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  • Rob 12:24 am on December 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    To track or not to track, that is the question. 

    This was an email conversation I had with someone who was asking about TouchBase. After describing it, I realized I hadn’t done the best job, so I tried to correct it and I think I did, so I wanted to republish here.

     

    Rob: if you don’t mind me asking, what’s your personal take on the product/strategy?

    Friend: Hard to say since I’m not a parent and back when I was a kid, I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16 or 17. I think it’s a good way to keep track of kids but I think it is even better for parents not to need their kids to touchbase to know where they are. Such as an app that automatically transmits the child’s location for the parent to check on whenever they’re wondering where their kid is. I think part of the problem for me to understand this market segment is because I don’t have a kid so I can’t relate to the need of knowing where a child is. Although, it seems like a great way to find the phone if it’s lost as long as the application doesn’t require that someone touch the touchbase button in order for the other user to locate it. Maybe this app could be developed into something to prevent parents from panicking when their kid wanders off at an amusement park or at the mall. If they can just look at a screen with their child’s location, then they know where to find them. This could be really good in child abduction cases where the snatcher hasn’t had a chance to dump the phone. This sort of product already exists but it gets terrible reviews.

    Maybe the integration of messaging, too. What if the parent messages with the child and the kid’s location shows up with each message? What age group are using this product, out of curiosity?

    Rob: First, on the point about tracking automatically. I’m not a parent either, but I was a teen. I would not have liked the concept of my parents knowing my every movement without me having any say in the matter. This type of app exists (http://www.logsat.com/iPhone/familytracker/http://www.whereoscope.com/). We are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Children hate those other apps. We are building reasons for children to like sharing their location with parents (namely through a game called Brownie Points) so they aren’t forced to use it or otherwise be using it without ever knowing. Our end goal is exactly what you described: parents and children don’t need the app anymore because after years of use, the children get the ultimate reward: trust from their parents. That’s why we are building features in later versions that make children want to use the app, even when they don’t need to.

    Our whole point is that you have to actively check in, and we try to encourage doing that as often as possible. When TouchBase is a native client, children can leave the app on in the background, but that’s the child’s choice.
    We are child-centric app and have always been; we care just as much about how children feel as how parents feel. It’s our biggest differentiator and the reason we are getting such a favorable response. If there is anyway you can try to make that as clear as possible in the posting tomorrow, I’d really appreciate it. We are actually trying to get as far away from the type of service you described as possible because children hate it and it isn’t working. TouchBase is focused not just on sharing locations, but enabling better, faster, and more beneficial family communication to help improve the opposing dynamics of parents and children and making a marriage between the two inside of an app.
    And as a side note, we have built status messages to be sent with both location requests and location responses, those should be live in about a week. We will be adding the ability to share other forms of media in later versions of the product.
    I hope this helps to clarify things, if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
    Friend: Is this geared at teens then?
    Rob: Absolutely. The parents pay for the app, but the children use it because they get rewarded with trust, prizes, and more freedom for doing so.
    Friend: make sure you get in touch with [name] [he can help you out]
    Hopefully that will clarify some things for you folks as well.
     
  • Rob 9:59 pm on December 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Announcement: TouchBase – a location network for your family 

    Today is the day! We’ve been waiting for a while, and been hinting for even longer. But now we want to introduce you to what we’ve been building for the past 8 months. We set out to accomplish three things: help keep children safe, give parents peace of mind, and build a system that children actually like because it allows them to gain independence over time because they are actively building trust with their parents. The result is:

    http://www.TouchBaseHQ.com

    TouchBase is a location service for families that allows parents to get answers to their most commonly asked questions: Where are my children right now and are they safe? without jeopardizing a child’s sense of independence.

    TouchBase is unique because with TouchBase, it’s all about building trust through better family communication that is powered by active participation on all sides. TouchBase rewards children for their involvement using a game called Brownie Points which makes TouchBase a fast, secure, reliable, and fun tool for the whole family.

    TouchBase works both on mobile devices and on computers with geolocation support, so you can always have your family’s location when you need it.

    The site has some more details on how the product works. We’ve been incorporating the beliefs that have been voiced in our blog, but we want your help.

    We’ve got a community for communicating about family issues here: http://micromobs.com/mob/touchbase

    And we’ll continue to post our thoughts to this blog and twitter @touchbaseHQ.

    Stay tuned for some cool things we are doing with Facebook!

    Please, whatever you do, tell us your thoughts on any channel you want. Thanks, enjoy!

