Monday, July 02, 2012

Yet another child tracking app is released

There have been so many child-locating tracking mobile apps and services in the last 10 years that I’ve lost count. Being able to keep tabs on your offspring by mobile device seems to pop up every few months when another company rehashes the idea and launches. And it worries me. It preys on the fear of parents. Children today are monitored at every step of the way. Compared with my own childhood in the 70s and 80s, they have little to no freedom. They barely play outdoors anymore. They don’t just hangout with other kids in the same street. They can’t get on their bikes in the morning in the school holidays and come back at dusk when they’re hungry without their parents wanting to know every last detail of where they are at what time.

I’m not taking the situation lightly. If instances of child molestation and paedophilia was higher than back then, well, I’d say, fair enough. Maybe we need to be more careful. But as one speaker mentioned at the recent child safety conference I went to, there has been no increase in either. The threat is not any greater than it was 10 or 20 years ago. And the threat hasn’t gone away either with the advent of molly-coddling our children or having apps to follow them around.

What has happened is that our fear of the crime – maybe all crimes – has gone up tremendously. We’re very much more aware of it. The NSPCC has done the most fantastic job of raising awareness and putting programmes in place to deal with it. And Childline is the most fantastic service. But seriously, do we really need to be checking up on our children day and night. The evil creatures that force themselves on children won’t be perturbed by a mobile device that can be throw away in a river never to be seen again. Just what are these services for and who actually uses them?

I’m not a parent myself, but I do have two nieces who I have seen grow up into mature, responsible, charming and intelligent young women. And I ran a brownie pack for almost 10 years so childcare and responsibility for children is something I do know about.

So what has prompted these thoughts? I received a press release from DondeEsta a few days ago and it has been bugging me. Here it is…

DondeEsta™ presents new functionality “I'm at home”

"I'm at home" is the new functionality of DondeEsta™ mobile application, whereby parents automatically will receive an e-mail each time their children arrive or leave home. Useful, easy and free.

Unlike other applications, DondeEsta™ is a service designed for families, focused on family safety needs. Parents who are at work, for example, can know at which time have their children got home when they leave school, without having to make any calls or send messages.

"I'm at home" is another of the free features of DondeEsta™, which also allows the location of the mobile anytime, anywhere by SMS. Parents can locate their children by sending an SMS with three question marks. The son's mobile answers automatically with a message that includes his location on a map.

Privacy respect is very important at DondeEsta™: Only authorized contacts can be located.

The application should be installed in the mobile to locate (the son for example), this one should be a Smartphone. Parents could have any kind of device that can send and receive SMS's.

DondeEsta™ is a geolocation mobile service for family safety developed by Counterpoint a start-up based in Sitges (Barcelona), founded by Pol Gerbeau.


o Web page of DondeEsta™:

For what it’s worth, this is one of the smartest solutions I’ve seen so far for working out where someone is. It’s subtle and unobtrusive and it doesn’t rely on fancy apps. But it also doesn’t take away the need for parents and carers to have a good relationship with their children so that they are open and honest about where they’re going and who they’re with. Children need to learn about trust and responsibility too. And they need to be able to be released from the apron strings. Services like this don’t exactly help in those cases. Do we really want our 6 year-olds with a smartphone in their school bag every day to be nicked by the local school bully? That puts them at risk too. And what about the teenager who has two phones. One is where the teenager should be and the other is with the teenager doing what they shouldn’t. There will always be workarounds for those who don’t want to be tracked.

Where this *may* work better is when dealing with people who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimers. In the early stages at least, it’s likely they’ll have a phone on them and for them to work out where they are or to tell someone else where they are and to come and get them, could be a useful service. But even that is not without its difficulties… the subject needs to have their phone on them and it needs to be charged up with enough juice to work at all. Still not ideal.

Sadly I fear that services like these make everyone feel better in theory, but may make parents less vigilant about their relationships with their children, about teaching them responsibility and about good communication and equipping their children with the skills and tools they need to navigate the world – be that online or offline. It’s like the bike helmet issue. We never had bike helmets when I was growing up. I used to cycle a lot. And I was very careful. My parents made sure I knew how to ride a bike properly and understood the highway code. And I avoided roads with heavy traffic. If you wear a bike helmet, the tendency is to feel safer but pay less attention to the road. And have we seen a reduction in cycling accidents, I don’t think so. Drivers are more complacent and cyclists are more complacent as they’re ‘protected’. Neither of these scenarios is good. Just because we feel safer, doesn’t mean we actually are.

Anyone out there use one of these services and can defend its case? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is this kind of app just waiting for its time to come and its time is now? I’m very interested to hear others views on this.

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