All posts in “children”

Jiobit launches its more secure, modular child location tracker starting at $100

To date, child location trackers have failed to live up to consumer expectations. They’ve arrived as oversized, bulky watches too large for little wrists, and some have even been designed so insecurely, that it would be safer to not use them at all. A new kid tracker from Jiobit, launching today, wants to address these problems by offering a fully encrypted location tracker with a more modular form factor that makes better sense for small children.

The Chicago-based startup was started by a father – Jiobit’s co-founder and CEO John Renaldi  – after he experienced firsthand the terror of losing track of his then six-year old son at a local park.

“I was a Vice President of Product at Motorola, and was out on a family trip to downtown Chicago with my son, daughter, my wife,” Renaldi explains. The family was at Maggie Daley park when it happened. “Before I knew it – I can’t tell you how I got distracted – but in a sea of other children, I lost track of my son for 30 minutes,” he says.

The child eventually found his parents – he hadn’t wandered off at all, but was having a grand ol’ time playing and didn’t even know he was “lost.”

But the incident led Renaldi to try every sort of tracking product on the market. And he came back disappointed.

“I looked into all these products and they were all storing their certificate keys in the clear. They all were hackable. And I’m just sitting here looking at this thinking, ‘oh my god.’ If someone just spent a little bit of time they could completely intercept all this communication,” Renaldi says.

So he decided the solution was to build a kid tracker himself.

The startup raised seed funding, and brought on co-founder and CTO Roger Ady, previously a director of engineering at Motorola. It went through TechStars in 2016, and raised a little over $3 million at the end of the program. To date, it’s raised $6 million since its founding in 2015.

The team played around with different designs, but decided against a wristwatch for a variety of reasons – including not only the bulk of the device, but because some schools banned them as classroom distractions.

The Jiobit tracker launching today is small (37mm x 50mm x 12mm) and lightweight (18g or less than 4 quarter coins), and can be worn in many different ways. It comes with a built-in loop attachment for attaching the device to shoelaces, drawstrings, or if it’s being placed in a pocket.

Another attachment, the secure loop, lets you attach it to belt loops, shirt tag loops, or buttonholes.

Although the secure loop is more challenging to attach and remove, from personal experience, I’d recommend this option as the child can’t remove it.

(My Jiobit disappeared one day at school, because it was not secured – and now that it’s offline, it’s just gone forever since the school can’t find it.)

However, in my brief time with the device and app, I thought it was better designed in terms of setup and usage than others I’d tried in the past.

Unfortunately, Jiobit doesn’t have an insurance program for lost or stolen devices – only an accidental damage warranty. So I’d suggest not making my mistake, given the cost.

The Jiobit starts at $99.99 for the device with a year contract, or is $149.99 for a non-contract device with the option of a commitment-free $7.99 per month plan.

It ships with its accessories, cable, and charging dock. More accessories, including colorful covers and other attachments, are in the works.

To locate the child, the Jiobit utilizes a combination of Bluetooth and GPS.

If the child is beyond BLE range – like around your backyard, perhaps, you can switch over to a Live Mode in the app to see their GPS location as a dot. The accuracy of this system is about as accurate as GPS is in a mapping or navigation app. 

Parents can also use the Jiobit app to set up a geofence around specific locations, like home or school, in order to receive check-in alerts when the child leaves or arrives. They can also add other family members, trusted friends, nannies, etc. to a “Care Team” in the app to give those people access to the child’s location.

The company has taken pains to secure the location data that’s stored, says Renaldi, which is a differentiating factor for this company’s solution.

“Everything stored at rest – both on the cloud and on device – is encrypted,” he explains. “Any local data, as well as the encryption keys that are used to transmit the data, are all in a tamper-proof piece of silicon on the device that’s akin to what’s in your iPhone that stores your payment keys for your credit cards. That secure element – that same architecture – is used for us,” Renaldi continues.

That means that no one can get to the keys, even they gained physical access to the device.

“That’s a first in the industry for location tracking products,” Renaldi notes. 

The data is also secured in transit over Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth, as the Jiobit is assigned a unique key – an authentication token – that allows the company to protect the data moving between the device itself and Amazon’s IoT cloud. (More on this here.)

Despite all these protections, one thing that worried me was that there was a history of my child’s exact GPS coordinates being stored – indefinitely – in the cloud. The company says it will soon launch a feature that allows parents an option to save their device’s location history, so it doesn’t want to purge these records for now.

But if you don’t want to save the child’s location history beyond the past few days, you currently have to ask the company to delete your files. (There are only two people at Jiobit who can even look at the GPS history, when the customer requests it.)

Jiobit said its beta testers asked for historical data, which it why it made this decision.

