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Coming soon: person-to-person surveillance

COM survey shows parents would welcome GPS chips in children’s shoes

Are you willing to be watched? Professor James McQuivey poses the question.

While Congress grills the U.S. attorney general about the legality of domestic surveillance without a court’s permission, a College of Communication assistant professor has some surprising news about the public’s opinion of person-to-person (P2P) surveillance: the people are for it.

James McQuivey, a former vice president at Forrester Research, who now teaches in COM’s department of mass communication, advertising, and public relations, says nearly a third of the 523 people participating in an online survey thought they would use a tracking device to monitor a loved one in the future; 60 percent of respondents thought it was appropriate for parents to monitor latchkey children.

“The big surprise was that people were not upset when we told them about P2P surveillance,” says McQuivey. “In fact, they were ready to embrace it.”
McQuivey’s survey, which was conducted by COM graduate students, found that 85 percent of respondents felt that it was appropriate to track a child with an illness and 78 percent thought it was OK to track a child with a mental disability. And according to 38 percent, it was OK for a parent to track any child for any reason. McQuivey believes the most powerful endorsement of P2P tracking is that 66 percent were comfortable being monitored by concerned loved ones in case of an emergency.

He traces the short history of P2P surveillance technology from emergency telephone communications designed for elderly persons to GPS systems in cars to RFID (radio frequency identification) devices that are now placed in some ski boots and ski helmets. The next big market, he says, is likely to be children’s shoes or backpacks.

For a look at what’s coming, McQuivey says, readers can visit the Web site of the GTX Corporation, a California company that is developing shoes with embedded GPS tracking and transmitting technology. The location of the person wearing the shoes will be picked up by satellite, sent to a central monitoring station, and made available to others via telephone or the Internet.

McQuivey believes that within the next year, the consumer market will see several products intended to help people track the movements of aging parents, young children, roaming teenagers, and wandering spouses. He predicts that parents will have the ability to circumscribe a perimeter of, say, a particular neighborhood, and if a child leaves that area the parent will receive a warning. 

“In other cases,” he says, “if a teenager is driving a car, the parent will be able to monitor the speed of the vehicle and could choose to receive a warning if the car goes faster than 55 miles per hour. Or a spouse could place a device in her husband’s briefcase and wonder why a business trip took him through Cancun.”

To read more about the report, click here.