February 5, 2005

GPS Tracking: Not Just For Felons Anymore

wherify_bracelets.gifIt's time to update our stereotypes about individual GPS tracking. The image of a white-collar criminal with an ankle bracelet is just too narrow, too Nineties--and too non-profit--to capture today's convenient, feature-rich pervasive surveillance marketplace.

Take, for example, the "GPS Locator for Kids!" from Wherify, which Parenting Magazine called "the latest must-have." These fashionable watches come in two colors, "Galactic Blue" or "Cosmic Purple," and can only be removed with a special parental key fob locking device. Depending on your service plan--you can choose among Liberty, Independence, Freedom, and High Usage (what, Patriot was already taken?)--you can check your kid's location up to 80 times/month via the Wherify website or 1-800 number.

The GPSLFK! also allows you to "breadcrumb," i.e., stalk, your kid's movements, either by setting up "appointments" to see if they're located at specific places and times, or you can track them with a series of periodic pings. Kids can activate a panic 911 feature whenever there's an emergency--or whenever they want to rack up a $15 charge on their parent's bill. But isn't that a small price to pay for enabling your children to feel that you'll always be watching them and literally tracking their every move? Why not give your child his first taste of "Freedom" or "Liberty" today?

Buy the Wherify GPSLFK! for just $199, plus $20-45/month, each
[wherify.com, via cameron]
Psychology Today tests the Wherify, but not its effect on kids [psychologytoday.com]


Ok, I'm a paranoid freak and I watch too much TV, but am I the only one who would worry about cut off hands with one of these deals? (did I say that out loud?)

RFID chips implanted at birth, that's the way to go.

and you bring this up NOW??

These gadgets are absolutely ridiculous. Simply go back to your childhood and imagine yourself with one of these, LOCKED onto your hand... Please give me a break. No matter how much I worry about my child, I would never impose one of these "hand cuffs" on him.

I wrote a few weeks back about how utterly unobtrusive these things are. I mean, a 3 lb baby tracking watch is kind of hard to miss if you are a professional baby snatcher. I hope the implanted chips are a bit smaller...

Either way, if they save even one life, they are worth it.

If I had to choose between obeying a mandatory chip implantation law (for me or my new son) and leaving the country, I'd be gone before you could say, "hey, can I buy your riding lawnmower?"

GPS trackers can never be used as a substitute for close adult supervision of children, and serious lessons about safety in public. I'd hate to imagine kids wearing these devices being lulled into a sense of security, thinking "if I get kidnapped, they'll find me." Alive or dead?

GPS also won't tell you what the kid is up to. You can track your kid to the shopping mall, but still not know if they're being molested, having unsafe sex in the restroom, shoplifting, taking drugs, or are laying dead in the parking lot.

Lord knows how many weekday afternoons I spent at a "respectable" friend's house doing naughty things. Mom could have called the friend's house at any time, without needing a subscription service, to hear my voice, not some stranger's. If we didn't answer that phone, I'd be grounded for a week.

Too many loopholes, technical and otherwise, render the GPS trackers semi-effective at best. In the meantime, what will years of wearing a locked GPS or RFID tracker do to a kid's psyche or worldview? I shudder to think.

Interesting opinions you guys have about GPS tracking and other safety devices. Yes, they are SAFETY devices, not hand cuffs.
My 8-year old little brother disappeared 12 ago, he's still missing, and by this time my family has lost all hope in finding him alive. If these devices would have been available at that time, we'd have a much better chance of knowing what happened to him. Maybe we wouldn't find him in time, but at least something would bring a closure to this. I aslo have a nephew who is autistic, and most autistic kids are "runners".They can decide in an instant to run away from you when you least expect it. Only way to prevent that would be to keep them indoors, but of course that is not an option to any normal parent. So I got him a GPS tracker, and during the past 2 years that has helped us several times. Once it probably saved his life, we found him wondering towards a heavily traficked highway.
No matter how much street proofing you do with your kids, these kind of devices are always welcome.


Thanks for the sobering perspective, Mike. You give some very compelling cases where something like this could be useful.

I know of similar cases where people with Alzheimer's have been found and saved by GPS/proximity bracelets, too.

