Research Proposal: The Ethics of Tracking Your Family

Every parent worries about their child. In an age of mobile phones, microchips and other advanced technology that can be utilised to pin point locations, why would parents not track their children? We are in a world where cybernetics and growing technologies supply us with the power of knowledge and information beyond our own physical, human capabilities. What then is made of the ethical implications of ‘stalking’ a child, their internet usage and willingly allowing ourselves to be programmed by this technology into thinking that this kind of behavior is normal?

Cyber-cultures refers to “issues and concerns which have arisen as a result of the proliferation of digitally-enabled communication, networked computation and media technologies and internet practices.” (Moore, 2018). Truly within this relationship between a digital and a reality complex, we can identify that technology is making considerable bounds in becoming increasingly prevalent in human activities.

Tracking People in 2018

In the past, children were able to play without the constraints of their parents knowing exactly where they were. However, now there is a plethora of technologies which allow parents (or really anyone for that matter) to track their kids. It is reminiscent of old school spy films but with a horrifying twist of breaching privacy and personal space.

The definition of a “tracking device” in the state of New South Wales is as follows:

tracking device means any electronic device capable of being used to determine or monitor the geographical location of a person or an object.

Tracking devices in the forms of a phone app, bracelet technology or microchip inside someone’s skin are all extensions of sight, hearing and touch as we are able to pin point an individuals location while utilising this technology.

A tracking device usually has a negative connotation in the context of movies such as Red Dawn where one character was implanted with a tracker and had to be exiled from the group as their enemies therefore knew their location. Other allusions to this technology are all correlated to a post-apocalyptic future such as the trackers that the game-makers used in The Hunger Games to track tributes and the surveillance system that a mother used in Black Mirror’s Arkangel. Both these texts have a cyberpunk-esque theme throughout and display the power of this technology in not only having surveillance but controlling how characters interact with each other.

The ethical implications of this tech obviously relate to that of privacy. My own experiences with this technology were quite negative, I was being tracked without my permission or knowledge for a year through an app on my phone. The feelings of intrusiveness and lack of trust that my parents showed were quite jarring and lead me to take myself out of the app. They didn’t trust me or what I was telling them (which was fair, I didn’t tell them exactly where I was going- but isn’t that a fundamental experience of childhood!?).

Briggs (2018) makes a great point in saying that in the past, it wasn’t clear to his parents where he was. He then mentions that experiences would be extremely different had he known he was being watched under a microscope. It is a valid question to ask if children now will “still have the same adventures? Make the same discoveries? Get into the same teachable strife?” (Briggs, 2018) while being continuously watched by their parents.

An interesting question that I would like to answer is:

Has tracking technology and social media made us afraid of the unknown?

  • We always know what each other are doing through social media and in more extreme situations, tracking. Therefore, what happens if someone we love is unavailable? Do we assume the worst? We are afraid of what they are doing without us.
    • Raising feelings of the need to be connected, insecurity (FOMO) and our scary reliance on technology for knowledge.

The worst part is, in actuality, my parents were breaking the law. In Australia it is “an offence to knowingly install, use or maintain a tracking device to determine the geographical location of a person without their permission” (Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW)). The problem is that technology is advancing faster then our ability to not only educate ourselves on new legislation, but others around us that may not be Digital Natives (Prensky, 2001).

It is this generation of abundant and readily available information that leads us to rely on the internet and technologies in our lives. We are always logged on and each moment we are edging closer to our reality becoming this cyberspace where the line between the digital and analogue blur, mix and eventually becomes non existent. The fact that this tracking technology makes us ubiquitous and makes our networks physical really does portray a world already governed similarly to cyberspace.

In this focus area, we are in the socio-technical system of humans and tracking devices where they changing our human behaviour, attitudes and affinity with surveillance and privacy. The authority in this context is aimed towards the Australian government with an emphasis on their ability to distribute the control of these technologies and software across networks.

My Project

For this research I will be producing a digital artefact using blog posts to document my progress as well as a YouTube video series including my own parents and others who have used tracking devices in the past, present and future. I will be making allusions to different technologies and also identifying any new concepts for tracking also to identify if it really is ethical to microchip someone.

With this project I will focus on a few main areas:

  1. The ethical implications and effect on a child.
  2. Which apps are the most successful, why are they being used and what are their guidelines for use.
  3. The thought of micro-chipping a child as an extension of ones self (turning into a cyborg).
  4. Why is it appealing for parents to utilise this technology.
  5. Effects on wider society if this became the norm for all families.

My digital artefact will allow me the perfect opportunity to explore the depths of Future Cultures in relation to the phenomena of the digital realm and cyberspace which we now interact and live with. It also supplies an audience with opinions, ideas and real life situations of using modern technologies for tracking and surveillance.

This topic not only raises questions of surveillance and privacy, but also the ethical implications of using this technology and it’s influence on the socio-political systems and ethical norms (Mcnamee, 2015). This raises the notion of utilising this technology not for spying or for the knowledge of where your child is, but to stalk them.