High-tech child monitoring gains interest from parents

Sunday, August 25, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Given the recent spate of high-profile child abductions, Eric Wasman now double-bolts his front doors and shuts his windows even on hot nights.

And soon, he'll arm his two young daughters, ages 4 and 2, with high-tech bracelets he hopes will keep them safer and buy him some peace of mind.

The child locator sold by Wherify Wireless Inc. is among a growing number of satellite-based products targeting worried parents.

Worn like an oversized wristwatch, the much-hyped device lets parents track their children's whereabouts via the Internet or by phone.

Due to be released next month in kid-friendly "Galactic Blue" and "Cosmic Purple," the 3-ounce locators are part Lojack, part pager, part baby sitter.

Experts on missing children warn that such devices are not foolproof and could give parents a false sense of security.

"Parents need to realize what these devices can and cannot do," said Tina Schwartz of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "It doesn't take the place of safety education and line-of-sight supervision."

Whether they are worrywarts or justifiably concerned, "parents need to realize it's a supplemental and not a primary means for keeping your child safe," she added.

Wasman understands the Wherify child locator isn't guaranteed to protect his children, but he's willing to pay $800 for a pair and about $30 in monthly service fees.

"When it comes to your kids, you can't be too careful," the Redwood City mortgage broker said. "And the worst thing is just not knowing."

Wherify's GPS Personal Locator combines global positioning system satellite and digital wireless technologies to pinpoint a wearer's position within a few feet.

Parents can view satellite or street maps on Wherify's Web site or call an 800 number to obtain their kids' location and movements within a minute.

A "bread crumb" mode lets parents preset times for tracking. The monitoring service would contact the parent by phone, pager or fax if the child isn't at the right place.

In a kidnapping or other worst-case scenario, the wearer can contact 911 by pressing two buttons.

The locator, marketed for children ages 4 to 11, has a built-in numeric pager and is made of water- and cut-resistant material.

Parents lock the bracelet onto their children's wrists and can unlock it by key or remotely. Cutting or forcibly removing the band would activate an alarm for the company's emergency operators.

Because the product relies on satellite technology, there may be some spots, such as underground or inside concrete buildings, where the monitoring service will fail to get a bearing.

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