I think we’d all agree that one child abduction per year is one too many. Sadly, there were over 258,000 child abductions in the United States in 2011. One recent case was that of Jessica Ridgeway, a ten-year old who was kidnapped on her way to school in 2012 and murdered. The Lassy project app, a child tracking system, was inspired by Jessica’s story.
There are a number of apps and services available for parents to help keep track of their child’s whereabouts and receive notifications if the child strays from approved locations. But the Lassy Project app may be the first to take things a step further, and I think it is an important step: the power of a “village” of neighbors and community members who can receive an “escalated” alert about a possible missing child.
Here’s how it works:
1. Parents sign up and program in their child’s safe zones and routes – for example, from home to school; from school to the library.
2. Parents download the app to their child’s smart phone. (No smart phone? Keep reading, there are other options)
3. Parents will receive an instant notification if the child strays from their route.
4. If an alert is received, the parent can call the child to confirm they are okay, and then close the alert. If they cannot reach the child, the parent can choose to escalate the alert which will notify the entire village. The village is made up of other Lassy subscribers who have signed up in that general area. The village of friends and neighbors can aid in trying to find the child. Since this can happen within minutes of a child leaving the prescribed routes, there is a better chance that the child will be found.
Watch Lassy in action:
How to set up and use Lassy
From their website, click Join the village. Sign up with your zip code, mobile phone number and a password.
You’ll receive an activation code sent to your phone; enter that on the web site to complete sign-up, along with your e-mail address and name. This takes you to the dashboard where instructions guide you through the process of creating your children’s profiles.
You’ll enter basic information – age, first name, height and weight, hair and eye color, and a photo. (I would have loved to be able to crop or rotate the photo once it was uploaded but that’s not a deal breaker). Next you set up zones on a map – such as home, school, friends’ house, library. Then you’ll set up the routes your child will take between the zones. This is all easy to do using a Google Map- like interface.
The next step is to install the app on your child’s smart phone. If they don’t have a smart phone, the use of different “tracking” devices is in the works. While smart phone ownership by kids and tweens is rising, most kids probably aren’t carrying one just yet and may never be….they are expensive! So the availability of devices that work with Lassy will be a welcome addition. I could see how it would be useful to have something that could attach to a backpack, or a key ring that could fit in a pocket.
Since my daughter doesn’t have a smart phone, I installed Lassy on my husband’s iPhone and activated the app. I immediately received a text message that my daughter (or in this scenario, hubby’s phone) had entered the safe zone called “Home”.
Privacy and Security with Lassy
When I mentioned to my husband that I had installed this on his phone for the purposes of testing, he joked, “Oh, so you’re stalking me now?” But this brings up a valid point – how can you prevent the use of Lassy as a stalking tool?
This is addressed during set up in two ways. 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.
Additionally, they run every name that joins the village against sex offender and child predator records to help ensure each child’s safety. No one has the ability to track or follow a child unless you hit the escalate button to notify the Village of a problem. Once the parent closes the alert, the village can no longer see or track the child’s information.
Does Lassy work?
According to Lassy spokesperson Holly Peterson, they have seen thousands of alerts since they started the service last October. While they don’t disclose the number of escalated alerts, they have received feedback from many parents who were alerted of situations they were able to address, and were glad to have received for fear that it could have been a much larger ordeal.
The only negative I found was that the app, which has to run in the background to track location, used up the phone battery quickly. The app must continually track location using GPS, and location services running constantly can use up the juice. This would be the case with any location-tracking app or service. So be sure to charge phones overnight.
The Power of Community
There is strength in numbers, and Lassy would be of most benefit when used by many members of a community. So if you give it a try, definitely send the link out to your friends and neighbors to build a strong Village. For now, Lassy will only work if your child has a smart phone, but other devices are in the works, so this is an app to watch. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. With Lassy, a village could save a child.
The Lassy Project app is free. Learn more about Lassy Project on their website:
Additional videos demonstrating how Lassy works are located here: http://www.thelassyproject.com/videos.