Are family tracking apps a good idea?

The $3.99 Family Tracker represents a huge savings over AT&T's similar service. It's also a good way to recover a lost iPhone. But does it represent an invasion of privacy?

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
2 min read
Family Tracker lets you keep tabs on iPhone-packing family members--or just your own iPhone.
Family Tracker lets you keep tabs on iPhone-packing family members--or just your own iPhone. LogSat Software LLC

Like iHound before it, Family Tracker was a fairly useless iPhone app until iOS 4 and multitasking came along. Now the app offers a fairly effective way for you to keep tabs on iPhone-carrying family members.

The question is, should you?

Family Tracker works much like the locator services carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have offered for years. In a nutshell, the app transmits GPS location data from the iPhone. Anyone you authorize can monitor the phone's location via a Web browser or another iPhone.

Shades of Big Brother, right? Yes and no. I can recall numerous times when my wife and children were late coming home--and she wasn't answering her phone, usually because she couldn't hear it ringing. This resulted in a lot of extra worrying on my part.

If she'd had Family Tracker, I could have fired up my Web browser and seen that they were on their way home, not overturned in a ditch.

And what parent wouldn't rest easier knowing a bit more about the whereabouts of their kids? Especially kids who have to get themselves home from school, who borrow the car, who are out late with friends, and so on.

But do apps like this represent an invasion of privacy? A few months back, I was running all over town to plan a surprise party for the missus. What if she'd been monitoring my location? At the very least she'd have been suspicious, and at worst it would have blown the surprise. Let's face it: sometimes you want to keep a low profile, even when family is involved.

This gray area is definitely open for debate, but one thing is certain: Family Tracker is an awesome deal. You pay only a one-time fee of $3.99 for the app.

Verizon's Family Locator service, in comparison, costs $9.99 per month, while AT&T's similar FamilyMap adds a whopping $14.99 to your monthly tab. (To be fair, both carriers' services offer a few features not found in Family Tracker, such as automated arrival and departure notifications from the "trackee.")

Another perk: Family Tracker pulls double duty as a lost-iPhone locator. That's because it works much like the aforementioned iHound, pinpointing your phone's location on a map. However, there are some battery-life concerns, so be sure to read the product description and user comments before buying in.

And let's hear your thoughts on the whole concept of apps like this. Are they a good idea? An invasion of privacy? A little of both?