Tracking kids: Use and repurposing of wearable and mobile devices

This project was awarded funding under the Centre for AI and Digital Ethics' 2021 seed funding round: Pervasive Devices.

Mobile devices such as smartphones, and dedicated tracking devices are increasingly used by families to track the location of children outside of the home. Research on these geo-locative technologies has so far looked at parent motivations for using them, the nature of and utility of resulting data, and privacy and datafication issues with tracking technologies in general.

However, there is very little detailed knowledge about how families with children use location-providing apps and devices as part of their wider day-to-day household logistics, communication, childcare, and safety.

Tracking Kids

This seed funded project will provide insights into:

  • How mobile and wearable devices and apps are not only used for location tracking, but also how they connect to routines and practices of child activity, health, and behaviour tracking
  • How the advertising and marketing of child tracking apps and devices reflects norms and anxieties of good parenting
  • How services such as “Find my iPhone”, Snapchat, and smart doorbells (e.g. Ring), are repurposed within day-to-day household management and surveillance practices
  • How these tracking practices are ‘flipped’ and used by children for tracking parents (e.g. for knowing how far away from home a parent is)
  • And, finally, what ethical questions arise from these pervasive, distributed, and dynamic forms of digitally tracking kids.

This project will provide an initial mapping of these various dynamics and issues. It will thereby produce more detailed knowledge of emerging forms of child tracking through the use of pervasive, location tracking software and devices in the context of household logistics, childcare, and communication.


  • Mavoa, J., Nansen, B., Coghlan, S., & Gibbs, M. “It’s about safety not snooping”: Parental attitudes to child tracking technologies and geolocation data. Surveillance and Society.
  • Tracking Kids: Use and repurposing of wearable and mobile devices. Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Ethics (CAIDE) AI in Private Spaces seminar series, August 2022.

Research team