Parents are tracking their kids using GPS apps. (Photo: Pixabay)

Safety warning on GPS ‘kid trackers’

Parents hoping to keep their kids safe by installing spyware on their phones have been warned they could instead be leaving them vulnerable to online predators.

Dr Jake Goldenfein, a law lecturer at Swinburne University, said programs installed to track children could be stolen or misused by hackers or identity thieves, putting the children at risk.

“Depending on the app, you are probably also sharing your child’s location information with the app provider who is selling it for profit,” Dr Goldenfein said.

“If you contribute to the market for this surveillance software then you are encouraging the use of this type of spyware which can be used in very unsafe ways.”

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According to Pew Research Centre, an estimated 16 per cent of parents use monitoring tools to track the location of their children.

Senior security writer Rebecca Edwards  said the benefits of knowing where your child was outweighed any risks.

“Trackers are really a good way to help alleviate worry and stress, especially if you have a kid who wanders or if you’re starting to give them more independence to go places on their own,” she said.

“I haven’t come across any instances of a kid’s tracker being hacked or used by someone who was up to no good to harm a child.”

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Dr Mandie Shean, a child psychologist, said that if parents were out in a busy environment such as at a concert or Christmas shopping it was fine to use technology to track their children for their safety.

“It’s when it’s all the time because what happens is it replaces the child’s ability to follow your directions, to be responsible and if you put the tracker on them you are basically saying to them, ‘I know you can’t be responsible because I need to do this for you’,” Dr Shean said.

“Any technology is good, it’s just not a forever answer for them,” she said.

Dr Shean’s said parents should:

  • Tell their children they are using the watch or app to check in on them
  • Use it less if they show they are responsible
  • Do not let trackers replace good parenting
  • Talk to their kids about abuse and inappropriate pictures
  • If they encounter either, ask them how they would feel, what would happen as a consequence and how they would respond.