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Archive for Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Tracking teens

Cell phone features offer mixed benefits

August 1, 2006

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Nat Caron, like more than half of today's teens, carries a cell phone.

The 15-year-old keeps a tiny, silver phone in his pocket to keep in touch with friends. But he'd gladly give up the device if he knew his parents could use it to track where he was at every second.

"That's creepy," he says. "We should have freedom."

With Global Positioning System technology booming around the world, several cell phone companies have begun offering services that allow parents to locate their children's cell phone locations through their own cell phones or by logging onto a Web site.

Depending on who you are, the technology might be a safety feature and way to keep your family connected, or an invasion of privacy designed to control children.

'More freedom'

One such service, called Chaperone, was unveiled this summer by Verizon Wireless.

The service works this way: Children carrying the Migo phone (which allows them to dial only four pre-programmed numbers) can be located when parents log onto a password-protected Web site or call up a page on certain Verizon phones.

Parents also can set up "Child Zones," pre-set zones children are allowed to be in. If they leave the zone, Verizon sends a text message to a parents' cell phone, or to another designated phone.

Toni Retonde, left, with her daughter, Jennifer Holladay, read over the details of a T-Mobile wireless service plan at a distributor downtown. New cell phone technology is available that allows parents to track their children via the Internet and GPS devices in their phones.

Toni Retonde, left, with her daughter, Jennifer Holladay, read over the details of a T-Mobile wireless service plan at a distributor downtown. New cell phone technology is available that allows parents to track their children via the Internet and GPS devices in their phones.

The service ranges from $9.99 to $19.99. Other companies, including Sprint/Nextel and Disney Mobile, have launched similar services.

"This is really designed for the busy family, to keep the lines of communication open," says Cheryl Bini Armbrecht, a Verizon spokeswoman. "We're really giving them and their children more freedom."

Abuse of power?

But some who develop and study GPS technology aren't so sure.

Jerry Dobson, a Kansas University geography professor and GPS expert, compares the cell-phone tracking to people living in villages where parents can constantly watch their children and know everyone their children interact with.

Many societies through history, he says, have tried to move away from that model.

"Looking back on my teenage years and even my childhood, doing things my parents told me not to do made me a better person," Dobson says. "It lets you break molds and develop attitudes."

He worries that parents might purchase the services without thinking about potential drawbacks.

"It's a radical change in the parent-child relationship," he says. "These people are glibly moving into that without thinking about the unintended consequences."

Pat Goodman, left, and Marcus Holman, both 17, check out the cell phones on display at the wireless distributor at 12th and Massachusetts streets. New cell phone technology allows parents to track their children's whereabouts via the Internet and GPS technology in the phones.

Pat Goodman, left, and Marcus Holman, both 17, check out the cell phones on display at the wireless distributor at 12th and Massachusetts streets. New cell phone technology allows parents to track their children's whereabouts via the Internet and GPS technology in the phones.

Those might include a suddenly estranged parent or employees of the cell phone company who can locate a child.

Another potential drawback was displayed by a Verizon representative last week. During a demonstration of the Chaperone service, the child locator said a cell phone was at Highpointe Apartments, 2001 W. Sixth St., even though the phone was actually 1.3 miles away at the Journal-World offices. A second search said the phone was "near Lawrence, Kansas."

Dobson says a child might get in trouble for being somewhere he or she wasn't.

"Any time you hand power over to someone, they're going to abuse it," Dobson says. "It's going to come back to bite you."

'Big brother'

Tim Hibbard also is skeptical of the cell phone tracking technology for parents.

Hibbard is software architect for EnGraph, a Lawrence company that uses GPS to create mapping and billing programs for transit systems.

Hibbard also is a blogger who maintains a Web site called "Where's Tim Hibbard?" where computer users can see Hibbard's location at any time.

But he has issues with the parental cell phone tracking. The difference between what he does and the parent cell phone system, he says, is he chooses to broadcast his location; children might not have that choice.

