Daycare centres use GPS to track children

MALIN RISING
Last updated 05:00 23/09/2011
Stockholm, Sweden
AP

STAY ON TARGET: A group of young school children in yellow vests out for a walk in Stockholm.

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Daycare centres in Sweden have started using GPS systems and other electronic tracking devices to keep tabs on children during excursions - a practice that has raised ethical and practical questions.

Some parents are worried day care centres will use the technology to replace staff. Others wonder whether getting children used to being under surveillance could affect their idea of privacy when they grow older.

Monica Blank-Hedqvist, the principal of a daycare centre in the city of Borlange told The Associated Press Wednesday her staff have been using such devices during supervised walks in the forest: the kids wear vests with transmitters that staff can track on a screen.

"It is excellent, it has been only positive for us," Blank-Hedqvist said.

The devices are used as extra security by three preschool teachers watching around 20 children, to quickly discover if one of them strays away from the group, she said.

Par Strom, an author and commentator on issues related to technology and privacy, told news agency TT he is of two minds about the tracking.

"On the one hand I can see the practical advantages in some situations. At the same time you get children used to constant surveillance at a very young age," he said.

Not everyone is convinced the tracking systems can increase security for their children.

"What a shame we don't use the money and energy on salaries (for daycare employees) instead," columnist and mother of three, Malin Wollin wrote on tabloid Aftonbladet's website Wednesday. "Everyone who has ever had a cellphone, or a TV, or a computer know that technology sometimes plays up."

Johan Stromhage, spokesman for GPS device maker Purple Scout, said the trackers should be seen as a complement to staff at daycare centres and not a replacement. He also stressed the system doesn't store any personal information.

Purple Scout is currently testing its product at a daycare centre in southern Sweden, but has already received orders from dozens of private childcare facilities, he said.

Erik Janzon, team leader at Sweden's Data Inspection Board, said the authority may investigate the matter.

"It could be quite harmless, or it could affect aspects of privacy," Janzon said. "It depends on what kind of information you feed into the system and the purpose of the use."

Problems could arise if the devices store personal details or information about a person's whereabouts, Janzon said, adding that even if a system is initially developed for good causes it could be misused for other purposes in the future.

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- AP

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