Disney kills its spy-on-your-kids phones

Disney has killed off its mobile phone service, which had the creepy "feature" of allowing parents to track their kids' movements and surveil their conversations. Apparently, they weren't able to scare enough parents into putting telephonic prisoner-anklets onto their kids.
Disney said the service will no longer be available after December 31, but it might offer some of the specially designed software and applications through another wireless operator.
Link (via Ypulse)

See also: Disney to launch mobile phone service with Sprint

Update: I had been told by a sales rep that Disney mobiles let you see pen-trace data on your kids' calls, but Scott Forbes of Disney Mobile tells me that this isn't true.


  1. Cory, I know the phones are kind of creepy, but we’d actually considered getting the phones for our kids when we go to Disney in November. We’ve been trying to think of different ways to keep them safe (they’re 5 & 4) and so we’d love a way to be able to track them, specifically if they get separated from us.

    We’ve also considered the MiGo, since it only has a few buttons and it would be easy for them to know which button called Mommy and which called Daddy.

    I agree that for older children it would be kind of creepy…

  2. Why not just have a phone without the tracking function — when the kids get lost, you can call them and ask where they are?

  3. At a Disney park, a freaked-out four-year-old would be at large for less than 2 minutes before a cast-member took her into custody and called her parents.

  4. Cory- Ahh that makes sense. You just want your oppressive Orwellian society with the hands on touch only a dude in a goofy suit can provide versus the cold unfeeling technology of crappy cell phones.

    It takes a mascot to raise a child sometimes ;).

  5. i see no problem with a phone that gps tracks your kids location. listening in is more creepy. It’ll be good till a certain age until the kid gets to the age where he or she can circumvent that type of survelience.

    as in, if a 8 year old runs off the parents should be able to track them down, but if a 15 year old runs off and gets into trouble its their own damn fault.

  6. Most of the time I’m right there with Cory and the fight against the surveillance state.
    But as a parent, I have to say, I don’t think this is a bad idea. I know where we live the chance of anything happening to my 8-year-old is remote and the news sensationalizes the tragic but rare instances of child abductions–but providing parents a means of helping keep their kids safer in a voluntary, optional, non-state controlled way is not a bad idea.

    I’ll never support invasive measures like implanted RFID chips! Or laws that would REQUIRE a parent to electronically monitor their kids. But this phone thing didn’t seem like a bad idea. But maybe I’ve bought into the fear, being an manipulable parent. :)

  7. Many mobile carriers offer this service. Some services have parental controls that include restricting when and where the phone can be used and an alert if the child leaves a predefined area (such as school). Yeah, seems creepy, but when my son was born I wished I could install a GPS locator in him for fear of him being kidnapped. In this day and age where children have increasingly greater freedoms, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to know where your child is.

  8. What increasing freedom? Kids have never, ever had more restrictions on their use of public space, especially in industrial society than they do today. Kids are more surveilled, controlled and denied access to unsupervised free-play than ever before. Public parks and playgrounds are closing everywhere. Kids are being told that they may not take themselves to schools — and schools are more and more distant from kids’ homes. Stores have restrictions on kids entering their premises.

    Also: child abduction by strangers is so incredibly rare that you’d be better off worrying about your kids being struck by lightning.

    See, for example, this:


  9. Yes, it is true that kids are being more and more restricted while more is expected of them. Ironically, these restrictions are often enacted in the name of safety, despite that our world is safer now than it ever has been. Of course, kids need to be able to get out, get a scuffed knee, and learn things for themselves – it’s a critical part of their development. Keeping them locked up indoors all day in the name of safety is a bit like starving them so they won’t choke.

    The BBC recently ran a number of stories about this:

    Analysis: Rearing children in captivity

    Young ‘not allowed out to play’

    ‘Cotton wool’ childhood challenge

    No outdoor play ‘hurts children’

  10. I can’t say that this function is that bad or creepy, mainly because I’m playing big brother (in both senses, sadly) to a very troubled 15 year old who has a history of running away and hanging out with prostitutes, older men, and older prostitutes, all of whom are determined to convince him that having sex with them, or for them as an employee, and living on the streets are better choices than doing his homework, graduating from high school, going to college, and getting a job. If his mom and I were able to track him, life would be a lot easier, and I’ve actually considered recommending to his mom that she have his probation officer put a GPS tracking anklet on him. I certainly don’t think that this Disney phone is necessary for every kid. I wouldn’t have needed one, but I graduated with a 4.3 GPA, 13th in my class, almost never missed my curfew, held a job, and had extra curricular activities.

