I don’t why I’m surprised: We’ve seen pet owners inject GPS trackers on little Fidos all over the country. So was tagging humans really going to be far behind? (Thank goodness for small favors — at least these aren’t physically implanted.)
Footwear company Aetrex has teamed up with GTX Corp., integrating the latter’s GPS technology in its new tracking shoes. That’s right — the goal of this product is to pinpoint the wearer’s whereabouts. (The tracker’s inside the right shoe, which also has a GSM antenna that goes through the heel and a USB port, for charging.) The product is slated to begin shipping in Canada first, and it appears that an international SIM card supplier may be on board, which would allow for global distribution and service.
At first glance, I thought this looked like a horrible idea. To say this would call up privacy issues would be an understatement. I imagined jealous lovers or abusive spouses coercing their partners to wear the Aetrex shoes daily, effectively using them as a spy tool or an instrument of oppression. And it’s certainly possible that this product could be subverted like that — despite being a radically different use-case than the maker intends.
The product concept is actually a noble one. Aetrex intends to give caretakers a means to safeguard loved ones with dementia, Alzeheimers, certain types of mental illnesses or other conditions. When customers purchase the shoes, they can set up an account with GTX to map a safe zone (or “geo-fence”) using Google Maps. Then whenever their patient or loved one wanders outside that area, an email or text message goes out to alert the primary account holder, who can then call an emergency line if additional help is necessary.
Of course, even used with the best intentions, it’s still not a perfect scenario. The kicks cost $299.99 per pair, not including monthly fees — logging the location data of the wearer every 10 minutes costs $40 per month, and every 30 minutes is $36 per month. That’s not exactly cheap. And the battery life is two days, meaning the caretaker needs to recharge them pretty often (and it’s a sure bet that more frequent tracking will run that down pretty fast). The wearer also needs to be willing to wear the shoes and keep them on for the system to work.
But those aren’t the most troubling aspects. It’s the idea of making human-tracking technology available for widespread consumer use. That makes for an extremely sticky and disconcerting proposition, no matter the reason.
What do you think? Do the privacy concerns make this a bad idea? Or does the potential good from this type of product trump the risk of misuse?