AT&T FamilyMap Review

The AT&T service pushes the boundaries of legal cell phone tracking

Family in pajamas enjoying breakfast with parents texting
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Emergency personnel and police have long had the ability to track the approximate location of a cell phone by using the phone service companies' technology, triangulating positions relative to cell phone towers. This location capability has improved significantly over the years as more phones come equipped with GPS chips that are able to more precisely position the user.

Access to a mobile phone's location, and consequently to the location of the person using it, has been very limited outside of emergency responders because of legal and privacy concerns. This is changing with the introduction of services such as AT&T FamilyMap. Here we review and rate the service that allows parents to check the locations of their children and registered family members.

Pros

  • Easily and accurately track phones within your billing group.
  • Receive a text when your child reaches sports practice or home, for example.
  • Can locate a lost or stolen phone (if the phone is turned on).

Cons

  • There is a monthly subscription fee.
  • Understand privacy rules and notifications before using.

Description

  • For AT&T Wireless customers only.
  • $9.99 per month to locate up to 10 lines. There is a free 30-day trial period.
  • Works with all mobile phones, not just A-GPS equipped phones. The service is more accurate with GPS phones, however.
  • Access via any web browser or web-enabled smartphone.
  • Send text messages through the service (your plan's text message rates apply).

Review

AT&T's FamilyMap service provides you with a powerful tool for tracking the location of a cell phone that is part of your billing group. You may also set up zones and schedules (school, home, work, sitter's house, etc.) for which automatic notifications via text or e-mail are triggered when the tracked phone enters or leaves a zone. You can tune the schedules for specific days of the week and time combinations. You establish as many zones as you wish (just enter the addresses) and tune notifications with a simple point-and-click calendar/timing menu. The setup process is easy and intuitive.

AT&T FamilyMap is set up and managed via a web browser. However, you may also do location lookups from a web-enabled smartphone.

When you log into FamilyMap, you are presented with a familiar top-view, zoomable map, including road, aerial, and a "birds-eye" views that provide a wide-angle aerial perspective. Once logged in, click the locate button, and FamilyMap will take up to two minutes to locate the requested phone's location.

Accuracy depends on variables such as tower locations, the strength of the signal, and whether the phone is equipped with A-GPS. FamilyMap never failed to position our test phone (which had a GPS chip). The service presents a precise position on the map (represented by an icon) with a disclaimer about possible variance (40 yards to .9 miles in our tests). The service was quite accurate with locations, generally within 40 yards or less.

Read the legal and privacy restrictions before you sign up. The service is best for keeping an eye on younger family members or for the convenience of an automatic notification when those in your billing group reach practice, school, work, home, or other important zones you define. When the service is initially started, it texts tracked numbers to inform them they are being tracked via FamilyMap.