But that seems crazy to me – most parents I know err on the side of being almost overly paranoid when it comes to protecting their kids’ data. I can’t imagine that most would want location data stored forever anywhere, no matter how securely. My guess is that some parents were using the “child tracker” as a “nanny tracker.”

At the end of the day, there’s a certain kind of parent who will buy a kid tracker. It’s someone who wants their kids to have the kind of freedom they remember having from their own childhood  – where parents didn’t hover quite as much as they do today. But they want a little added security.

Selling to this market is challenging however, because a lot of this consumer demand is often just talk. “Oh, I wish I had a kid tracker!” says the mom or dad trotting around behind their child all day. In practice, it’s actually hard to stop helicoptering the kid in a society where this has become the norm, and there’s social pressure to do the same.

There’s also a limited span of years where this device makes sense. Ever younger kids are getting smartphones these days. (You can convert Jiobit to a pet tracker at that point, I suppose.)

Fortunately, the company is planning a future beyond kid tracking. It’s partnering with airlines, businesses, and even government agencies who want to use its location technology in a variety of ways beyond tracking people. NDAs prevent Jiobit from discussing the particulars of these discussions and deals, but it sounds like there’s a Plan B in the works if the kid trackers don’t sell.

In the meantime, parents can buy the Jiobit here, starting today.

WhatsApp raises minimum age to 16 in Europe ahead of GDPR

Tech giants are busy updating their T&Cs ahead of the EU’s incoming data protection framework, GDPR. Which is why, for instance, Facebook-owned Instagram is suddenly offering a data download tool. You can thank European lawmakers for being able to take your data off that platform.

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is also making a pretty big change as a result of GDPR — noting in its FAQs that it’s raising the minimum age for users of the messaging platform to 16 across the “European Region“. This includes in both EU and non-EU countries (such as Switzerland), as well as the in-the-process-of-brexiting UK (which is set to leave the EU next year).

In the US, the minimum age for WhatsApp usage remains 13.

Where teens are concerned GDPR introduces a new provision concerning children’s personal data — setting a 16-year-old age limit on kids being able to consent to their data being processed — although it does allow some wiggle room for individual countries to write a lower age limit into their laws, setting a hard cap at 13-years-old.

WhatsApp isn’t bothering to try to vary the age gate depending on limits individual EU countries have set, though. Presumably to reduce the complexity of complying with the new rules.

But also likely because it’s confident WhatsApp-loving teens won’t have any trouble circumventing the new minimum age limit. And therefore that there’s no real risk to its business because teenagers will easily ignore the rules.

Certainly it’s unclear whether WhatsApp and its parent Facebook will do anything at all to enforce the age limit — beyond asking users to state they are at least 16 (and taking them at their word). So in practice, while on paper the 16-years-old minimum seems like a big deal, the change may do very little to protect teens from being data-mined by the ad giant.

We’ve asked WhatsApp whether it will cross-check users’ accounts with Facebook accounts and data holdings to try to verify a teen really is 16, for example, but nothing in its FAQ on the topic suggests it plans to carry out any active enforcement at all — instead it merely notes:

  • Creating an account with false information is a violation of our Terms
  • Registering an account on behalf of someone who is underage is also a violation of our Terms

Ergo, that does sound very much like a buck being passed. And it will likely be up to parents to try to actively enforce the limit — by reporting their own underage WhatApp-using kids to the company (which would then have to close the account). Clearly few parents would relish the prospect of doing that.

Yet Facebook does already share plenty of data between WhatsApp and its other companies for all sorts of self-serving, business-enhancing purposes — and even including, as it couches it, “to ensure safety and security”. So it’s hardly short of data to carry out some age checks of its own and proactively enforce the limit.

One curious difference is that Facebook’s approach to teen usage of WhatsApp is notably distinct to the one it’s taking with teens on its main social platform — also as it reworks the Facebook T&Cs ahead of GDPR.

Under the new terms there Facebook users between the ages of 13 and 15 will need to get parental permission to be targeted with ads or share sensitive info on Facebook.

But again, as my TC colleague Josh Constine pointed out, the parental consent system Facebook has concocted is laughably easy for teens to circumvent — merely requiring they select one of their Facebook friends or just enter an email address (which could literally be an alternative email address they themselves control). That entirely unverified entity is then asked to give ‘consent’ for their ‘child’ to share sensitive info. So, basically, a total joke.

As we’ve said before, Facebook’s approach to GDPR ‘compliance’ is at best described as ‘doing the minimum possible’. And data protection experts say legal challenges are inevitable.

Update: WhatsApp has now confirmed to us it is raising the minimum age to use its service from 13 to 16 across the EU in order to comply with GDPR. It also said that because it collects limited categories of information from its users it had to make a tradeoff between collecting more personal information or keeping it simple and raising the minimum age across the board in the region. Hence it’s taking a different approach here vs Facebook.

