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13 April 2006

Childhood's End

Mr. (Clarence) McNabbem is the velocity-challenged Truant Officer from Little Lulu's school. His noxious job -- stalking absent schoolchildren from Monday morning to Friday afternoon to suck all the Fun and Adventure out of their lives -- has just become easier, thanks to Cell Phones and the Global Positioning System. Little Lulu was a really wonderful comic book by a really funny artist and storyteller, Marjorie Henderson Buell, who called herself Marge.

The Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington USA)
Thursday 13 April 2006

Sprint service can
keep track of children

by Tricia Duryee
Seattle Times technology reporter

With the help of technology, kids will no longer be able to claim they are at a friend's house or at school when they really aren't.

Starting today, Sprint Nextel is launching a cellphone service that allows parents to pinpoint where their children are by tracking their cellphone. The parents can flip open their phone or log onto the Internet and find their child's location stamped on a map.

The technology, using global positioning system (GPS), has been available for some time, but it has mostly been geared toward businesses that want to track workers. Now the technology is available in easy-to-use consumer applications.

The child tracker is aimed at a burgeoning market -- families with multiple phones on one service plan. Almost half, or 9.6 million, of Sprint's wireless subscribers are part of a family plan, according to M:Metrics, a Seattle research firm. (Those numbers don't include Nextel subscribers).

In addition to the Sprint service, Disney Mobile last week unveiled its new wireless phone service targeting families at CTIA Wireless 2006, a wireless convention in Las Vegas. Among other things, Disney Mobile allows parents to monitor where their children are. The service is set to launch in June.

"They want a cellphone to be in the kid's hands, but they want control," said Parry Aftab, a lawyer with, who made a presentation alongside Disney at CTIA.

The Sprint service, using technology from Emeryville, Calif.-based WaveMarket, is called Family Locator. Once a family signs up, an application is loaded onto the parent phone.

The service, which can also be viewed online on a PC, has numerous protections, including passwords, so only people who have given permission can be tracked.

The password is used during registration by both the parent and the child. It can also be given to others, like a grandparent or baby-sitter.

The parent phone has four simple options: locate, messaging, manage or exit. After choosing locate, a map appears with the child's location. The service uses GPS, but if it's not available, it will locate the phone based on the nearest cellphone tower. The service will not work if the phone being tracked is off or is not receiving a signal.

Once the child's location is found, a message goes automatically to the child's phone.

The location can also be found from a Web site. Parents can manage other features at the site, including setting up a daily text message or e-mail that goes to the parent when the child arrives at school, day care or a specific address.

Family Locator is available on both the Sprint and Nextel networks. It can be used on about 17 phones for parents and 30 phones for children.

For $9.99, there are unlimited location requests for up to four phones. If both parents want the service on separate phones, they will have to pay for the application twice.

"There are times if your kid doesn't show up at home when you expect them, and if you can see they are still at school or somewhere you know they are safe, that's useful," said Gerry Langeler, who has a 15- and 19-year-old son.

"You could call them, but they may have the ringer turned off, or they are in noisy place and they don't hear it."

Langeler, a venture capitalist with OVP Venture Partners' Portland office, said he is looking at investing in location-based services. He said the first consumer services are just coming out, particularly applications focusing on turn-by-turn driving directions and child trackers.

Langeler said that when his son enters high school in the fall, he will get his first cellphone.

"I think it's something we would consider adding as a service," he said. "It's not the kind of thing you'd use very often, but it is a very interesting thing to have, even if you use it once a year."

The Disney Mobile service is similar to Sprint's, but the parent would need a Disney Mobile phone to track the child. Disney Mobile has announced two phones -- one from Pantech, the other from LG.

The service, launching this summer, runs on Sprint's infrastructure and offers many more family features, including restricting the number of minutes a particular member of the family can use, or limiting downloads.

The company has not said yet how much the service will cost.

For now, Sprint's opportunity to target children and teens is fairly large.

Although it wouldn't say how many subscribers are already equipped to use the service, M:Metrics estimates that Sprint and Nextel have 2.4 million subscribers ages 13 to 17.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


Anonymous DespicableTeacher said...

Then husbands will want to keep track of their wives, and wives of their husbands! Great fun!

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Maybe Marriage was a great idea. Maybe Families were a great idea.

But neither institution evolved to absorb and handle the technology of the last 30 years.

Before cell phones that could rat on your kids (or husband or wife) with GPS, whether we liked it or not, most of the time we had to rely on ............ Trust.

T.S. Eliot wrote something like this around 1950: I fear the world that's coming, with systems so perfect that no one will have to be good.

We've taught ourselves that Trust was a failure and Privacy was a danger to the community, and replaced Trust and Privacy with security cameras everywhere, and now these electronic kiddie spies. And more electronic "control" systems to come. I dread to even imagine what technological constraints we'll all grow to accept and tolerate 20 years from now. Toilet bowels that automatically test our urine for drugs. Scales under our mattresses that tell a computer how much weight was on the mattress and the exact times the bed was in use. And of course because we eat such unhealthy food, all sorts of electronic spies to rat on us when we get weak for chocolate and fat, not to mention alcohol and tobacco.

Because fundamentally nobody can be trusted. Only our robots can save us from ourselves.

I confess to being particularly bitter about the electronic regimentation of children at the moment of their lives when they're experimenting with honesty, privacy, evasiveness, truancy, romance ....... not evil, just experimenting with the normal spectrum of being human. In the past, you screwed up a lot for 15 years, usually nobody died or lost a limb or an eye, and then you became a fairly standard responsible adult. All without the surveillance of machines. The Honor System. Most of the time it worked. And when it didn't, you still enjoyed Trusting People more than you liked catching them in dishonesty.

I don't think we're going to end up with better people because machines made sure they never misbehaved, or squealed instantly on them when they did misbehave. Quite the contrary. We're going to end up with a society of prisoners most of whom don't have to really be inside prison walls and bars.

Blogger toggle said...

If kids get stuck with locator-phones by parents, they can just silence the ring, and have a friend hold the phone while going off for a while. Toggle

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

People of Vleeptron, please welcome Toggle! If he's who I think he is, this is Vleeptron's first Comment from Papua New Guinea!!!!!!!! (At an Oz Airport, I saw an airplane that spelled it Air Nugini, I think.) Anyway, follow Toggle's link back to his Dude Ranch blog, it's quite remarkable. (Although most recently he's grumbling that people are grumbling that he's not Cheery enough.)

Anyway, Right On -- you bet that as soon as Rents strap their kids with these vile GPS locators, kids will do what kids always do: Figure out ways to wiggle out of and around and under them. I'm really looking forward to reading about the more inventive ways kids can hide from these nasty robots.

One of my fave comic books from childhood was "Magnus, Robot Fighter." When he'd knock the head off a Robot with a karate kick, the robot would go SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! The Robots were all there to protect us (from ourselves).

Anonymous pat(nogps) said...

here's something else they have in mind for the kids in my part of the world

Blogger Jason statham said...

A debt of gratitude is in order for giving late reports with respect to the worry, I anticipate read more. mobile phone locator

Anonymous Graham Oakman said...

I consider such apps one of the greatest aspects of people's technological evolution with it's security systems


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