Child-Tracking Wristbands Edge us Closer to a Dystopian Future

Parents will soon be able to track, log and judge the every movement of their offspring. God help those children

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For those who think the NSA the worst invader of privacy, I invite you to share an afternoon with Aiden and Foster, two 11-year-old boys, as they wrap up a Friday at school. Aiden invites his friend home to hang out and they text their parents, who agree to the plan.

As they ride on the bus Foster’s phone and a sensor on a wristband alert the school and his parents of a deviation from his normal route. The school has been notified that he is heading to Aiden’s house so the police are not called.

As they enter the house, the integrated home network recognises Aiden and pings an advisory to his parents, both out at work, who receive the messages on phones and tablets.

The system also sends Foster’s data – physical description, address, relatives, health indicators, social media profile – to Aiden’s parents, who note he has a laptop. Might the boys visit unsuitable sites? No, because Foster’s parental rating access, according to his profile, is limited to PG13, as is Aiden’s.

Foster spots a cookie jar and reaches in. Beep beep! His wristband vibrates to warn him the cookies contain gluten, and he is allergic.

Aiden’s mother notes this and consults a menu of her fridge and pantry, all connected to the network, for non-gluten ingredients. There aren’t enough so she orders a gluten-free pizza.

The boys turn on the TV. Rather, it turns itself on as Aiden approaches and it lists his favourite channels. The TV notes the boys have a basketball, which has a sensor, and so suggests an NBA game. As they watch, tailored advertising invites Aiden to put a Miami Heat shirt on a personal wishlist connected to a chain store. He does so and a ping is sent to his mother, who simultaneously receives a reminder of the date of his birthday.

The network notes there is only 90 minutes left of sunlight left and that Aiden has not completed his 120 minutes of daily exercise. It shuts down the TV and gives the boys three exercise options. They choose to shoot hoops in the yard. Aiden’s mum receives an alert that they have left the house – leaving the lights on. She can track Aiden’s pulse and blood pressure as he plays.

Welcome to the future of parenting, as envisaged by Cisco Systems at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Robert Barlow, a marketing executive, presented the scenario with animation, graphs and statistics to industry professionals.

“The technology for all this already exists,” he beamed, holding a real basketball with a sensor. Cisco can aggregate data from multiple sources to create an “orchestration layer”, he said, which will help the Internet of Everything generate trillions of dollars in the next decade.

The audience of executives and technicians from America, Europe and Asia got the message. Big data, big bucks.

What of Aiden and Foster? You could say, lucky them. Protected from predators and pornography, nudged away from harmful food and obesity, the benefits are obvious.

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