     

     
  • Rob 3:23 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    One parents thoughts 

    This was a comment on the Today Show piece I literally just wrote about. Just trying to give perspective:

    Our child, our right. Our son is 12 and is allowed to have a cell phone and a Facebook Account….however, we monitor who is texting him and when and when he is. If we notice messages being sent during school hours, we take the phone away for week. We also monitor his facebook account. We are given all passwords for computer accounts. If we notice a friend on facebook using profanity, he is to defriend them. We receive, to our cell phones, all facebook wall postings and all private notes sent. These “electronics” are privilages, that need to be earned and rules followed PERIOD. We pay for them, we set the rules for them, just like the car when he is old enough to drive. We ran into issues where old students have sent threating messages and by monitoring FB, we are able to know what is going on at all times and address certain issues with other parents. We feel if, more parents need to monitor what their children are posting on FB…I think a lot of them would be SHOCKED! By the way, he is a very happy straight A student and an accomplish athlete with many friends so our monitoring has not hindered his childhoood.”

     

    What do you think? I definitely agree with the part about earning the right to access the features of a particular awesome service…now if we only had a system where we could roughly quantify trust and open more features to children as they mature…hmmm.

     
  • Rob 3:11 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Today Show highlights what we talk about in this blog 

    Source: http://moms.today.com/_news/2010/10/25/5347112-is-technology-turning-mother-into-big-brother

    The video is approriately titled “Parental tools, or spying devices?” It’s a very good question to ask, especially if you feel as I do that, if done correctly, this type of system will be the ubiquitous method of communication for families, as much if not more so than SMS and phone calls (both are long, cumbersome, sometimes embarassing processes currently).

    The Today Show aired a show this morning. The topic? Is new technology  (in particular geo-location services — or as everyone else thinks of them as, child tracking services) going to far in the child space?

    We believe the current systems are, and we’ve been writing about it for a few months now.

    Today Show states: “Parents, do you employ such high-tech tactics to monitor your kids’ behavior? By the same token, do you feel you may be compromising their privacy by doing so?”

    The simple answer is yes. But why? Shouldn’t parents have access to this information? I mean, it’s their children after-all.

    The issue is that children don’t have a choice. Most devices “track” children without letting the child ever know (see the previous post). It’s up to you to decide if that’s too far. But we firmly believe it is.

    Pulling location passively is a fantastic technology, but does that mean it’s being used in a truly fantastic way? We think not, and have some solid ideas on how to change that.

    “letting go is one of the hardest things any parent can do, but it’s getting easier with new technology.” We think Today and Kevin Tibbles from Parenting Today have got this absolutely correct because they state: “[this technology] can help keep [children] safe.”

    I often get the objection that goes something like this: “why would my child need to use this technology? I know he/she gets on the school bus in the morning, and comes back on the school bus. Why would I ever need a service to tell me this?” But, about 5,000 children become missing in that window of school bus rides alone.

    Ahh, the lovely “ZPass” (apologies — I am blogging as I watch this great video). I wrote about this a few posts back. It’s technology that “tracks” children, and shares it with school officials and police officers. Sounds fun for children right? To be fair, the video interviews someone who looks less than 10 years old, and pre-teens do indeed have slightly different requirements.

    Oh, and look at this: a parent says “I didn’t want an external, a different person, big brother looking in on where MY kids were.” Maybe now since I have proof, someone will listen :).

    They address another concern I hear all the time: “my kid is a good kid, why do I need to use this service to prove that?” But the parents do want it, and daughter Ali feels “it was more to keep tabs on me, which is a weird because I was a good kid. I hadn’t done anything at all before I got my license.” So why is this good for both parents and children?

    Let’s take a simple example that is used in the video. People shouldn’t be preoccupied while driving, it’s just not safe. I know that at least Massachusetts and California have laws that disallow “texting while driving.” And that’s probably a really good thing. But what if your parents need to know those questions they always have: “where is my child, are they safe?”

    You don’t want your child pulling out the phone to send you updates every minute, and you don’t need a fancy, expensive GPS system in your car. This can all be done on mobile devices that an overwhelming majority of children already have.

    But of course there are other questions on parents minds. We’ve always planned to address “what are you doing and who are you with?” But parents want more, and I think it’s too much at the moment. We need to get children to trust the first solution before you add more layers.

    Today Show: Are these services “keeping children safe or strangling them with an electronic leash?” Founder/CEO of My Mobile Watchdog: “we are leveling the playing field so the parents have a way to do what they need to do as a parent.” That’s a good thing, but what about the children?

