How a smartphone can track your children
Parents can find out the location of their child with an accuracy of a few metres
Eight-year-old Ville Lindgren has to interrupt his game, when his mother Tuula Stenström takes his mobile phone. She wants to check what applications Ville has been using lately.
For the time being, it is easy enough to monitor Ville’s doings, as he moves around mostly in the immediate neighbourhood. Either he or his friends’ parents can always be contacted.
When Ville starts moving alone in the city, Stenström plans to monitor him with the help of the global positioning system (GPS).
Recently, mobile phone markets have started to introduce applications through which a child’s location can be determined to an accuracy of a few metres.
The only requirement is that the child carries a smartphone equipped with an Internet connection.
Stenström has heard about such a service. She says that it would be useful in a situation when her son is not answering his phone.
For example the Finnish data security company F-Secure offers a service for locating a child, costiing a couple of euros per month.
It is also possible to download similar applications from online shops that offer free software for mobile phones.
GPS tracking for children could soon become an everyday phenomenon, as smartphones bought for children are becoming more and more common.
”Smartphones are increasingly bought for 8-to-9-year-old children”, says Director Sami Aavikko, who is in charge of consumer business at the Finnish telecommunications company DNA.
According to Aavikko, most parents do not know yet that they could monitor their child’s movements with the help of a smartphone.
However, experts are taking a reserved attitude towards the idea of tracking a child.
”Parents should discuss with their children the extent to which parents should monitor their children’s doings”, says research professor Marjatta Bardy from the National Institute for Health and Welfare.
According to Bardy, a small child may think that such tracking ensures his or her safety, while children approaching adolescence may regard the monitoring as annoying and invasive.
In Bardy’s opinion the GPS surveillance of teenagers could be used as a punishment, like for example grounding or house arrest.
”An agreement could be made with teens that after each blunder parents will monitor their doings for the following two weeks”, Bardy suggests.
According to Academy Research Fellow Timo Harrikari, who has been studying child welfare, GPS surveillance is not appropriate in everyday life.
He would use the method only if a child cannot be reached on the mobile phone after several calls.
Harrikari says that there might be some pressure for buying the newest devices which increase security.
”If parents read that this [device] would improve their child’s security, it is diffiult to say anything against it”, he notes.
Ville Lindgren continues to play on his mobile phone. At the moment he is interested in baseball and Pokémon games.
”Mother, may I monitor you?” Ville asks.
”No, it's the other way around. I will monitor you”, Tuula Stenström replies.
In order to track the physical whereabouts of a child, one needs a mobile application that is installed in the child’s smartphone.
When the mother or father of the child sends an SMS message to the child’s phone, it automatically sends a reply message, which shows the accurate location of the child, for example on Google Maps.
Parents do not need any permit for the tracking of their under-15-year-old child, but an oral or written consent must be obtained from a child who is more than 15 years of age.
GPS (Global Positioning System) is a space-based satellite navigation system that is common worldwide.
SecuraTrac is a California company using location services for monitoring children and at-risk adults
Nearparent, one Finnish application used for monitoring via GPS, setting up a "virtual neighbourhood"