to cancel.

Another attempt by AT&T for consumer accessible mobile tracking

In early 2002, AT&T wireless offers subscribers a pay for service aimed at helping track friends who were near your current location using cell tower triangulation. The tracking service – Find Friends – was offered as part of mMode wireless add-on with technology powered by Kivera. A text message notification was sent to an individual whenever a friend requested knowledge of their whereabouts.

Consumer cellphone tracking services will continue to improve

Verizon Wireless offers a similar service for parents called Chaperon while T-Mobile has yet to offer a version for their customers. There is no question that the market for easily accessible consumer cellphone tracking services is out there. People are willing to pay a monthly in exchange for any time [discrete] real-time tracking information.

With free services like Google Latitude, Brighkite, and Fire Eagle pushing the technology, paid for services offered by carriers have much room for improvement.

What are your thoughts? Are tracking services offered by carriers good or bad? From a parental standpoint, if you enabled the feature to track your children, would you tell them?

Discuss - One Comment

  1. DR. J says:

    Just signed up and it works great, came to within 3 Mile of my Family Members Phone. We’re in new Townhomes. AT&T is adding new towers all the time so it will improve. Just got the free 30 day for now, but will keep. Family going to Europe in June wonder if it will work there.