The company also told us that users in the region will be asked to confirm whether they are at least 16 years old when they are presented with its updated terms of service. But it will not start asking for a user’s date of birth.

Also in Europe Facebook has previously been forced via regulatory intervention to give up one portion of the data sharing between its platforms — specifically for ad targeting purposes. However its WhatsApp T&Cs also suggest it is confident it will find a way to circumvent that in future, as it writes it “will only do so when we reach an understanding with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner on a future mechanism to enable such use” — i.e. when, not if.

Last month it also signed an undertaking with the DPC on this related to GDPR compliance, so again appears to have some kind of regulatory-workaround ‘mechanism’ in the works.

Kidbox raises $15.3 million for its personalized children’s clothing box

Kidbox, a clothing-in-a-box startup aimed at a slightly younger crowd than StitchFix, has raised $15.3 million in Series B funding to expand and scale its business.

The round was led by Canvas Ventures, and includes participation from existing investors Firstime Ventures and HDS Capital, as well as new strategic partners Fred Langhammer, former CEO of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., and The Gindi Family, owners of Century 21 department stores.

To date, Kidbox has raised $28 million.

The company was founded in October, 2015, then shipped its first box of clothing out of beta testing during the back-to-school shopping season the next year.

Similar to StitchFix, Kidbox also curates a selection of around half a dozen pieces of clothing and other accessories (but not shoes), which are based on a child’s “style profile” filled out online by mom or dad. The profile asks for the child’s age, sizes and questions about the child’s clothing preferences — like what colors they like and don’t like, as well as other styles to avoid — like if you have a child who hates wearing dresses, for example, or one who has an aversion to the color orange.

“Those answers feed into a proprietary algorithm — we’re very data science and tech focused,” explains Kidbox CEO Miki Berardelli. “That algorithm hits up against our product catalog at any given moment, and presents to our human styling team the perfect box for — just as an example, a size 7 sporty boy. And from there, the styling team looks at the box that’s been served up, the customer’s history, if they’re a repeat customer, the customer’s geography and any notes [the customer] added to their account,” she says.

The box is then put together and shipped to the customer.

Berardelli previously worked at Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and was president of Digital Commerce for Chico’s (Chico’s, White House Black Market and Soma). She joined Kidbox in September 2016 after meeting founder Haim Dabah while he was searching for Kidbox’s CEO.

“It resonated with me as a consumer, as an early adopter of all things digital, and as a multi-time operator of e-commerce businesses,” she says, of why she decided to join the startup.

Today, Kidbox’s boxes are sent out seasonally for spring, summer, back-to-school, fall and winter. However, unlike StitchFix, Kidbox isn’t a subscription service — you can skip boxes at any time, and you’re not charged a “styling fee” or any other add-on fees.

However, if you keep the full box, Kidbox donates a new outfit to a child in need through a partnership with Delivering Good, a nonprofit that allows customers to choose the charity to receive their clothing donation.

At launch, Kidbox carried around 30 kid’s brands. It’s since grown its assortment to more than 100 brands for kids ages newborn through 14, including well-known names like Adidas, DKNY, 7 for All Mankind, Puma, Jessica Simpson, Reebok, Diesel and others.

Kidbox launches its own private labels

With the next back-to-school box, Kidbox will insert its own brands into the mix. The company will be launching multiple private labels across all ages, and every box will get at least one own-label item. The brands will include everything from onesies for babies to graphic tees to denim to basics, and more. 

“We believe we’ve identified a void in the children’s apparel marketplace,” notes Berardelli. “The style sensibility of our exclusive brands will all have a unique personality, and a unique voice that’s akin to how our customers describe themselves. It’s all really based on customer feedback. Our customers tell us what they would love more of; and our merchandising team understands what they would like to be able to procure more of, in terms of rounding out our assortment,” she says.

On a personal note, a customer of both Kidbox and Rockets of Awesome, two of the leading kid box startups, what I appreciate about Kidbox is the affordable price point — the whole box is less than $100 — and its personal touches. Kidbox ships with crayons and a pencil-case for kids, and the box is designed for kids to color. It also includes a print edition of its editorial content, and sometimes there’s a small toy included, too.

Kidbox rival Rockets of Awesome is a little pricier, I’ve found, but has some unique pieces that make it worth checking out, as well.

With the new funding, Kidbox aims to further invest in its technology foundation, its data science teams, its own labels, its customer acquisition strategy and marketing.

The company doesn’t disclose how many customers it has or its revenues. Instead, it notes that the Kidbox “community” — which includes fluffy numbers like Facebook Page fans and people who signed up for emails — is over 1.2 million. So it’s hard to determine how many people are actually buying from Kidbox boxes.

