Special Report: Kid Trackers

By: Joe Harrington, KOLO Email
By: Joe Harrington, KOLO Email

Imagine being able to locate your child at any moment, find out where they've been throughout the day, and if they showed up to school on-time -- It's all possible thanks to modern technology.

It's hoped kid-tracking technology can give parents peace of mind, or make a crucial difference finding a child in an emergency. The idea -- a sophisticated locator is contained inside something many kids already carry.

Nicole Fairall says she has open communication with her daughter, Victoria, and keeps a close eye on the 7 and a half year old.

"She doesn't go places by herself because ... she's young, we'll drive her to school, or we'll walk together to school or something, that's really the only time she goes anywhere," Nicole said.

Out for a shopping trip, Nicole is with her daughter, watching so she doesn't vanish amid the crowd of people. And now technology promises help parents, like Nicole, track down their kids.

Sprint says many of the cell phones it sells contain a chip that can work with a global positioning system. Three satellites can triangle the position of a phone, given to a child.

"If the phone has three GPS satellites in view, you're gonna get your most accurate view, within about I would say 50 to 70 yards of where the actual phone is at," Denis McElroy of Sprint said.

Parents see the area where there child's phone has been located on the Internet. Like many other services, it's all password protected. McElroy says it's most accurate when three satellites are in view, otherwise cell towers reveal a general location. Some companies say their phones can pinpoint a child down to the street level. The phones are intended to give parents confidence knowing where their kids are on a daily basis.

During an emergency a cell phone can be critical. A signal from any cell can be traced, but authorities say GPS phones can be so much more accurate.

"Sometimes it'll give us an exact coordinate if it is on and working properly, and from there we can deploy foot teams, four-wheel drives," Sgt. Darren Rice of Washoe County Search and Rescue said.

Rice says kids often go missing in urban areas and his office receives about a call a month to go look for a child. In a one year period, more than 797,000 kids were reported missing nationwide -- that's according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Some cell phones, like the Firefly, Wherifone and LG Migo are specifically marketed toward kids. Not all have the GPS feature. But many kids cell phones offer buttons that instantly connect a child with either parent or 911, instead of the usual multitude of options.

Sprint's Family Locator service also offers safety checks. Say you're child is supposed to be at school at 9 a.m., and soccer practice at 3 p.m., you can automatically be notified where the child's phone was located at those times. Parents can even see a list of where their child went throughout the day.

Sprint says safety is the primary reason parents are buying their kids cell phones. But Nicole says since she generally takes Victoria wherever the youngster needs to go, a cell phone isn't necessary. It's something she says she'll consider when her daughter is a teen. Still, she wonders just what impression those tracking phones give kids.

"On one hand it might be easy just to find her, but on the other hand, they may think that we don't trust them which may do like the opposite of what you're trying to do," Nicole said.

Some privacy rights advocates also argue GPS phones could be planted, for example on someone's vehicle -- and stalking could be taken to a new, high tech level.

Some of the kids phones featured in this report sell for around 50 to 100 dollars. Target carries several models; many are available on the Internet.

The Sprint Family Locator service, will cost about 10 dollars monthly for a parent to track four other phones. The number of location requests for each phone is limited to 100 a month.

For a list of links for more information on the phones mentioned in this story, visit KOLO8's Hot Topics page.


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