Chicago startup makes new child-tracking technology for parents

By March 26, 2018

A helicopter parent, a phrase coined 30 years ago, according to the Oxford dictionary is defined as, “A parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” Thirty years later, many parents could fall under this epithet because of love, fear, or both. Now, a Midwest tech startup is using this as inspiration to make devices that keep kids safer.

Joibit is a Chicago based startup that was founded in 2015 by John Renaldi and Roger Ady. They’ve created the world’s smallest and longest lasting tracking technology for kids.

A small plastic device, the Joibit weighs no more than four coins, and can easily be kept in a pocket or attached to shoelaces or a belt. A parent can then track their child’s exact location on their phone throughout the day. It is also possible to set ‘geofences’ around trusted places, such as home or school, and a notification will be sent if the child strays outside this area. A ‘geofence’ can even be set around a person’s mobile device to be made aware if the child strays too far from the individual, which could be ideal for being out with children in crowded places.

The device costs $99.99, plus a monthly data fee of $9.99, and it is still in the preorder stage. Renaldi told TechCrunch that he knows that kid GPS trackers are nothing new, but that JioBit offers much more. Most GPS trackers don’t work precisely enough, and they also only work outdoors. Losing your child in an indoor environment such as a hospital or a crowded museum are legitimate fears and a mere GPS tracker wouldn’t be able to find your child.

It also uses machine learning to understand a child’s daily routines or habits and gives parents summaries of their child’s activities. The website affirms that all of the data has the same encryption as credit cards and the device is compliant with COPPA requirements, which is the U.S. law that imposes strict requirements on online services for children under 13 years of age.

Children’s safety has become a major concern over the last few decades, and the recent school shootings across America have only exacerbated this fear. Lisa Singer, the mother of a 6-year-old girl, has pre-ordered a Jiobit and spoke to The New York Post about her fears.

“I was thinking about what I could buy that would help her,” said Singer. “I worry about her every single day but I’m not going to have her wear a bulletproof vest to school.”

Stranger danger has been around a while and has had a severe impact on the freedoms allowed to children. Roger Hart, an environmental psychologist, wrote a paper entitled ‘Children’s experience of space’. In Denver in the 1970s, he studied where and how far children were allowed to explore away from their parents and family home. By the time the children were 10, they could go through almost the whole town unsupervised.

In an interview with NPR Podcast Invisibilia, Hart said that when he returned in 2015, he tried the same test but invariably the children’s unsupervised spaces were severely limited. Even when the parents were those who were allowed such freedom in his previous study, imposed strict limits on where their children could roam. This surprised Hart, seeing as the town was even safer in 2015 then than it was in the 70’s.

As parental ‘helicoptering’ has been increasing, the inverse is true for actual child-related crime. The Washington Post shows that reports of missing children have gone down 40 percent from 1997, and that “there has never been a safer time to be a kid in America.”

So why all the overprotection?

Ralph Adolphs, a professor at The Californian Insititute of Technology, says in his paper ‘The biology of fear’ that, as well as our evolutionarily high fear threshold, which is designed to save us from dangerous situations, we also have another factor that influences when we feel fear: the conscious experience.

Communication through mass media causes our conscious experience to be bombarded by images of mass murders, terrorism and child abductions, triggering our fear in a way that the natural world never has. Adolphs told Invisibilia that we are not biologically wired to ignore these fears.

The news isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the startups that are working to keep children safe. Mamabear, a Tampa-based startup, tracks the whereabouts of your children as well as actively monitoring their social media presence, texts, calls and emails to keep them safe in the digital world as well as the physical. Even bulletproof backpacks are available for children, retailing at around $200.

One wonders whether devices such as Jiobit will actually give children more freedom, or if it will just give their parents more ability to digitally hover over them. Fans of the Netflix sci-fi series ‘Black Mirror’ will recall an episode from the latest season in which a mother installs a chip in her young daughter that allows her to not just track her every move, but see on a screen everything her daughter is seeing.

Our children may well be the future, but it remains to be seen how this constant parental surveillance affects this new generation. Parents have constant access to news and statistics on how dangerous the world is for their offspring, so it doesn’t seem this craze will end anytime soon.