He compares the parental option to "big brother."

"We're certainly trying to avoid that" at EnGraph, he says. "We've had a lot of requests to use GPS to track kids, and we always turn those down. We think those contribute negatively to GPS. We try to show how it can help people in their everyday lives and from a social networking standpoint. You have to give people a good reason to take away their privacy."

But Armbrecht, the Verizon spokeswoman, argues that the Chaperone service is more about safety that privacy. If parents introduce it to their children that way, she says, they won't see it as an invasion of privacy.

"Obviously," she says, "having a phone is a privilege for children."

'Peace of mind'

Hibbard says he thinks the United States is a few years away from having a major conversation about appropriate uses of GPS technology.

Social GPS services that alert you when you're close to one of your friends, or services that remind you of your grocery list if you're driving by the supermarket could be popular in the future, Hibbard says.

But some parents say they don't need to wait for GPS technology that appeals to them.

Rose Foster, a single Lawrence mother with children ages 12 and 16, says she thinks the cell phone trackers are a good idea. Both of her children have cell phones, though they don't yet subscribe to a GPS service.

"Absolutely," she says. "It gives you a little extra peace of mind."

Her 16-year-old son, Sam, says he wouldn't worry too much about getting in trouble with the system.

But, he adds, "It sounds pretty crazy to me."

- Staff writer Sarah Benson contributed to this story.

Comments

Linda Endicott 8 years, 1 month ago

You know, that's a great idea...panic buttons. Not only would it activate a phone's GPS ability, but could automatically call 911.

And that kind of phone could be useful for anybody, not just kids.

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Linda Endicott 8 years, 1 month ago

If you don't use it will you lose it?

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Linda Endicott 8 years, 1 month ago

You know, momma, I think I would just let her sleep. Let her sleep through breakfast, let her sleep through lunch, and especially let her sleep through all those plans she had with her friends.

Then maybe next time she'll realize there's always a consequence for what we choose to do, and if she wants to get up in the morning and has plans with friends, then let her damn well get herself up.

She never heard of an alarm clock?

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gontek 8 years, 1 month ago

Prof. Dobson is always going on about geoslavery and such, but he is pretty far out there. In the end, the consumers, then congress, then the courts will decide how far to take GPS technology. I think Dobson leaves that process out sometimes. But he gets lots of attention for his views.

Actually, the kids are probably smarter technologically than their parents. If I was 15 and I was going to my secraet loaction to smoke, I would probably take the battery out.

Where were you?

where I was supposed to be. My battery died. oops.

Turn it around, and it would be a good tool to know when my parents are looking for me or when they are coming to get me, so I could hide my stash.

Big deal. It's happening. get used to it.

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southerngirl 8 years, 1 month ago

Back in the day (the 80's) I was always the good student that never got into trouble. As a result, my parents trusted me (big mistake). The first alcohol I drank was vodka at 14, I was never a smoker, but I took drugs beginning at 15. I was lucky that I never got caught, never got in trouble with the law, never got addicted etc..and have become a responsible adult. Do I want something to track my teen son? You bet!!!! I THINK I know all of the tricks and I do try to keep an eye on things, but that extra security would bring me a piece of mind.

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Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 1 month ago

now if I could get her out of bed today that would be nice aaaahhhh teenagers.

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aeroscout17 8 years, 1 month ago

Big brother my butt; this is just another tool for parents. Children should not be free to just go wherever and whenever they want. This tool can help parents make sure their kids are where they should be; that is an important part of parenting and keeping kids out of trouble.

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Aileen Dingus 8 years, 1 month ago

It would come in handy when the phone got lost though...

I'm holding out for the brain chip that will let me track my kids. That way they won't lose it.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 1 month ago

"We should have freedom."

Typical 15 year old perspective. When the kid realizes that he lacks the judgment of an adult, THEN consider giving him some freedom.

