AT&T is offering a new service that allows parents--or potentially jealous spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends--to track loved ones using their phones.
AT&T's service, called FamilyMaps, allows people to track the location of any cell phone on AT&T's network from a mobile phone or PC. The person being tracked receives a text message informing him or her that he or she is being watched. The service periodically informs the tracked individual that he or she is being watched, just in case one text message reminder wasn't enough.
Users can either track someone in real time by viewing the location on a map or they can set up the service to send them text message alerts or e-mails with location information. For example, a parent may get an alert each day that his child made it home from school. Or perhaps a jealous girlfriend looking to keep tabs on her boyfriend could set up the service to notify her if her boyfriend happens to wander into a bar or over to his ex-girlfriend's apartment after work.
Users can only track phones that are part of their family plans. This means that stalkers looking to keep tabs on their old flames won't simply be able to type in their ex-lover's phone numbers and start tracking. (I suppose those people will just have to settle for stalking via Facebook and Twitter updates.)
The service uses satellite GPS technology and cell tower triangulation to pin-point the location of the phone. The service is not supported on prepaid or AT&T Go Phones. And the service costs $9.99 for two phones and $14.99 for up to five phones.
Location-based services are nothing new. They've been around for years and are expected to generate a lot of money for carriers in the future. Already, most major mobile operators are offering some kind of location-based service, such as GPS-enabled navigation or tracking.
Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and Alltel have each been offering "tracking" services for more than a year. Sprint Nextel has even lowered the price of its service from about $10 a month to $5 a month.
The social-networking company Loopt also offers a "friend finding" application that can be downloaded on certain phones. Loopt is offered as a free application on Apple's iPhone, which operates over AT&T's network. It's also offered on some Verizon and Sprint Nextel phones.
There are several other social-networking services that use location information to track or find friends or share information via a cell phone. Google also offers a tracking/friend finding application it calls Latitude. There are also other services, such as FourSquare, Whrrl, and Brightkite.
What's different about these social-networking location services from the service AT&T is offering is that these other services often require those being "tracked" to also run the application on their phones. These services also typically have privacy settings controlled by the person being tracked that allows him or her to turn off their "friend-finding beacon" and to hide from certain individuals.