Kidbox has potential in a market where brick-and-mortar retailers are closing their doors, and e-commerce apparel is on the upswing. But it — like others in the space — faces the looming threat posed by Amazon. The retailer has also just launched its clothing box service, Prime Wardrobe, which includes kids’ clothing.

“Kidbox is at the head of a trend that sees a world in which every person will have their own personalized storefront for literally anything — be it kids clothing, furniture or weddings,” says Paul Hsiao, general partner at Canvas Ventures, about the firm’s investment. Hsiao has also led investments in Zola and eporta while at Canvas, and in Houzz while at NEA.

“Kidbox is growing at atypically high multiples. I think it is because of their deep connection with their customers — the kids, the parents and grandparents,” Hsiao continues. “The Kidbox team is also remarkable at logistics. Sounds boring, but e-commerce is fundamentally a logistics business,” he adds.

Kidbox is currently a team of 35 based in New York.

Amazon rolls out remote access to its FreeTime parental controls

Amazon is making it easier for parents to manage their child’s device usage from their own phone, tablet, or PC with an update to the Parent Dashboard in Amazon FreeTime. Since its launch in 2012, Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited has been one of the better implementations of combining kid-friendly content with customizable profiles and parental controls. Today, parents can monitor and manage kids’ screen time, time limits, daily educational goals, device activity, and more while allowing children to access family-friendly content like books, videos, apps and games.

Last year, Amazon introduced a Parent Dashboard as another means of helping parents monitor screen time as well as have conversations with kids about what they’re doing on their devices. For example, if the child was reading a particular book, the dashboard might prompt parents with questions they could ask about the books’ content. The dashboard also provided a summary of the child’s daily device use, including things like what books were read, videos watched, apps or games played, and websites visited, and for how long.

According to a research study Amazon commissioned with Kelton Global Research, the company found that 97 percent of parents monitor or manage their kids’ use of tablets and smartphones, but 75 percent don’t want to hover over kids when they’re using their devices.

On Thursday, Amazon addressed this problem by allowing parents to remotely configure the parental control settings from the online Parent Dashboard in order to manage the child’s device from afar from a phone, tablet or computer.

The controls are the same as those available through the child’s device itself. Parents can set a device bedtime, daily goals and time limits, adjust their smart filter, and enable the web browser remotely. They can also remotely add new books, videos, apps and games to their child’s FreeTime profile, and lock or unlock the device for a set period of time.

The addition comes following last year’s launch of FreeTime on Android, and Google’s own entry into the parental control software space with the public launch of Family Link last fall. Apple also this year made vague promises about improving its existing parental controls in the future, in response to pressure from two Apple shareholder groups, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

With the increased activity in the parental control market, Amazon’s FreeTime may lose some of its competitive advantages. Amazon also needed to catch up to the remote control capabilities provided with Google’s Family Link.

There are those who argue that parental controls that do things like limit kids’ activity on apps and games or turn off access to the internet are enablers of lazy parenting, where devices instead of people are setting the rules. But few parents use parental controls in that fashion. Rather, they establish house rules then use software to remind children the rules exist and to enforce them.

The updated FreeTime Parent Dashboard is available via a mobile-optimized website at parents.amazon.com.

Kids who dab on Snapchat aren’t actually helping cure cancer

“Dab if you hate cancer” is the latest ~trend~ making it’s way around Snapchat, but the Bitmoji-loving kids sharing these chain snaps aren’t actually making a charitable impact.

Participating in Snapchat’s “screenshot and dab” trend is simple. Users screenshot an image, add their own dabbing Bitmoji, and forward it along to friends requesting they do the same. It’s essentially the modern-day version of those obnoxious spam chain emails that told you you’d die unless you forwarded them to 15 people in the next 10 minutes.

But now, young Snapchat users are using their dabbing Bitmoji’s to prove they hate cancer.

“Add your dab if you hate cancer screenshot and keep it going” a Snapchat that Twitter user @megaushe received from a 9-year-old she babysits read. The Snapchat included dozens of dabbing emoji all posted on top of one another, some of which had been blurred as a result of too many screenshots.

A Twitter thread of the image shows more and more dabbing Bitmoji being added to the mix, and other variations of the Snap have begun to surface online.

Call me old, but what exactly is this accomplishing? It’s great that all these youths claim to hate cancer, but maybe instead of Snapchatting a damn Bitmoji — which does absolutely nothing to further cancer research or help those with the disease — you could donate to the cause, volunteer, or take any sort of action unrelated to sending Snapchats that would productively make an impact against cancer.

Also is dabbing not dead yet? Come on.

Several Twitter users learning about the “screenshot and dab” fab were also confused and were quick to crack jokes at the expense of youths everywhere.

It’s so simple to blame the young ones for this display of embarrassment, but they are just kids. Perhaps the real question is who let a 9-year-old make a Snapchat account in the first place…

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