    For kids like this one (I estimated that the state spends about $50,000/year in trying to make sure he ends up as a normal adult, beyond what we normally invest in children), it would be utterly necessary.

  11. Gitaiba@13: Not being sarcastic, just asking: wouldn’t a troubled 15-year-old ditch or switch off his cellphone before doing the stuff that he doesn’t want to get caught at?

  12. Let me clarify. First, I didn’t mean that I support implanting RFID chips in children. Just that it crossed my mind when my son was born. I *don’t* however, have a problem with GPS locators in cell phones for younger children.

    As for the types of freedoms you (Cory) describe–you’re absolutely right. In my early morning brain I was thinking about the access to information that children have, and the “freedom” or requirement (depending on how you look at it) for kids to grow up earlier and earlier with each passing generation… and that children are exposed to adult topics at younger and younger ages.

    I know I’m opening up a can of worms here, but I believe that one of the reasons that kids are surveilled, controlled and denied access is because parents and families are generally less involved in their children’s day to day lives than in previous generations. Kids are denied access to parks because they tear them up with skateboards. Denied access to stores, because they go in en masse and steal from shopkeepers. Often children can’t take themselves to school not because of adult molesters, but because of creepy kids. All these situations arise in part because children no longer appear to be taught to respect the property or welfare of others – because they’re not being adequately monitored and mentored.

    We reap what we sow. As long as parents don’t take accountability for the behavior of their children, and watch out for them, the cycle continues.

  13. Vandalism, shoplifting, and bullying are not on the rise. They’ve been in decline for decades.

  14. “Vandalism, shoplifting, and bullying are not on the rise. They’ve been in decline for decades.”

    Maybe because of increased surveillance? *ducks*

  15. Maybe because of increased surveillance? *ducks*

    Heh. :) I don’t have the data on me, but most studies that I have seen have found no sig. difference in crime levels between surveilled and non-surveilled areas. There was a fairly large scale study about this in London that just came out in the past 2 months.

  16. I definitely side with Cory that kids are far less free than they used to be. When I was 10, I could wander on bike for blocks, maybe miles, by myself or with friends. I loved doing that, picking raspberries, fishing, catching crawdads. I wouldn’t dream of letting my kids do that nowadays, and can’t imagine many parents doing so. Why is that? It’s very sad.

    I do know many parents would end up in jail for letting that happening. again, very sad.

  17. @14 Yeah, you’d think so, but then he can’t get in contact with his friends. We’ve been able to at least figure out what neighborhood he was in and then we can figure out where he’s most likely to be. Last time, he was found in Volunteer Park, Seattle’s cruisiest park.

    Honestly though, locking his phone book so that only his mom can add numbers, and so he can only make or receive calls from numbers in the phone book has done more to keep him from becoming a teenage hustler than anything else, and I hope I’m not just flattering myself for thinking that my influence has been somewhat helpful.

  18. DCulbertson– I did all that as well, and had a tremendously good time. However, I look back and think that its quite possible my parents were REALLY irresponsible. I mean, I was gone all day hanging out in the woods or riding my bike all over the area. Many times, I’d be completely alone, and could have gotten injured in any number of terrible ways– hanging out at a slippery spillway ranks pretty high up there for me!

    I think there’s a middle ground though, and that it’s just getting out there with your kids. My folks decision was more about having their own good time than giving me some sort of free childhood– getting involved and doing fun stuff together seems like the best bet. It sure beats being cooped up inside all day!

  19. There’s a lot going on in people’s minds here that is not strictly rational. For some parents, statistics about the rarity of child kidnapping just don’t allay their (arguably) exaggerated fears. This doesn’t make them bad people, obviously.

    I think a lot of parents are also unconcerned about the “creepy” aspects of these things. (I find the whole idea creepy too, for the record.)

