Xmas Gift Idea: Apps to Monitor Teen Driving?

In the blizzard of TV ads for Xmas stuff, I noticed an advert for “Hum” from Verizon, apparently an “ideal Christmas present” though I’m not sure who would gift it to whom.Kids are not going to get it for their parents, and it would be a really cruel “gift” to give your teenager.

This product connects to the diagnostic port on your car and reports current and recent activity. In the ad, it was used by parents to monitor their teen, reporting the current position and recent driving history, and alerting parents to excess speed, and if “boundaries” are crossed,  (Let’s be fair: Verizon’s Hum is one of many similar products.)

Well, this was inevitable.

It’s not a completely horrible idea, but it certainly isn’t unquestionably a good idea either. Now that people have accepted that their car monitors them at all times, then it is entirely logical to use the same features to monitor other people. And, of all the annoying snooping that might be done, parental controls might at least save lives if they make teens drive slower some of the time.

What got my attention was the way it deliberately confounded the technical notion of geographical “boundaries” (which the app surely can detect) with the idea parental limits on behavior—represented by a dubious looking boyfriend (who looked somewhat like I looked at that age…). I’m sure the app can track the location of the car, but I have to doubt just how much it can monitor the behavior of the teen. I suspect that as long as you park the car where expected, you can get in arbitrary amounts of trouble.  I certainly could when I was young.

As usual, I tend to side with the kids. Aside from the general obnoxiousness of this level control-freakishness,  this kind of tracking isn’t exactly a sign of trust of confidence, nor does it seem likely to instill good judgment and self-reliance. If mommy and daddy are watching at all times, then I don’t need to learn how to monitor my own driving, do I?  The experience may also contribute to young people being so accustomed to being tracked that they feel no objection to continuous corporate and government spying.  These are not good lessons to teach.

Worse, I expect that these apps will motivate various evasive tactics, up to and including hacking the system. Trying to evade parental “boundaries” is the most natural thing in the world, and in this case that means trying to evade or subvert the computer systems. I.e., hacking.

Learning to implement spy-versus-spy countermeasures will no doubt be highly educational, but almost certainly will lead to bigger trouble. Once you know how to hack your parent’s account, will you stop there, or be tempted to hack other people, too? And if you can screen your own actions, you can probably stalk other people as well. Like, say, your ex girlfriend. This isn’t going to end well.

And, by the way, unless the parental units are superhumanly careful, there will surely be security breaches that let other people access and manipulate the tracking data. After a breach, anyone on the internet might be following you kid. Think about that for a minute.

I have criticized this app, but is it a candidate for the infamy of the “Inappropriate Touch Screen File”?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.

It’s not really the touch screen so much as the whole idea that is suspect in this case.   This might be a bad idea, but not because it uses a touch screen.

I might point out that this app is the tip of the iceberg as far as parental controls go. Already, there are quite a few products that “listen” to your home now (from Amazon, Google, and others), which are used to monitor kids at home. Soon the “internet of things” will be filling the world with devices that will be able to track everyone everywhere. Surely, there will be services to track your kids.

Worse, sensors are becoming ubiquitous, monitoring environmental and physiological status everywhere. Not only your car and phone, but soon your clothing and possibly personal implants will be observing you at all times. This data will certainly reveal what you are up to, including the very things mom and dad are most worried about (i.e., sex and drugs and rock and roll).

Parents will definitely be able to know what you are doing and who you are with at all times.  They probably will know if you are even thinking outside the boundaries.


As I have said, there are important questions to think about here, especially about what the latent “lessons” that are being taught by using technology in this way.  “Trust” seems to be a scarce commodity, and it is “normal” for the powerful to use technology to control the powerless.  Privacy doesn’t exist, and going outside the “boundary” is impossible.

I guess the hardest question of all would be how to eventually turn off this tracking as kids grow up.  We have all seen college age kids, legally adults for most purposes, who are still bound by digital apron strings, and that isn’t a formula for success.  At some stage, there is a need to wean both parents and kids from this dependency, and letting kids become adults who might make their own mistakes.

And speaking of growing up, we can note that the same technology is being deployed for elder care, of course. So, these days teenagers themselves may be surveilling Gramps and Nana, too. Everyone spying on everyone, all in the name of love, or at least family.

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