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January 5 2004



Child protection firms implement wireless program


          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 missing children.

     “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.

 Youth 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.

Foreign Biz

     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 mobile phones.

     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.

     “It creates the first compelling reason for the parent to buy an MMS phone,” she said.