    Once again, you can’t build a genuinely successful service when half of your users hate it.

    More on this soon, please feel free to contact me Today Show, I’d love to share more :).

     
  • Rob 5:35 pm on October 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    I’m being tracked! 

    So I decided to check out some of the current apps on the market that are intended to be location services for families. I installed just about every one that’s out there to test them out about a week ago.

    I was extremely surprised this morning when I received an unsolicited email from one service that I had signed up for. The email goes as follows:

    “Hi *edited for privacy*,

    Thanks for installing *edited* – we hope you’re loving it!

    It looks like you’re spending time in a few locations that you haven’t set up places for.

    You currently have 2 places setup to receive notifications. If you’d like to be notified about any of the following locations:

    Yankee Division Hwy, *edited*
    Yankee Division Hwy, *edited*
    Soldiers Field Rd, *edited*
    Raymond St, *edited*

    You can add them by tapping on them in your history feed (tap *[username] edited*, then ‘History’ in the top right of the screen, then ‘Add notifications’).

    *map should be here showing all of my locations for the past week*

    Check out the videos at *edited* for a tour of some more great features!

    Cheers,

    *edited*

    If you’d like to unsubscribe and stop receiving these emails click here.”

    Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked. I had absolutely no idea that the application was even on. Was I ever informed (as a child) that my location was being pulled? Of course not.

    Big brother? I tend to think so…if I hadn’t signed up for both an adult and a child account, I wouldve never even known that this service was being used by my *parents* until I received the email saying that they had been tracking me for a week. Maybe I should thank them. After-all, now I can ask my *parents* what the heck is going on. Thanks company-who-shall-not-be-named….yet.

     
  • Rob 10:21 pm on October 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Parents disapprove of current social networks privacy policies 

    Main source: http://gigaom.com/2010/10/08/parents-say-social-networks-dont-protect-childrens-privacy/

    92% of parents feel that their children share too much online and the majority of parents don’t believe that current social networks do enough to protect the information their children are sharing on sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Foursquare.

    On top of that, 8 out of 10 teenagers feel their friends share too much information online and even more think that these services need their permission to access this personal information. Studies have shown that as a whole, children are actually concerned about their privacy; this is also highlighted in an article by Danah Boyd (quoting Pew Research) here. But the current services don’t do enough to protect children, thereby making parents eternally concerned about their children using these current services.

    The most important and telling statistic for us is this: “Should search engines and online social networking sites be able to share your physical location with other companies before you provide specific authorization? 14 percent said yes, 81 percent said no.” — GigaOm. Yet these services do to the nth degree; this is where the majority of the money comes from today (contextual and location based advertising), without this, these services wouldn’t be free. So, should they be free? Or are we willing to pay to keep our private information kept private??

    We need a service that is designed specifically for families. One where parents are in complete control, yet it’s still a fun tool for children to communicate; a tool where children can earn the rights to access to different functionality because they’ve earned the trust of the parents and the service has earned the trust of the parents. It’s not that these current sites’ functionality is a bad thing, it’s that they don’t do enough to protect children; with all of this skepticism and invasions of privacy, are they really doing us a service at all?. Why can’t these services adapt to this obvious demand? These services weren’t built for children, and definitely not for families; they were built for college students (ie 20-30 year olds) and then decided to open to everyone. And there is nothing that can be logically done about this. If a service like Facebook were to suddenly impose restrictions from another account (say a parent’s), they would lose most teens and teens account for 10 million of Facebook’s U.S. users. I have a hard time believing that Facebook or any service would do this.

    What we need to have is a service that is built for families first. Then, as children mature and become adults, they can make the choices for themselves — this is purely logical. Government agencies, and some very good family advocate organizations like Common Sense Media are stepping up and trying to raise awareness through a “Protect Our Privacy – Protect Our Kids Campaign” (among others) which we fully support. We need a service that does not share ANY information about it’s users (especially children) unless the user or parent/guardian approves. And these decision-makers need a totally transparent service that can and will report any usage of personal information to which they have been granted access to.

    You can read more of the results from various surveys here.

    Please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!

     
  • Rob 2:45 pm on October 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: child safety, monitoring, physical devices, RFID, tracking   

    Gone way too far 

    http://bit.ly/bigUCf

    This is really, really scary. Students in Santa Fe are now forced to carry an ID badge that includes a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag so that the schools AND police can track children’s every movement.