What people react negatively to, I think, is not these kind of legitimate, even invaluable uses, but on the device's potential to help people shirk parental responsibility.

As for how to best deal with something as terrible as having a child disappear, frankly, I'm at a loss. While I can imagine a whole host of unintended negative effects if GPS tracking of kids became widespread, I'm not comfortable equating or even appearing to compare or trade these effects off against the real loss of a child. Thanks again for your perspective.

Mike (2005, March 08:42am)

Lets play "Pretend" for a sec.

I'm a repulsive, sick, should-be-shot-in-the-head kidnapper. I see 3 little children walking down the street and notice the following;
kid 1 - no GPS watch,
kid 2 - a watch (maybe Spiderman or Spongebob one),
kid 3 - this "hand cuff" we see above.
I'll give you 3 guesses which kid I'm gonna be apt to grab.

My point, if you only use the technology as a deterrent - your a step ahead. Hell, don't turn it on if you THAT concerned.

My point, if you only use the technology as a deterant - your a step ahead. Hell, don't turn it on if you THAT concerned.

Our mute autistic son absconded last weekend for several hours, with the police searching for him. (there are many, many autistic children out there that are obsessed with escaping and can easily climb high walls and fences or undo a car window, bypass the childproof lock and leap out of cars - so the debate is NOT an issue of parental or carer neglect) He has NO road sense and is very intellectually disabled. (As he has no survival skills, I did not expect to see him alive after the initial call from his placement, alerting us of his disappearance.) He crossed major roads (most likely without looking for cars) and even crossed tram lines. Fortunately a wonderful member of the public recognised that something was amiss and called the police just as a blanket media release was about to happen. We are putting a heavy silver identity bracelet on him, welding the joins so he can't remove it as a Talisman would be whipped off by him in a flash. I just wish that this technology was available here in Australia - at least you have the luxury of options.

I meant to add, that I fully endorse what Mike wrote as he would have a full perspective on where I'm coming from. I'm just lucky that the older (eldest) autistic son didn't escape too. Another third son is on the spectrum and tries to lose me in crowded shops but I watch him like a hawk. These kids are great at getting out of strong hand grasps and, in fact, the second autistic child (the one in the above email) had to be transported in a wheelchair with a restraint for several years to keep him from escaping. And no special needs car seat could keep him from getting free either. He broke his arm, leaping from a secure moving vehicle once, such was his determination to take off!

Thanks, Landie, for another sobering and thought-provoking example of where something like this can be useful, even crucial.

Maybe I'm missing a larger point here, though. Maybe the marketing idiocy of this GPS tracker, which plays on both parents' fears and their sense of wanting--but lacking--control over their kids, is a small price to pay for those situations like yours and Mike's above.

Maybe the abuses, the psychological impact of growing up knowing your every move is being tracked, and the selfish off-loading of parental responsibility that I fear will inevitably accompany widespread use of GPS collars on mainstream kids are worth it, or are overblown.

But I'd like to think there are better, more efficient, more effective ways of helping people like you who have obvious and critical needs and for stopping tragedies like Mike's than widespread GPS tracking of individuals.

Say, you want to restrict usage: it would be easy here (assuming this GPS locator was available in my Australian state, which it isn't!) Our autistic sons are registered with the state government department and both attended special schools, as does our third, less autistic son. So verifying eligibility criteria isn't a problem if you narrowed this down to disabled children who do go AWOL. And doctors could fill in forms for elderly patients with Alzheimer's. I've used reins for the kids when they were small and also Playskool handholders so some problematic toddlers can be 'linked' this way and kept at arm's length.

But I can also see another application and that is when disabled children go out on community access programs with carers. We could have kept track of one of our sons when he was with a paedophile carer and we might have had a different outcome.

I need to track my father with alsheimers please if there is a product out there let me know. inspectoman@hotmail.com

The Wherefy bracelet is no longer available, it would have been a good solution for our autistic 5 yr old son who wandered off 3 days ago (we found him, after police, neighbors, dogs, etc. got involved)...other than the Ion-kids device, which has a 500 ft range, does anyone know of a device similar to the whereify watch, with its unlimited range, that we can purchase?


