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A New Device Lets You Track Your Preschooler ... And Listen In

I was always thankful that my parents didn't "leash me" at the mall or grocery store when I was a child — but you'll never guess what parents can strap on their kids nowadays.

LG Electronics introduced a device Wednesday called the KizON. Meant for those in preschool and primary school, it's essentially a kid-tracking wristband.

Just like many other wearables hitting the market, it uses Wi-Fi and GPS systems to provide real-time location information that parents can view on their smartphones.

The band also has a "One Step Direct Call" feature, allowing a parent to communicate with the child. The kid can press the button, and the device will call a pre-configured number. If she misses a call from Dad, or doesn't answer his call within 10 seconds, a built-in microphone automatically turns on, allowing him to listen in and determine what she's up to.

Theoretically, you can sync up and keep tabs on your older friends and family members, too.

Reynol Junco's 7-year-old son has a device similar to LG's, called a FiLIP.

"His mom bought [it] for him, and she didn't check with me first because I would've said hell no," Junco says. "Her idea was that it would help him feel comfortable being able to get in touch with somebody if he needed to."

Junco is an associate professor of education and human computer interaction at Iowa State University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Technologies like these don't make Junco feel better as a parent, but rather make him feel sad about society.

"It's a device that engages our fears about society, and I think sends a message that the world isn't safe," he says. "The world is both happiness and doom, but that lack of safety has always been there."

Junco thinks that devices like these serve as a billboard and reminder that anything — even bad things — can happen at any time. He thinks the need to constantly know where our loved ones are play on post-Sept. 11 fears.

He says uneasiness often stems from a parent's anxiety, not a child's.

So here's the main question: Do kids have a right to privacy?

In 2008, Stephen Roberts, a San Francisco lawyer, wrote: "Children do have privacy rights, just like adults, although even the most important constitutional rights of children may be limited because of their minority status."

He references the 1979 Bellotti case, over minors getting their parents' consent before having an abortion. In that case the Supreme Court provided three reasons that the constitutional rights of children cannot be compared with those of an adult: "the peculiar vulnerability of children; their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner; and the importance of the parental role in child rearing."

Roberts concludes that a "parent's desire to track a teenager's auto usage or keep a young child from getting lost will not likely present strong enough breaches of any right of privacy to cause the courts to interfere. Rather than look to the courts for relief, teens will have to resort to old-fashioned negotiation with mom or dad to be freed of GPS tracking."

Junco says, "The child is not really a factor in the psychology of this. This is all about parents and their needing to keep tabs on their child."

He says children should have some independence as they get older, but he also wants his child — and others — to be safe.

"I think they're entitled to some privacy, but not much. We are parents, after all," Junco says.

So what's changed in recent legislation?

In November, lawmakers from Massachusetts, Illinois and Texas introduced a "Do Not Track Kids Act." Essentially, the bill would amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and, among other things, say that teens ages 13-15 must consent to the collection of personal information. It would also create an "eraser button" allowing children to delete personal information, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

KizON became available in South Korea this week, with North America and Europe to follow later this year. Its price has not yet been announced.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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