Best Buy Sells Surveillance Tracker

Only $99.99:

Keep tabs on your child at all times with this small but sophisticated device that combines GPS and cellular technology to provide you with real-time location updates. The small and lightweight Little Buddy transmitter fits easily into a backpack, lunchbox or other receptacle, making it easy for your child to carry so you can check his or her location at any time using a smartphone or computer. Customizable safety checks allow you to establish specific times and locations where your child is supposed to be -- for example, in school -- causing the device to alert you with a text message if your child leaves the designated area during that time. Additional real-time alerts let you know when the device's battery is running low so you can take steps to ensure your monitoring isn't interrupted.

Presumably it can also be used to track people who aren't your kids.

EDITED TO ADD (11/12): You can also use an iPhone as a tracking device.

Posted on October 28, 2009 at 1:28 PM • 64 Comments

Comments

HJohnOctober 28, 2009 1:48 PM

@Presumably it can also be used to track people who aren't your kids.
___________

And certainly, no child would ever be smart enough to hide it in the bushes at school or leave it at a friend's house when they say they are staying the night there but are really hooking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.

Then again, why waste precious seconds calling your child's friend's parents to ask if they are really staying the night when you can spend $100 and get duped.

I have a feeling these will be used more for stalking and spouse-monitoring than child monitoring.

Noble_SerfOctober 28, 2009 1:51 PM

Along with the cover story of "going to a friend's house to study" the teen, once tagged with this device, now has to actually stop by the "friend's house" to place the device before going to the keg party.

Kids will fool parent tech quickly.

Perhaps a better alternative is regular attentive parenting?

HJohn October 28, 2009 1:57 PM

@Noble_Serf: "Along with the cover story of "going to a friend's house to study" the teen, once tagged with this device, now has to actually stop by the "friend's house" to place the device before going to the keg party."
___________

What is seen as making them take one more step to sneak out actually makes it easier. For $99.99, a parent has not only given him/her an alibi, they've reduced the chances s/he will get caught by giving themselves a false sense of security.

jasonOctober 28, 2009 2:00 PM

so it's not ideal for your teenager (when they know it exists and where it is). But I'd consider mounting it on my 2 1/2 year old who likes to try and play hide and seek with mom and dad in the mall as a precaution against kidnap or something...

geekamongusOctober 28, 2009 2:00 PM

You all are assuming this was meant for teenagers. As the parent of two young boys (3 and 6), I could see this being useful. Certainly older kids wouldn't like to be monitored this way, but I'm not as concerned about them being abducted.

johnOctober 28, 2009 2:02 PM

Unless, of course, the kid didn't know he was being tracked. Then it _might_ work. But kids are pretty clever....

Joe BuckOctober 28, 2009 2:08 PM

A GPS device usually isn't effective inside a building, or in an urban canyon (though in the latter case it might be able to determine a rough location, with several hundred feet of error).

And if the device isn't surgically implanted, your kid can just leave it stashed at the library while she goes off to the mall with her friends.

Not AnonymousOctober 28, 2009 2:21 PM

This probably won't protect the child against being abducted. Whoever wants to do that will have to disable any cellphone the child might have anyway, as that would also reveal its location. Actually a blue box might be even more suspicious than a simple cellphone.

Actually, any cheap prepaid phone could be used as a replacement for this device; just sign it up for any of those cellphone tracking services. Sure, it won't be GPS-accurate, but it has the clear advantage that it can do incoming and outgoing calls. So if your kid is in trouble, it could actually tell you (given that it's old enough to do so).

baldheadedguyOctober 28, 2009 2:21 PM

I figured someone would see this as a good answer to tracking younger kids against abduction... but since most (read 90%) abductors are family members it is more than likely that the abductor would just remove the tracking device prior to the abduction.

This device isn't to keep children safer... it's to provide parental peace of mind. It's security theatre in the same way that military agents with M16s in the airports was security theatre after 9/11... it builds a sense of security without providing any substantial benefit.

