From Tower Sanity Alliance:
The Sydney Morning Herald,
Feb. 11, 2006
Every move they make, mum’s watching
By Louise Williams
February 11, 2006
IT’S not quite Big Brother, more like Big Mother.
Avalon lawyer Meredith Kelly doesn’t have a hope of getting to the school on time, but she knows exactly when her eight-year-old son, Michael, walks through the school gate. So too does her husband, Peter, even if he is away in China on business.
Michael’s the first kid on his northern beaches block to have a new child’s mobile phone that doubles as a tracking device. He is the red blip on his parents’ computer screen or their mobile phone displays. If he wanders out of one of three “safe zones” his parents have nominated, his phone texts theirs and tells them something is up and where he is. The system even keeps a record of everywhere he has been for the previous 30 days.
People tracking is no longer just the stuff of covert military operations or spy movies. Putting mobile phones and GPS together is an ideal technological marriage, says an expert in the technology, Associate Professor Andrew Dempster of the University of NSW.
Globally, we’re on the verge of a boom in over-the-counter locator devices, he says of the first child-tracker to hit the Australian market.
In the US, all mobile phones are now required to double as locators for emergency services, he says. Phone companies must be able to pinpoint any individual handset to within 150 metres so the emergency services can respond, even if the caller can’t tell them where he or she is. In Japan, the technology is being tailored to user-pay location services, like mobile phones and cars that can lead you to your destination. But children are also being remotely monitored. Japanese manufacturers began incorporating GPS locators into school bags in 2004, eyeing the growing market of parents anxious about rising crime.
The Australian distributor of the new iKids phone, Mark Gullickson, said most buyers were from Sydney and Melbourne where many families often have both parents working, or a single parent.
The phone costs $300, plus $28 a month, even though it limits children to calling four preset numbers.
“Michael is getting to an age where he can walk home himself, but I feel more comfortable if he’s in contact with me,” said Ms Kelly. Most days he is still picked up from school, but the Kellys also juggle a younger child and demanding jobs. “When my husband is overseas and I’m out with the kids, he can even use the phone to find us,” Mrs Kelly said. While the Kellys are thrilled with the extra assurance the phone offers, they have had a “mixed reaction” at the school gate, including outright disapproval of mobiles for young children.
“There’s nothing as good as responsible adult supervision,” said Sharryn Brownlee, president of the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations. “Technology can lull us into a false sense of security. It’s easy for the phone to be lost, stolen, or even traded.
“But we do have to recognise that mobile phones have transformed our lives and it’s now a vital communication tool for many kids and their parents.”
The executive officer of Kidsafe, Greg Stead, was less enthusiastic: “You simply need to know where primary school-age kids are. They should be under parental or adult supervision. Nothing replaces that. We should treat tracking devices with caution.”
But more and more parents are relying on mobile phones as safety devices. A Nielsen/NetRatings survey last year found 89 per cent of parents felt safer knowing their child had a mobile phone. Half of children have their own mobile, but only 16 per cent of six- to 11-year-olds have a phone, compared with 87 per cent of 15- to 17-year-olds.
An iKids teen phone is planned, but teenagers may be less enthusiastic about being followed on a virtual map by Mum and Dad. And for adults, affordable tracking technology is a looming privacy minefield.