There are all manners of money and time-saving wireless
applications and services, from voicemail to wireless email, to mobile
commerce. But one service in particular may transcend such commonplace
considerations by tackling more serious issues.
Although still very much in the early stages, there is a growing
market for wireless child protection and tracking services. The ubiquity
of wireless phones presents a unique tool for parents looking to keep
tabs on their children -- as well as for law enforcement looking to find
“We do see that as a potential application,” said Dana Thorat,
wireless analyst with research and consulting firm IDC. “I’m thinking
more along the lines of sooner rather than later.”
Indeed there are already several efforts underway to develop
applications for parents, schools, law enforcement officials and others
to keep kids safe.
“We have a program that is the first immediate alert system for
missing children”, said Maureen Murray, executive director of business
development with Youth Alert. “We call it a proactive program.”
Founded in 2000 as a nonprofit, Youth Alert has developed a system
to give parents the jump on potential kidnappers. Concerned parents can
purchase picture-capable mobile phones from participating wireless
dealers and can upload pictures of their children to the phones. If
their child is ever kidnapped, parents immediately can send out pictures
and information to law enforcement agencies, airports, US customs and
media outlets, all routed through Youth Alert’s call center.
“It just increases the chances of locating that child if the pictures go
up sooner,” Murray said.
Indeed, the improved chance of finding that child in a short amount of
time is crucial. Virtually all violent crimes against abducted children
occur within the first four hours of the kidnapping. Every year, 806,000
children are reported missing.
Alert plans to begin rolling out its service this year. The company
currently has agreements with wireless dealers in its home state of New
Jersey and plans to expand nationally. The company said it is also in
talks with wireless operators for a carrier-branded service. Youth
Alert’s service is $25 per year.
Youth Alert is also offering an Internet application to local schools as
a way to alert parents if their children are late or absent, an alert
that can be sent through email or as a text message to a mobile phone.
The Nation's Immediate
Wireless, Photo & Video Alert System for Missing Children
Other wireless services look to alert community members of an
abduction. Following the lines of the Amber Alert child abduction
system, America Online, Qual Comm Inc. and Qwest Communications
International Inc. have announced wireless services to alert users or
workers of child abductions in hopes that someone will spot the
kidnapper. Alerts USA offers a service to inform mobile phone subscribers
of child abductions as well as major news events.
Such services are growing even more rapidly in other countries. In the
United Kingdom, LogicaCMG and Alcatel offer a service that will map out
the exact route a child takes to school. Parents can be warned if the
child takes too long in getting there, or moves off route. Also in the
United Kingdom, the Child Rescue Alert service sends information on
abducted children to local outlets and sends text messages to registered
In more advanced markets like Japan and South Korea, users can
track the location of family and friends, including children, through
location-capable mobile phones.
Although the advantages of such services are clear and could possibly
prevent the murder of an abducted child, there are other benefits. Youth
Alert’s Murray pointed out that the company’s picture-based service
could stimulate sales of multimedia-messaging phones.
creates the first compelling reason for the parent to buy an MMS phone,”