ThoughtOctober 28, 2009 2:32 PM

It's actually a smart business plan.
Not only does the device cost money, but there's a monthly charge to keep it active.

Until someone hacks the network connection and uses it for their own purposes (free wifi anyone?)

IsaacOctober 28, 2009 2:46 PM

I like the idea, expressed in one of the customer reviews, of using this sort of thing to track high-value objects. I don't currently have any objects whose theft/loss risk is worth the $100 plus effort for insurance, but I think it would be cool to, say, track my own lost luggage.

dixonOctober 28, 2009 3:00 PM

Can we sew this into clothing of Alzheimer patients who have wandered off premises of hospital/retirement homes?

Jared LesslOctober 28, 2009 3:14 PM

> Actually, any cheap prepaid phone could be used as a replacement for this device; just sign it up for any of those cellphone tracking services

True, but if a device is dedicated to being a GPS with a transmitter, it could be made much smaller and with a much longer battery life than today's general-purpose smartphones. I'm thinking a bracelet that needs charging once every two weeks or so.

Petréa MitchellOctober 28, 2009 3:18 PM

Supposing you use this on a kid young enough to not have too many thoughts about how they could use it to fool Mommy or Daddy, the next problem is that little kids forget stuff. It's much more likely that they'll give the person monitoring it a panic attack by losing the lunchbox it's in than actually be abducted. (At least you'll be able to find the lunchbox again afterwards.) Or they'll take all their stuff out of their backpack to dig something out to show to a friend and maybe not everything will make it back in.

I also wonder what alarms (physical or psychological) this device might trigger at a school which scans students' bags at the entrance for suspicious items...

Jared LesslOctober 28, 2009 3:19 PM

Along those lines, what happens when these are small and light enough enough to actually be hidden in clothing and wallets and purses without the carrier even being aware of it, and cheap enough to be semi-disposable?

The do-it-yourself PI and alzheimers patients are obvious, but what else?

Petréa MitchellOctober 28, 2009 3:21 PM

"I'm thinking a bracelet that needs charging once every two weeks or so."

...at least until the kid's friends convince them it's unfashionable, or that only sissies wear bracelets, or somesuch. Better to have it hidden, or combined with something essential, like with the phone-based trackers.

Michael AshOctober 28, 2009 3:23 PM

I'm curious about the technical details of how this thing actually works. It says that it uses cellular technology, so presumably that's how it communicates its location with the person monitoring it. However, last I checked, use of the cell network wasn't free. Is there a subscription in addition to the $100 purchase price (I saw no mention of such) or does that price somehow include lifetime cell data access for the device too?

Petréa MitchellOctober 28, 2009 3:25 PM

"... but I think it would be cool to, say, track my own lost luggage."

Ooo, there's a thought. If I ever have to travel a lot, I might get one of these.

Even better, dress it up a little and maybe you could find out where the TSA takes suspicious objects to.

RandyOctober 28, 2009 3:35 PM

@dixon

Tracking Alzheimer patients is, so far, the best application for this device.

I would never use it for *any* of my children regardless of age.

I like Ronald Reagan's approach, trust, but verify!

Randy

DOctober 28, 2009 3:36 PM

Part of being a parent is to let kids gradually assume more responsibility as they grow up.

Putting this on a teenager isn't very wise. They go off to college at the age of 18. You want them trained by then to handle being independent. Otherwise they'll fail spectacularly, going hog-wild in an environment rife with sex, drugs, and worse.

On the other hand, a few months back my 5 year old took off on his own at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis (65,000 feet of meeting and banquet space, multiple towers, etc). He escaped, made it back up the escalators all by himself, and we were just glad we found him before he got outside. He's autistic. We're still working on that whole "Don't play in traffic" concept.

Let me scare you a little more: By age 3, he knew how to walk, by himself, to a park 2 miles away. We didn't teach him. He just watched where we drove. He also knows how to open doors-to-outside, unlock locks, read books, maps & street signs, and is generally quite inventive. We've found him outside more than once. He's interested in driving. He knows all the steps. Where the key goes. Button to push for the garage door. Shifting. Steering. We're very careful with our keys!