For you self centered people that think you can watch your kids 24/7 then you need to talk to these paerant that have had there babys taken right out of there own homes then you can think about the discomfort a device that could have help find them with in the first 24 hour & hopefully a live which is the greatest time to find them a live is with in the first 24 hour you self centered people may God
watch over you all

"Self-centered"? Dude, that makes no sense. I can just as easily imagine some sadistic freak chopping off a kid's hand if he saw the mandatory GPS tracker.

Meanwhile, I confess, I can't live my life and raise my child in terror every day of some unlikely tragedy. If my kid were autistic, or had some other special circumstance where he was likelier than average to be in danger, I'd think about tracking him. People addressed that above.

In the mean time, the demand for a universal kid tracking system is apparently not enough for Wherify to keep making this product; they recently discontinued it, God bless them.

My wife actually wants one of these for herself. She feels vulnerable when she goes walking alone or with our 9-month old son. The idea of being able to press two buttons to transmit a location to emergency assistance is a thought of comfort.

Unfortunately, the reviews on this device have been less than complimentary, so we keep searching. With over 100 registered sex offenders within 7 miles of our home, we have to do something so she doesn't live in fear. I offered a cell phone, but she's sure it would be taken away before she could make a call. And what if she doesn't exactly know where she is anyway? Tracking on cell phones is still a little ways away.

Anyways, keep an open mind. Car seats are good, but you can use it to keep a kid strapped in for hours instead of watching him/her. Strollers are good but they can be used as a form of abuse. Same thing can be said for any piece of safety equipment. Technology will never be a replacement for good parenting, but it can be used well as a tool for assisting in that parenting.

But isnt tracking devices on kids a sign of communism?

My point exactly. Or was it the new world order...

Is there a good GPS product availible now for my autistic 5 year old?? I have been searching.

Wouldnt kids just rip them off?

GPS trackers on kids could make a cool movie

At a recent fair to celebrate a national holiday, my spirited but not "special needs" 3 year old wandered off. Fortunately she was found, safe and sound, over an hour later... wading in the lake and not the slightest bit afraid!! There were over 1000 people in attendance at the time, and the outcome could so easily have been much worse.

Let me tell you, that was the longest hour of my life. Within the short time it took me to pull a sweater out of the stroller basket and pull same over my head, she was gone and I had no idea in which direction she'd headed.

The festival was manned by police and reserves who became fully involved in the search. As time passed, darkness grew and hope faded, they were about to call in the helicopter when she was finally turned in by someone responsible.

I am eternally indebted to a 10 year old who saw my daughter alone in the lake and alterted her own parents. And when that parent asked my child where her own family was, she plainly advised that we'd been taking too long so she left us at the rides.

While I was never inclined to go the GPS route before, my older child never took off. And although this wasn't the first time the youngest has bolted, it was the scariest by far. So I'm now researching my options. I like the concept of the ion-kids bracelet simply for added peace of mind. And it doesn't "breadcrumb" their steps so isn't as "big brother" as the Wherify one to me.

Right now I'm afraid to go anywhere crowded for fear she'll bolt again. Despite our best efforts, at three, she has no fear of the world at large.

My point is, nothing replaces proper supervision, but sometimes things still happen depite the best parental efforts. If I could have pressed a button to set of an alarm in that first minute or so when I lost sight of her, the situation would have been so much more easily handled.

I have a significant amount of land that backs up to a river. My oldest son is beginning to want to venture out, hunt, fish, etc. I have taught him about safety in the wilderness and I want him to be able to experience some freedom, however, I am uncomfortable with him being alone. I think there is a time and place for this incredible safety devise. He actually wants this devise "in case there is an emergency or he needs me".

For all of you in Canada there is a solution: www.trackem.ca
(we use cell phones)
We have modems that work in the US and it will soon be available on Nextel phones in the states.

Wow, you people are really stupid. These should be more for protecting children from the many predators that are out there. What they need is a concealed one that can be hidden in a shoe or something. We didnt have these when we were kids, but when we were kids we didnt have all the sick and crazy people stalking innocent children and killing them for excitement. I would use one, not to track my child, but to find him if he ever went missing. You people are just so paranoid about your freedom... I dont think you even know what that means... in fact, I dont think you really know anything.