    Yes, it is important that children attend school, obviously. But this is drastic and it is a total invasion of privacy. The truth, at least this is what I am placing my bet on, is that geo-location will become ubiquitous in the near future, especially for children. But this has gone too far, and it needs to change. There are better ways to accomplish this same intention. One way is to use software, and mobile devices that many children already have, so that it is less obtrusive. It’s hard enough to be a teenager, let alone the teenager with a tracking device around your neck.

    Another HUGE issue here is that it’s not the parents who are the one’s who get to monitor their children’s location, it’s officials like school and police officers. This is getting out of hand, and someone needs to come up with a solution that doesn’t make children feel violated and therefore don’t hate, and that parents actually approve so that everyone can be happy.

    Please comment and let us all know how you feel.

     
  • Rob 12:41 pm on September 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The problem with the rise of popular, current location services (part 1) 

    Heard of Foursquare or Twitter? What about Facebook? Well these popular services have at least one thing in common right now: geo-location. So let’s start with the basics, what does geo-location mean? The term geo-location simply refers to the fact that a device knows your location, generally with your permission. This device may be a physical GPS system that you may have for your car, but more recently, geo-location is being built into web browsers and mobile devices.

    How does geo-location work?

    Your location may be pulled several ways from your devices: cell tower triangulation, wifi triangulation, or using global positioning satellite (GPS) signals. The signal strength and accuracy increases slightly in that same order, but there are certainly exceptions. For instance, you cannot receive a GPS signal when you are indoors (why? – coming soon), so when you’re inside, wifi signals can give you a more accurate result than cell tower triangulation.

    Of the devices that currently implement geo-location, mobile phones are an optimal choice because they have one of the highest degrees of variety and effectiveness as they can access location from any of the three sources listed above. Something like a typical computer can only support wifi triangulation. Standalone GPS systems are exactly that: they work for location, but they don’t have many features, most can’t share location, and you don’t happen to carry it around all of the time like most people do with their cell phones.

    If you want to read more about how each of these technologies work, read our post here (coming soon).

    So what can you use geo-location for?


    Geo-location isn’t new, but some of the ways the technology is being used are. So why would web applications start to use geo-location? Well it actually turns out that you can do a lot of cool things when an application knows your location. They can offer you discounts for stores that may be really close to you, you can find out where your friends are so you can meet up with them, you can attach locations to the pictures you take, you can even discover where your children are. This application of geo-location to a website is generally referred to as a “check-in” service. As cool as these services may be, it’s very critical that these services are opt-in (not opt-out). If the two are switched, you can easily be inundated with unsolicited ads and your privacy can be at risk.

    What is required to use a check-in service?


    Given the proper hardware, normally these applications only require you to have an account and to login, then they can start pulling locations at will. Most applications require you to be over 13 years old to use their service (typically for legal reasonsnamely COPPA).

    So how popular are these services?


    These services are all extremely popular. Facebook has 550 million members, if 10% started using “Facebook Places”, that would be 55 million people using it. Twitter has 20 million members and Foursquare has 1.5 million. We are going to talk about these services as well as the others that are available and explain exactly what they do towards the end of the post.

    This sounds great, what’s the problem?


    The trouble lies in the privacy of your data, in particular the information that tells someone where you are or, equally important, where you are not: home. This problem is so widespread that a website was formed called Please Rob Me; this service took  publicly available information from Foursquare and Twitter to tell everyone exactly when someone was not home (perfect time to rob a house). The site got a lot of media attention and felt it made its point so they shut down the service.

    This all happened before Facebook released their geo-location product: Places. Well check this article out: burglars were caught by police but only after they had broken into dozens of homes in New Hampshire and stolen over $100,000 of goods. And how did they do this? In some cases, they used services like Facebook to see who wasn’t home.

    The problems become even more evident when children start to use the service. Although most popular services are not built with the intent to be specifically for family monitoring, you can use them for this. The problem is, so can everyone else. Criminals are opportunists. Criminals can see when a child is home alone, or when a child is away from their parents. Bullies can see the same thing. I can’t emphasize enough how important this point is.

    Perhaps the worst part about all of this, as pointed out by Larry Magid, is that the newest services, like Facebook Places, let people “tag” other friends that are with them at the same location. Therefore, even if you don’t use the service yourself, your private location information can still be available online. Facebook has come under a lot of scrutiny for this fact, but they’ve only really gone as far as to give a warning that users should not “tag” without permission. They still allow the process to happen.

    Next post we will take a look at specific services that are available and discuss their pros and cons, take a look at the necessary hardware to use these services, and make some suggestions for improving the safety of these services as well as some things that may make them even more appealing to families.

     
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