LazloOctober 28, 2009 3:40 PM

@Isaac: The nice thing is, you don't need to pay $100 for each item. Over time, it's an insurance policy whose initial cost ($100) fades to nothing. The value question is whether you ship or otherwise transport enough on a monthly basis to justify the monthly charges. I recall reading (I think here) about someone using an iPhone tossed into their moving van for just this purpose, which seemed clever.

As for the advertised purpose, I see it as a movie-plot solution (to strangers abducting your children) that also introduces a movie-plot threat (strangers or acquaintances who can break your computer security can now accurately target your children and choose to take them at the most opportune place)

But I see this as fairly useless against an active adversary (be that an abductor or a tracked teenager who wants to do something you don't want them to), but possibly useful against a child getting unintentionally lost, for instance.

If you are actually using it to track your teenager against his/her will, then you'll also need to be prepared for unintended consequences. If it means that they aren't able to sneak off without you knowing it, it may force them to do their smoking, drinking, drug taking and sex while they're actually in school. This may be worse than the alternative.

MichaelOctober 28, 2009 3:48 PM

I could see this tech being useful when it's much smaller and can be surgically implanted, as long as the proper controls are in place. I'd put a small, sterile sub-dermal tracking device in my kid without a second thought, with the option to remove when they reach age of majority (i.e. 18).

Not only could it be used to track someone whose missing, but perhaps help a lost person (e.g. autistic child, infant, alzheimer's patient) find their way home, and by that I mean assuming they've been found by the police who could simply look up their information. I found a three year old wandering the streets - bloody feet, full diaper, couldn't speak and no tags or ID on their person/clothing. Unfortunately in that case the parents were negligent and it took several days before the parents reported their child missing...of course by that time, the worried parent routine wasn't effective.

TSOctober 28, 2009 3:51 PM

Nice, would work well for model airplanes and model rockets that sometimes get lost.

Would be even better if you could hack it so it doesn't require a subscription; use your own prepaid SIM to have it send text messages to your phone with the location instead of to their service.

Robert ThilleOctober 28, 2009 4:43 PM


Ha, my teenager would have to figure out how to disengage the device from the exploding collar it was attached to without triggering the detonation before they can go off to the keg party...

DavidOctober 28, 2009 4:43 PM

@Lazlo: The iPhone in the moving van doesn't seem to make much sense. I'd think that the cargo space in a moving van would be made of metal, and hence the iPhone would be in a Faraday cage and unable to communicate. Moreover, the battery will only last a few days at most if the phone is left sufficiently on for this to be useful.

NickOctober 28, 2009 4:45 PM

While this seems to be a great tool, for older children (especially teenagers), it is counterproductive - how can you instill a sense of responsibility/trust if you've got a tracking device on them?

And does putting it on your younger child make them safer? It won't prevent an abduction, that's for sure. And whatever happened to EYEBALLS? "Use your smartphone," indeed! Pfeh.

mcbOctober 28, 2009 4:46 PM

There's using the Little Buddy to pretend be some place you're supposed to be, and then there's duct taping the parental peace of mind device behind the bumper of a semi bound for Chicago...

MartinOctober 28, 2009 4:54 PM

Boy, hope my 6 year old doesn't accidentally leave it in the big helium balloon in the back yard before he hides in the attic.

Actually, this would also be great for Northwest Airlines to keep track of errant aircraft. They'd get a text every time one overshot its destination. Useful.

I use a SPOT tracking device and I find it very useful for peace of mind. Of course, I'm only tracking myself with it so the issues noted here don't apply.

Tom Dickson-HuntOctober 28, 2009 5:10 PM

On that topic, what happens if its signal just drops out? I'm picturing a kid getting in a school bus and the parents panicking. And if that becomes routine, then the kid could just put it in one of those miniature Faraday cages that they sell for RFID passports and the like whenever he/she didn't want to be tracked.