[put down the remote and step away from the cable news, MC. If there were really so many child-killing strangers stalking our children, why do we have to listen to six months each of non-stop coverage of Aruba and Neverland? Your child is much more likely to be kidnapped or killed by someone he knows or someone he's related to than he is to be dropped down a well and made to put lotion on his skin. And what good will that GPS shoe be then? -ed.]

I think we should support this type of technology, albiet a cell phone, bracelet, or whatever. With two young children and aging parents who may have the risk of wandering off in the future, it is encouraging to see support for this type of "tracking" device and others for the general public. This technology isn't for everyone, however will provide much needed support in many cases.

Everyone here is focussing too much on crimes, which are really very unlikely. In addition to special needs people of all ages, what's the most likely need for products like this? I'm sure everyone knows a kid who has wandered away. Usually they're found pretty soon but sometimes not. I'd like to see these devices as a rental option at places like Disney where the crowds are huge and there are enough distractions for kids to get lost.

Having had a grandson disappear for a short time and seeing the horror that my daughter went through for those few short moments that seemed like an eternity to her, I decided to do something about it! My company has designed the ultimate solution to protect children and other people who need to be monitored. We will be launching in the next few months. It is in bracelet form and is tamperproof,waterproof and shatterproof. It is very light weight and will be marketed as a deterrent to predators and a sign that an elderly person may be in need of assistance. Our system will be totally intergrated with a 911 centre and your loved one will be found in a matter of minutes instead of the hours and days it now takes to put a search together to locate people.

I have read the other comments. I am a full time daddy of two babies. I agree. Not very affective for kids. How long will the phone actually stay on them. My daughter has gone through 50 fake cell phones. The phone idea is a great idea for spouses who buy there husbands cell phones to set them up if they think they are cheating on them. Great idea. You might find him at the “Bunny Ranch” in Las Vegas one day. lol

On a different subject, a woman tried stealing my daughter in the grocery store when she was 2 months old. I was with her and turned my back for a second to get something off the shelf. When I turned back around, the lady had my daughter out of her stroller, in her arms and about to walk off. I lost it. When I went off, she said she was just going to walk with my daughter around the store while I shopped. A total nut case. lol my point is, I’m a grown man, 6 foot 1, 220 pounds with tattoos all over my arms. Never thought this would happen to me of all people. The tracking watch for toddlers already exists. Is this very affective? Not really and it’s expensive as hell. Call me crazy but I am for a tracking device under the skin or maybe an ankle bracelet that will not come off. It's hidden under the sock so you have some time to track your baby. Also, why not have a tiny GPS that is like a sticker? After all, we do have small chips in our cell phones that hold data and you can only get service with this small card (or chip). you can paste this to the bottom of your child’s foot before you go in public or to a big event where you are worried about her being lost or stolen. I live in Portland. We have the highest abduction rate in the U.S.. My wife and I are so paranoid we often stay in our bubble, a.k.a. home. I know it’s not very healthy. This is a problem and we need an affordable and smart way of tacking our babies incase, god forbid. Please, someone hear me and help parents of toddlers who don’t make a lot of money. Now, the tracking things are designed for only the rich or “well off”. Is this very fair?

Hi Mike,

My moms best friend has a 17 year old boy who is autistic and is a runner. He was found last week on a major highway in the center lane. The police man said he was lucky to be alive. We have been trying to find a GPS tamper proof device for him. the whole braclet thing doesn't work. He breaks them right off. How much do you recommend this device and is it really tamper proof?


Thank you for your comment. This is exactly why we are looking into this. We are about to take a trip that we are unfamiliar with and this is a small price to pay. A 3 1/2 year old autistic child just wandered off and they are still trying to find him 15 hours later. To me this would seem priceless.

I want to get one for my grandson who is 3yrs.old
and has autism.
But do to the pricing im unable too.I feel the company should start the price at 25 or 50 dollars then go from there . to many companies start out at 150 or even more that just doesnt help the people with low incomes that need these devices

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