My mom loves to tell the story of how I wandered off in the mall one day. As my parents were busy exploring the Disney Store, my 3-year-old self thought it would be a good idea to leave the store, find the nearest stranger, and strike up a conversation. As she tells it, my mom lost her mind and thought I had been kidnapped, murdered, and eaten (I’m paraphrasing) until she found me just outside the store.
Lost Kidz is an app made just for those moments and was built after one of its cofounders, Stephen Fern, lost track of one of his six kids while he was vacationing in France. The child ended up being okay, but Fern says that the 25 minutes his child was missing were the most stressful of his life. With a partnership with the American Humane Association and a six figure funding from Fern and his brothers, Lost Kidz is launching to help parents find their missing children.
The application, which is currently available for the iPhone, is free to download. Parents pay a 99-cent yearly fee to register their children and gain the ability to send “alerts,” small messages that both free and paid users receive if a child goes missing.
Say, for example, that I was babysitting my nephew and lost track of him at the local park. My reaction would probably be somewhere between “It’s the end of days!” and “Oh shit, oh shit.” If I were a Lost Kidz user, however, my reaction would be a simple button press to report my nephew as missing. Users in a 1-mile radius will receive the alert, and if they find my nephew they can call me from within the app and let me know that he’s okay.
If a child isn’t reported safe within half an hour, Lost Kidz will tell the parent that the chance of finding the child has gone down and broaden the search radius. After two hours the app will have notified every Lost Kidz user for 30 miles that a child is missing. All of this sounds good on paper, but I worry that the app will face some significant obstacles in practice.
First and foremost is the fear that nobody in the neighborhood will download the app to begin with. The company’s partnership with the American Humane Association is meant to help get the word out, but that’s no guarantee that the right people will sign up for the service. Being free to download helps with this issue, but humans are inherently lazy creatures and may not think to download such a situational app.
Another issue is the fact that Lost Kidz provides one snippet of information – the fact that a child is missing – without providing context. If a user sees a child being abducted, for example, what should they do? The rational answer would probably be “Call the police,” but the concern that users may decide to take matters into their own hands and put the child in danger are real. The company’s website tells users what to do in the event of an emergency, but the best time to say “Slow down, call the police, and call the parent in that order,” is when the child is first spotted.
Those concerns wouldn’t stop me from downloading the app, however. The service has some rough spots, and it would be nice if it were able to simultaneously alert Lost Kidz users and the authorities, once the situation had escalated to a certain point, but those features may become available as the service ages.
On the whole, Lost Kidz seems like a decent implementation of a good idea. My children are going to live in a sealed plastic bubble until they’re adults, so I might not have the chance to use Lost Kidz, but its appeal is clear. With some 800,000 children reported missing each year, it’s about time someone used today’s technologies to combat a very real, potentially life-changing issue.