B. RealOctober 28, 2009 5:34 PM

Looking at the alternate images on the Best Buy site, it shows a monthly account (but doesn't show the cost per device), and also shows a screen shot of an active device with a "margin of error" in the location of 378 yards! Over a quarter of a mile margin of error means that you've got a circle half a mile wide that your child could be in -- that's something like 85 acres or so.

JamesOctober 28, 2009 6:19 PM

@Michael: "I'd put a small, sterile sub-dermal tracking device in my kid without a second thought, with the option to remove when they reach age of majority (i.e. 18)."

If I were your kid, I'd make a sport of running away, scored by how far you had to come to get me.

NeighborcatOctober 28, 2009 9:32 PM

I'm surprised. No one has mentioned using it to track a spouse. Hide in car...
I'm not married, but I've heard spouses sometimes don't trust each other.

NC

JerryOctober 28, 2009 10:42 PM

@Neighborcat: If a spouse doesn't trust their partner, they have problems that no technology can solve. Used as you suggest, it would exacerbate the problem.

WinterOctober 29, 2009 3:03 AM

I see the "child tracking" as a diversion.

This gadget is marketed as a way to secretly track spouses, employees, victims of human trafficking/slavery, and other nefarious purposes that you cannot mention in an add.

Exactly the same as the cell-phone tracking services. Any lost child found this way would be an unexpected bonus.

Winter

BF SkinnerOctober 29, 2009 6:43 AM

"other receptacle"?

So say you hang one of these on your kid. And you use it to sucessfully track 'em and they don't deliberately try and dodge you.

It's a radio transmitter. I don't see any mention of a security protocol in place to prevent other people from recieving the same data.

Also it looks like it's not a one time 100 dollar cost but they are selling a service plan.

DDOctober 29, 2009 7:48 AM

Be sure to tell the kids not to cut it off thier ankle and throw it in the next passing pickup truck with out of state liscences.

LeeOctober 29, 2009 7:59 AM

quote: fits easily into a backpack, lunchbox or other receptacle

what's a receptacle and does my wife have one?

Given that the WHO is coming soon with a report on cellular devices and the affect they have on the body, is anyone going to buy this?

To be honest, kids are going to be harder than adults to track. And they lose things.....probably falling out as they take a short cut across a railway or something... :-O

It has limited use, in my opinion. Which does not stop me wanting one ;)

bethanOctober 29, 2009 9:00 AM

younger kids like to be tracked, they think it's cool/interesting/safe. If the parents are that paranoid, then they've likely instilled some sense of risk into their kids. i talk to a lot of parents about this stuff because of the volunteer work that i do, so i'm very comfortable saying it.

this product is worthless for older kids for a lot of reasons - primarily that companies like AT&T will track two phones for free, you don't need to get your kid to buy in and agree to carry the device, and they'd deal with it anyway, because they want their phone.

if your kid is disabled in some way but are able to navigate between home/work/school, then it makes sense for them to have a device like this in addition to the phone. however, there are other devices that can be used, are small, and can be attached to coats, shoes, etc. that are much more reasonable for those scenarios.

bobOctober 29, 2009 9:31 AM

This would be a great system for an abductor (or paedophile) to hack into. Just think: a real-time map of all the kids that are not near their parents.

And it self-selects for the ones who's parents have enough money to piss away $100 on this thing AND care about their kids; therefore they should be able/willing to fork over some ransom.

DavidOctober 29, 2009 9:41 AM

@Michael Ash: Thanks. I'd been thinking in terms of the GPS localization, not the cell tower (although that's all my first-generation iPhone can do). I've found that reception can be pretty bad or nonexistent on lots of highways in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so the iPhone could wind up where it can no longer figure out where it is and couldn't tell anybody anyway. Not a perfect solution, but quickly improvisable and not too expensive.

Michael AshOctober 29, 2009 10:28 AM

@David

Reception is pretty good on most segments of interstate highways, although you're certainly right that it's not the case everywhere. The idea is just to be able to see where it is from time to time, not have ironclad tracking all the time. If you go to that page you'll see that there were frequent tracking failures, but that it worked often enough that they could get a clear idea of the progress of their stuff.

