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TCP Episode 124 -- Should You Use Tech to Track Your Child's Movements?

Jethro Jones and Frederick Lane discuss the practical and ethical implications of using technology to track children.

TCP Episode 124 -- Should You Use Tech to Track Your Child's Movements?
The Gowanus Canal and Downtown, Brooklyn, NY (2022)
Table of contents

Listen to this episode on Cybertraps.com, Apple Podcast, or your podcast platform of choice.

Show Notes

Starting Place

  • Companies are constantly releasing new tools for tracking the physical movements of children. Should parents use them?
  • Child monitoring apps and devices are rapidly becoming a multi-billion market
  • By 2012, more than 20 million people were already using Life360 – just five years after the iPhone was released
  • 2019 UK study – 40% of parents/guardians had deployed real-time GPS tracking and 15% checked locations “constantly”

A Relatively New Phenomenon

  • Technology and consumer interest began growing in early 2010s
  • Two main models:
    ** Location-sharing – provides real-time updates of a device’s location
    ** Geofencing – provides alerts only when a device leaves or enters a specific area
  • Specialized features are emerging
  • Speed monitoring and crash detection for teen drivers
  • Remote activation of device microphones
  • “Stealth mode” – parents can install monitoring without any knowledge of child

Motivations for Tracking

  • Keeping track of devices or belongings
  • Make sure kids are where they are supposed to be
  • Keep a digital eye on children with health issues
  • Stranger danger
  • Risk overblown by sensationalist headlines?
  • Violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Greater freedom for children?

Relevant Technologies

  • GPS (sometimes + WiFi)
  • Backpacks
  • Phones
  • Gabb Wireless
  • Pinwheel
  • Trackers
    ** Jiobit
    ** Watches
    ** Xplora X5 Play
  • Bluetooth – limited utility in moving vehicles
    ** AirTags
    ** Tile
  • Apps
    ** Circle Home Plus
    ** FamiGuard
    ** Family360
    ** Find My Friends (Apple, 2011)
    ** Find My Kids (2016)
    ** iSharing
    ** Life360 (GPS) (2008)
    ** My Family

Potential for Abuse

  • Cybertraps for Spouses, Partners, and Lovers

Fundamental Questions

  • Is this legal?

Yes. Parents have the right to supervise their children. As the owners of electronic devices, parents also have the right to install or remove software and establish rules for the use of the device.

  • Does it work?

Sonia Livingstone, a professor in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, believes there is in fact “zero evidence that any of these apps keep children safer”. “I’ve never seen any and I look at all the evidence,” she says.

  • Are both parents in agreement?
  • When does parental supervision cross over into invasive surveillance?
  • Are one or both parents becoming digital voyeurs?
  • Are parents unknowingly sharing information with third parties?
  • Could this intensely personal information be hacked?
  • Is it a breach of familial trust?
  • Very hard to justify hidden monitoring of child
  • Parents should not try to get into a contest with children re technology use
  • Open conversation is critical
  • Challenges in dual-custody situations.
  • Does it stunt the development of child independence and the ability to pay attention to their surroundings?
  • Developing a sense of privacy is a natural part of the maturation process
  • Are parents putting more trust in a device than their children?
  • Chilling effect on friendships, romances, etc.?
  • What about when kids voluntarily share their location (e.g., Snap Map)
  • When should parents stop monitoring?
  • Are subcutaneous GPS chips next? – 2018 “Black Mirror” episode called “Arkangel”

Resources –

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