A teenage boy should consider himself in a constant status of "parole". One slip away from incarceration, with no XBox.

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Linda Endicott 8 years, 1 month ago

I thought it rather ironic that in the pics they showed of these kids going to get cell phones also showed the parents with them.

In other words, they want "freedom" from mom and dad, but not until after they've put the checkbook away again. They want a cell phone, but mom and dad sure come in handy to pay for it, don't they?

If a kid wants a cell phone, then let them pay for them themselves.

If you want freedom, then wait until you're 18 and mom and dad are no longer considered responsible for any stupid behavior you choose to do. Until then, they have a right to know where you are and what you're up to.

Wait until you're 18, out on your own, and you can find out all about true "freedom"...Freedom to work and make money for the things you want, instead of having someone else pay for them. Freedom to pay taxes on that money. Freedom to pay your own rent, your own utilities, and your own car payment.

Kids always think they know what is best for themselves, and they're usually wrong. When I was a kid, I used to think it was exciting to stay up all night. I got mad because I wasn't allowed to.

Then I became an adult, with adult responsibilities. Then I became a parent. And suddenly, staying up all night was no longer glamorous and exciting.

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Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 1 month ago

good point swbsow, now can't the police use the same tech. on the phones of adults, say like they et a call from someone that has crashed but they are not visible from the road but call 911 and they can narrow the search to a certain area?

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 1 month ago

"Looking back on my teenage years and even my childhood, doing things my parents told me not to do made me a better person," Dobson says. "It lets you break molds and develop attitudes."

Luckily, this guy is a geology professor, not a social welfare prof.

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Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 1 month ago

now crazy my 17yr old has to pay for her own phone, gas, car insurance. Trying to teach her but it is hard of course they think they know it all, gotta love the teen yrs...:)

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badger 8 years, 1 month ago

How easy is that to get around?

"Hey, Jane, take my phone to the library with you. If it rings, call me over at Jeff's and let me know. I'll come back, call my mom, and tell her I had it turned off to be quiet in the library..."

"Sorry, Mom, I forgot my purse in the car, and Jane had driven all the way across town to her house before she heard it ringing and brought it back. I'm sorry I showed up as out of my zone, but I was really over at Kelly's house studying for the Chem final. Her mom wasn't there, but her brother Jeff was. You can ask him!"

"Sorry, Dad, Joe grabbed my phone off the lockerroom bench after practice because he thought it was mine, and I didn't realize till I'd been studying at Dave's for a couple of hours that it wasn't in my backpack..."

Sure, you could only get away with something like that occasionally, but imagine an enterprising young person willing to 'babysit' your GPS phone at the library or perhaps the nice safe Borders coffeeshop for fifteen bucks an evening? If you get a checkup call, you get a call on a prearranged other number (like your boyfriend or girlfriend's non-GPS cell phone...), so you can call in, check your messages, and opt for 'return this call from within the voicemail system' so it looks like you're calling from your own voicemail. Or, if you think your parent is the suspicious sort, you head back over to the location and call from there in case your parent says, "I'm about a block away. How about I come pick you up?"

I'd be that enterprising young person, myself. I imagine that if you could arrange five phones a night to 'sit' for, two or three times a week, you could put a tidy nest egg aside for college.

There hasn't been a system of parental control yet that free enterprise couldn't subvert.

That said, my first thought when hearing about something like this is how helpful it would be in kidnapping cases. What if a kid carrying one of these gets taken by a noncustodial parent who doesn't realize it's more than a plain old phone? What if a girl grabbed outside a coffeeshop by a stalker ex-boyfriend or a creepy guy who tracked her down from myspace was carrying one? Oddly, when I think of parents tracking kids, I think more of parents being able to know if a kid is in trouble than them knowing if the kid is causing trouble. What if the phones came with 'panic buttons' that summoned local PD to that GPS location? I'd want my child to carry something like this not to spy, but so that if something happened, they could be found quickly, maybe before something really bad happened.

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