If you really want reliable tracking, you can get a SPOT satellite messenger. This uses GPS to find position and a satellite messaging system to communicate its position. You can put it into a tracking mode that will transmit its position every few minutes, and it lasts days in this mode on a set of lithium batteries. Price is pretty decent, roughly $150 for the unit and $150/year for the service. Don't know how well it would work from inside a truck, though.

NickoOctober 29, 2009 10:50 AM

One of the selling points of this seems to be the 'geofencing' feature to check that your kids are at school but as far as I can tell most schools these days expect kids (at all grades) to put everything but their books in a large steel faraday cage called a 'locker' during school hours. GPS signals barely penetrate modern buildings, let alone closed metal containers, and cell phone signals are not much better. Setting aside the debate about parenting issues, it seems to me that this thing is unlikely to work for the purpose for which it is sold.

Of course it probably works great when the only things around it are duct tape and the plastic bumper of your ex's car...

Clive R.October 29, 2009 10:59 AM

Nobody will want to hear this but the fear of abduction is overblown. There is no such thing as 100% security, get over it. That said, spend your $100 for young kids if you want the placebo but don't do it for older kids for all the reasons meantioned above.

Ward S. DenkerOctober 29, 2009 12:48 PM

>Presumably it can also be used to track people who aren't your kids.

What? The Law of Unintended Consequences isn't a real law. Like speed limits, it's just a suggestion. ;)

Nobody is going to use a well-intentioned product for bad purposes. That never happens.

kevinOctober 29, 2009 12:51 PM

this is just another tracking device being marketed using fear and safety.like onstar by GM,to help find you when you hit a tree in the middle of nowhere trying not to hit a deer.this is just another step to completely control and monitor the American public.soon we will all be required to carry a tracking device for our own safety.

DOctober 29, 2009 3:30 PM

@kevinm: Good point. Thanks for the link.

BTW: He is his father's son. I'm not entirely "normal" myself. (Nor is my father.) I am in IT. Make of it what you will. A lot of INTJ / INTP type folks seem to wind up in IT.

Jonadab the Unsightly OneOctober 30, 2009 5:21 AM

> Presumably it can also be used
> to track people who aren't your kids.

Yes, and it would be almost as effective for that as it would be for child monitoring, i.e., not effective at all. The thing's WAY too large to be used surreptitiously for tracking a person who has no desire to be tracked. A vehicle, perhaps.

McCoy PauleyOctober 30, 2009 8:45 PM

Oh, man, if the Hebrews had only been able to squirrel one of these away in the Ark of the Covenant, they'd know where that giant government warehouse is!

SejanusOctober 31, 2009 4:01 PM

Scary. Isn't there a law against this?

Given my attitude when I was a child, I would have smashed this device straight to the first bin on my way. Or better yet, sold to someone :))

Children are not your pets.

JenNovember 2, 2009 11:22 AM

I believe that in most U.S. cities, throughtout the U.S. this is illegal. Even with tracking your own children. It sounds like a pretty nifty devise, and I would love to have a few of them, but, not so cool, when I can loose my p.i. licence and perhaps even do time or pay a large scanction or fee. No thnanks.

infestedtassadarNovember 2, 2009 11:27 AM

How about the kid busting this thing with a rock (or other hard, smasher object,) taking the battery out or otherwise tampering with it? Doesnt do much good when your child leaves the device with a friend.

GPS and cellular technology? I thought GPS didn't use cellular technology?

Ether way, using the GPS in a phone would be a lot wiser (and more then likely cheaper) then this.

AnonymousBastardNovember 4, 2009 2:45 PM

Great! Now I can tail my husband and send him creepy stalker text messages without actually having to follow him. ("So I see you're having lunch at Taco Bell again..")

samNovember 20, 2009 3:03 PM

You all don't know what the hell you're talking about. It's for kid 3 to 7 years old and whatever else you want to track. It works fine indroors as it uses cell towers and GPS for location.

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