    For example, the kind of parent who responds to concerns about public surveillance with the smug response “I have nothing to hide” is unlikely to think passing on an acceptance of being tracked and surveilled to their kids is undesirable. And no one can tell me that a 4 year old is too young to absorb that kind of lesson.

    I think parents should consider the social implications of any of these technologies. For example, “Am I contributing to an unhealthy trend in our society? (Yes, in my book.) Or, “What am I teaching my child here?” (Parents, you tell me.)

  20. “For some parents, statistics about the rarity of child kidnapping just don’t allay their (arguably) exaggerated fears.”

    I think it is exaggerated, and there’s a different attitude now. When i was young, I walked to school (about 2 miles) with my younger sibs. We had an incident where a creep tried to pick us up, and tried with several other kids. He was unsuccessful, because every one of us knew better and he was caught, and we kept on walking to school. Now, I get funny attitudes from other parents for letting my own kids walk a block, to a school I can see from my yard.

  21. #24: yeah, times have really changed. I roamed over a square urban mile and walked to school by myself when I was in grade school.

    Oddly enough, though, my mother would never let anyone babysit us who wasn’t a relative. Which is an example of what I mean: fear has a rational as well a rational component, and rarely results in logical, internally consistent behavior.

  22. If anyone is still hanging around this comment thread, I want to come full circle back to the original posting about the technology feature offered on the Disney mobile phone. It is a FEATURE. And, it is a feature on a phone marketed for YOUNG CHILDREN. Somehow I doubt most parents are spending their days tracking their kids’ every move. If they are, then I think the kid has bigger issues to worry about with their folks. This feature is probably used more like an insurance policy. IF the child goes out of a special range THEN an alert is issued.

    Is the creepy aspect of this feature that it is one-way? What if your kid’s cellphone showed where Mommy and Daddy was too? Would that be so bad? Maybe it would even be “cool.” For example, a similar feature branded “Boost Loopt” is a draw for users to Boost Mobile. Subscribers offer up their locations on their GPS-enabled phones for their friends to know where they are.

    Everything needs to be evaluated in context. Nothing is black and white. I think to damn this capability in a blanket statement is short-sighted. Furthermore, one thing that I’ve learned as a mother is that it’s not for me to judge how others parent their children as long as the child is not in any type of danger. I think I’d rather allow my son to go off on his merry way walking to school in the city with a GPS-enabled phone in his pocket, than hand deliver him there everyday without one, but I’m not going to judge a parent who chooses to hand deliver their kid.

  23. Last night I wrote some comments – under anonomous because I could not get the log in to work. It seems that either the comments were not approved or they have not been reveiwed yet. Now that I can log in – since I did not copy them – I will try to remember all that I said so that it can be posted here.

    One thing that seems painfully obvious is that Mr. Doctorow has never been a full-time parent. No one who has ever had to know what it is like to raise children – and what it is like to let them go would have made such comments. It seems he has never placed his tust in a child – only to find that the child in question opted to make very poorly advised/rash decisions that could have even resulted in their losing life. Children disappear – if they have a cell phone stuff deep in their pocket they could be tracked. If they are thrown in a trunk they could retrieve that phone and call for help – or send a text to notify police. You say it’s rare – but – it’s not so rare that very few people suffer when this happens – if it so rare why are there support groups? Why has a “search center” and “child alert” program besn established? The highway signs in major cities flash warnings when a child has been abducted. Try tell Mr. Walsh, or Heidi Seamen’s parents that child abductings are rare. Does not matter how rare it is – if the child is yours.

    “Vandalism, shoplifting, and bullying are not on the rise. They’ve been in decline for decades.”

    Don’t we just get percentages? There are more people – maybe the growth in population has offset the numbers – and really Mr Doctorow, how many times does someone report that they have been bullied?

    And what about those kids that are not monitored by their parents – and are out tagging and vandaizing both public and private property. Better than that – why don’t you go get yourself some of those kids who don’t need to be monitored – ask them into your home – and then when they won’t leave – or give you a phone number for the parents to come collect them – THEN tell me how “creepy” that is.

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