LG’s child-tracking bracelet stokes parental fears (Wired UK)


LG


LG is about to launch a wearable for kids that
lets their parents listen in on them. There’s obviously nothing
wrong with wanting to keep young children safe in any way we can.
But is a device that tells us privacy — and potentially parenting
— is dead, really something we want strapped to the next
generation of technology users and makers?

Look at the children. Look at their faces. Why are they so
happy? you are probably asking yourself. That enviable childish
glee, is it because they found out unicorns are real? That there is
a world at the bottom of the garden inhabited by fairies, or one
atop a particularly tall tree called Faraway.

Nope.

These are the faces of children that have handed over all notion
of privacy and selfhood to their parents.

And that’s okay — they are pretty young, after all. But to be
this gleeful about it is a little worrisome.

KizON is an LG-made wristband that provides people with “a
convenient way to keep track of their young children’s
whereabouts”, and lets concerned parents listen in on said
youngsters. Live. The release delivered alongside this picture
tells us the South Korean company is about to “extend the wearable
experience to parents with children”, which is the key thing about
KizON. Because it’s clearly not about the kid’s enjoyment at
all — LG isn’t even pretending that’s what it’s about, with no
sign of any intriguing or educational functionality in sight. It’s
about parental paranoia.

Again, I’m totally okay with this. I imagine my values around
privacy will go out the window if I have children, and I’m certain
I will happily stalk a teenage daughter who’s heading out on a
school night for a “sleepover with friends”.

The uncomfortable thing is this is squarely aimed at parents,
whose paranoia the device’s very existence plays on. On top of
this, it is boldly introducing the notion that privacy means
nothing when it comes to technology and our modern environs, and to
children that are either not old enough to attend school or only
just starting.

Before nailing their ABCs, these young mites are being delivered
the same message that a section of the public is only just starting
to push back against — that it is okay for us to absent-mindedly
hand over our right to privacy.

In no small part thanks to Edward Snowden we have begun to
question the logic of allowing technology companies to infiltrate
every corner of our lives and sell that data to companies, or even governments, for
potential purposes unknown to us. All for the privilege of using
free services. It feels as though KizON is a beginner’s
anti-privacy tool, training the next generation to forget about all
this NSA nonsense and get on with living life as something of an
open book. Today, we have become used to conversations focussing on
the implications of  living in a post-privacy world. KizON’s existence suggests we
have totally given up on the idea that we can reclaim that sense of
privacy and autonomy.

Are we really so eager to pretend to the next generation, that
these things never existed in the first place?

The wristwatch, which is stealthily decorated with animated
characters to soothe the child into acceptance (the only sign of a
design feature vaguely aimed at the individual LG wants to wear it
all day, everyday), facilitates parental stalking through something
it calls the One Step Direct Call. This button allows kids to call
one number, preloaded by their parents using an Android device. The
parent can also call the child, and receive constant GPS updates on
their location. Here comes the kicker. If the child does not answer
the call, the KizOn automatically connects through so the parent
can listen to their child via a built-in microphone. The parent can
also set the device to send it location alerts throughout the day,
which will appear on their own Android device, and if the KizOn’s
battery drops below 25 percent (it lasts for 36 hours), the parent
will get another alert.

There are obviously hundreds of holes with a product like this.
For one, when president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile
Communications Company Jong-seok Park said at the product
launch — “wearables allow us to stay connected without the worry
of losing a device” — it sounds suspiciously like he’s never met a
three-year-old. They can lose their pants if they want to.

KizOn relies on the child not smashing something constantly
attached to them, it relies on the child not taking it off when
it’s annoying them, and it relies on another particularly
snotty-nosed child in the playground not stealing/smashing it.
These are the general day-to-day tribulations most children
encounter, and at predetermined locations like schools and
playgroups where they are constantly monitored by parents. In fact,
where a pre-schooler is likely to go without their adult or
guardian, thus meaning they require a tracker, is a mystery to us.
Unless the paranoia LG is stoking extends to nannies or extended
family members the parent does not fully trust (pretty sure the kid
would not be with them, if that was the case, though)? And if the
worst happened, and the kid did go missing or was taken, surely we
may as well go all the way and just implant them with a tracker
chip. It’s the only way to be sure we know where they are at all
times. Then there’s the winding road of what can happen if someone
decided to hack the device microphone. We already know baby
monitors
 have been hacked. There’s no reason to think
KizOn won’t have the same flaws and vulnerabilities common to many
devices. 

Like other devices that propose to be for safety and security,
it’s also perfectly likely that a reliance on technology will
engender a relaxed attitude that says there’s no need to watch our
kids anymore. When regulatory bodies began telling us that filters
and age verification should be mandatory to protect
children from online pornography
 and other evils of the
internet, the argument was raised that more controls might simply
lead to lax parenting. Parents should be educating their children
on digital literacy and online safety, not avoiding the
conversation in the hope that technology will make it redundant.
The conversation will never be redundant, because there is no such
thing as a perfect internet filter or age check system.

Equally, conversations about safety in the real world are just
as important as they were before the days when we began gazing
listlessly at our smartphones for answers.

Jong-seok Park got it wrong when he said LG is all about
incorporating wearables into “consumers’ lives”. Because he also
began introducing KizOn by speaking about the opportunities in the
market afforded by the existence of “children as well as the
elderly”, whom he calls “ideal customers”. They are not customers,
or consumers. They are at the opposing ends of humanity’s extensive
vulnerability chart, while the KizOn consumer can be found
among the paranoid — or perhaps even the neglectful — that lie
somewhere in between.

But don’t worry, the polythiourethane band is eco-friendly, and
it comes in green as well as pink and blue — in case we’re worried
about gender stereotyping. So we’re doing a degree of good when we
strap this onto some unsuspecting, gleeful, trusting arm.

That grin above is starting to look an awful lot like a
grimace.

KizOn will launch publicly on 10 July in South
Korea before shipping to North America and Europe in the third
quarter of this year.

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Source: wired.co.uk
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