When old enough, most of us want to give our children the freedom and responsibility to accomplish small tasks on their own. Things like going to the park on their own or with friends, walking to school if you have one in the neighborhood, or walking to their friends’ houses to play or study. Unfortunately, there is always the lingering fear of child abduction. Does this fear prevent you from allowing them these freedoms? It certainly does me until I feel they fully grasp the facts of how dangerous the world can be and that there are real threats out there—even in their own back yard.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), as of 1999, they estimated more than 800,000 children under 18 have been reported missing. Since the installment of the Amber Alert program in 1996, almost 700 children have been recovered as a direct result of Amber Alerts. [Read more facts from the NCMEC] Local law enforcement agencies and businesses (like Wal-Mart, Google, and others) have partnered up to aid in the fight against child abduction. It is said that the first two to three hours are the most crucial in child abduction cases. Having a large network of people and organizations immediately available to spread the word that a child has gone missing is vitally important to the recovery effort.
With all that in mind, in early 2013, we were contacted by an agency known as The Lassy Project, who is dedicated to helping stop child abduction by using a new system involving GPS, SMS (text and picture messaging via phone), and crowd-source technology to instantly alert a “neighborhood watch” of sorts if a child in the system strays off of a pre-programmed course.
I tend to be skeptical of new initiatives like this. I know how easy it is for personal information to get spread like wildfire across the internet—especially social media. Why would I want someone having information about my child’s habits, routes, and times? After being contacted, the first question I asked was “What makes you different than the Amber Alert system?” (At that point in the year, I’d already gotten two Amber Alerts on my cell phone while out and about.) To be honest, I really didn’t give them a chance to explain in full.
A couple weeks ago, I ran across a television news story of theirs from Colorado, where the Lassie Project is based, stating that Sarah Ridgeway, mother of Jessica Ridgeway, a 10 yr old girl who was abducted and brutally murdered on her way to school in 2012, had joined the Lassy Project’s App Team. (The Ridgeway case got national news and media coverage in 2012/13 in part because of the brutality of the murder and age of her perpetrator.) I had to assume that The Lassy Project was doing some great things, so I asked them for an interview and gave them a chance to answer some difficult questions based on my skepticism.
Here is what they had to say:
DadsRT – For those who have never heard of The Lassy Project, explain what it is in a sentence or two.
LP – The Lassy Project™ is relentlessly focused on preventing child abductions using a patented combination of GPS, SMS, and crowd-sourcing technology. Our program aims to keep kids safe by immediately alerting parents when their child isn’t where they are supposed to be, then providing them the ability to mobilize hundreds of neighbors and community members in
seconds to help.
DadsRT – With programs already in place like the standard Amber Alerts and now, in many areas, Amber Alerts being pushed through cell phone towers near the incident, why do we need The Lassy Project?
LP – While the Amber Alert system is essential and beneficial, the Lassy Project™ differs in several key areas. Let me list them for you:
1) The Lassy Project™ gives INSTANT access to the world’s greatest search and rescue team – other parents. We do not have to jump through the same restrictions and paperwork as the Amber Alert system so we are able to eliminate hours lost in paperwork when a child goes missing.
2) The Lassy Project™ is hyper local, meaning the Lassy alerts are only sent to relevant people in the immediate area who can quickly help. People who are not local to the incident will not receive the alert.
3)The Lassy Project™ gives significantly more information in our alerts than the Amber Alert system. AA provides a simple text description of a missing child, whereas we provide a link to an image of the child along with a realtime map showing the coordinates of their last known location.
At the Lassy Project™, we believe getting a message out in seconds to hundreds of individuals near the area a child goes missing can make the difference between finding the child and not finding the child.
DadsRT – What do police, emergency, NCMEC, and the three-letter agencies think of The Lassy Project?
LP – Currently we have the support of the Colorado FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and the Wives Behind the Badge (a national non-profit of Law Enforcement families). We are hoping to work with the NCMEC one day soon as well.
DadsRT – How far can a child stray from a pre-programmed route? How long does it take for the alert to be sent to a parent’s phone when their child strays from one of their routes?
LP – Currently the Lassy safe zone is set at 50 meters and a child can stray from a preprogrammed route about 35 feet before an alert is triggered. Alerts reach the smart phones within 5 to 15 seconds typically. As we bring in additional devices to partner with, it is our priority to make these times as short as possible.
DadsRT – What happens if the phone is turned off or damaged?
LP – If the phone is turned off, we unfortunately do not know right away. However, we are always rolling out new features and one of those is a “time-watcher” which will notify parents of stale devices for their children. As we add more supported devices that are compliant with the Lassy Project™, we will have more protection and longer battery life.
DadsRT – Does the system have a lag or can you see your child’s movement in real time? Can you tell if your child stops for a prolonged period of time or drops their phone?
LP – The Lassy Project™ reports realtime movement of your child when they are on or off route. Therefore, yes, you can also see when a child stops for a prolonged period of time or drops their phone.
DadsRT – Are there redundant systems in place in case of technical glitches on either end of the system? How reliable is this system? Is it tested periodically, like the emergency broadcast system?
LP – We have standard industry backup systems in place for all of our servers. We have also tested the system extensively and have plans for rolling out a regular schedule of test alerts.
DadsRT – Your site says that route and biographical information is kept private and permissions can be set. In the past, we’ve seen many personally identifiable information (PII) storage systems either hacked or stolen. What general safeguards or precautions do you take to keep potentially dangerous information out of the wrong hands?
LP – Our database is maintained in compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor Framework and the US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework as set forth by the U.S. Department of Commerce regarding the collection, use, and retention of personal information, security, data integrity, access, and enforcement. To learn more about the Safe Harbor program visit https://www.export.gov/safeharbor/. We also do not require or force any PII for children to be placed into the system. You can simply use a child’s first name and then describe them using any characteristics you choose (picture, hair color, eye color, etc). The only information we require is the information people would need to know if they were looking for the missing child.
DadsRT – How long is a family’s information stored? Are their habits or patterns studied? What does the “future” look like for The Lassy Project?
LP – The child’s movements are not stored unless they go off route and an alert is issued. Once an alert is closed then the data is also dumped. The future of the Lassy Project™ is growing the Lassy Village™ to make our neighborhoods and communities safer. We do not study any patterns or habits of movement because there is no view or access to them.
DadsRT – Can you register any smartphone? What stops unintended use of The Lassy Project tracking system, like registering another adult’s phone for stalking or investigative purposes?
LP – Any smartphone that can download an app will work with the Lassy system. Each time a device is activated: 1) It requires that the user inputs a password generated by the owner of the Lassy account [i.e. the parent]. Without the password, one cannot “track” any phone they wish without consent of the phone user, or unless they have access that users phone. 2) An SMS notification is sent out to the parent/owner of the phone number letting them know that a device they created has been activated. So if something unexpected happens with device activation, it cannot be kept secret from the parent/owner.
DadsRT – What else do you want people to know about The Lassy Project? (Include where can people contact you for additional information, to help with the project, or to suggest improvements!)
LP – The Lassy Project™ is passionate about keeping our kids and community safe. We believe the bigger the Village, the safer the kids. Please join the Village today (for FREE) at www.thelassyproject.com. You can click the link below if you would like to contact our team for additional information, help, or suggestions.