Late last week, Sprint became the latest company to take helicopter parenting into the 21st Century with a new smart device called the WatchMeGo. For $144 and an going service fee of $10 a month, parents can do just that — watch their kids go to school, to the library, to their friend’s house and anywhere else there’s a viable cell phone tower or GPS reception.
Through a complementary service, parents are able to set up a “safe zone” that establishes boundaries of where their youngsters are allowed to wander beyond the eyes of watchful moms and dads. If a kiddo strays beyond the boundary, an alert is sent to the parent’s phone.
The watch — which comes in kid-friendly shades of blue and red (the red version was out of stock as of Monday) — also has an SOS button that will immediately call the phone of a trusted emergency contact.
“WatchMeGo is the perfect solution for parents with little ones who aren’t yet ready for their first phone,” Sprint executive Doug Smith said in a press release. “With the ability to track the location of your child almost anywhere using GPS and communicate through text or voice messages, WatchMeGo is an ideal addition to your family’s connected lifestyle.”
But experts say parents should think twice before strapping a tracking device on their kids. For one, tracking devices aren’t usually intended to keep children safe — they’re designed to increase profits for companies, and in exchange for low service fees, customers are often asked to sign away privacy rights to data — including location information — gathered from tracking devices.
“When parents track children, they help companies maximize their profits,” Joel Michael Reynolds, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, wrote in a 2019 column for The Conversation. “Should a child’s information become de-anonymized and fall into the wrong hands, this could put one’s child at risk.”
It can also have significant psychological and behavioral implications, including bonds formed between children and parents when it comes to trust. Reynolds argued tracking children could be counterproductive and push them toward rebellion.
“This risk, I would argue, is perhaps far more serious than those leading parents to track their children in the first place,” he wrote.
But Reynolds said tracking devices could be helpful in some cases, such as when a parent feels their child might be susceptible to self-harm, violent extremism or other instances where parents feel concerned about the child’s safety or that of others.
“But those are the exceptions, not the rule,” Reynolds wrote. “Think twice before tracking your kids.”
Disclosure: The author of this article owns stock in Sprint Corporation.