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16/08/2005 - Exploiting our children's safety for a quick buck

Not that long ago there was a device called "MyMo", which was a GSM mobile phone target specifically at 4 - 8 year olds as an emergency device by a company called Communic8. However, due to statements such as those made by Sir William Stewart calling for all under 8 year olds to completely avoid usage of a mobile phone under any circumstances, Communic8 quite rightly pulled the phone from the market. Unfortunately, it is now back under a different guise.

Now simply called "Owl", the phone is being marketed by a new company called Eazytrack, and the arguments being used to support it are a complete nonsense. The advertised purpose of the phone is for little Johnny to be able to broadcast his location to his parents when he gets lost. So far so good, though one wonders how a 4 - 8 year old could so easily be allowed to get lost in a town or city that the device would be necessary. However, according to Eazytrack themselves, the device is only accurate to approximately 500 metres in built up urban areas (where there are plenty of phone masts for triangulation), which is next to useless. A 500 metre radius of accuracy gives a search area of about 785000 square meters to search, which in a crowded city centre would be just about impossible (needle in a haystack comes to mind). Of course, in rural areas the search accuracy could be considerably worse. This means that the primary selling point of the phone is next to pointless, as the accuracy of the location finder is so poor that it will almost never be able to be practically used. It is likely that the main use of the phone will be the parent chatting to the child, which is precisely what the current government recommendations suggest should not be happening. See below for a pictorial representation of this "best possible" range as seen near King's Cross train station in London:

King's Cross Train Station

Telegraph article - BBC News article with Sir William Stewart's Comments *

* It is interesting to note that the Eazytrack site's link to a BBC news story on their "Safety Issues and Concerns" page contains a link straight to the page (released on the same day) condemning children's usage of phones in any form.

The phone can only dial 5 preprogrammed numbers (programmed by the parents), and to those numbers it is effectively a standard pay as you go phone. The problem is that being fundamentally a standard GSM phone, it is in constant contact with phone masts, so the lack of phone numbers does not equate to a lack of exposure and it is extremely important that the phone is kept as far away from important organs as possible. Unfortunately Eazytrack provide a free "headset necklace" to carry the phone around the child's neck, which will of course leave it dangling next to their heart and other major organs.

Sir William Stewart said very specifically that under 8's should not use a phone at all, and Communic8 pulled the phone off the market precisely because the current research had indicated the chance of health risk was simply too great. Considering this, to market a phone solely at this age group is morally wrong, and the arguments to support it must surely be outweighed by the potential increased risk to the child's health.