It’s hardly a novel concept for parents to spy on their kids, but a new device is troubling for just how big, ugly, and shitty it is: an ankle monitoring service that tracks troublesome teens.
The company, Florida-based Tampa Bay Monitoring, provides parents with what it claims is a nearly untamperable ankle bracelet for their teenagers. “Even if they start trying to saw on this rubber, we know immediately that they’re tampering with the device,” Owner Frank Kopczynski told Chicago’s Fox 13. The company’s promo video for the device target parents concerned that their kids will run away, skip class, sneak out, or “hang with the wrong crowd.”
The service requires parents to send the company information about their child’s curfew and school schedule, according to the nightmare promo video, which includes a sequence of stock photos of what the company seemingly believes are problem teens (i.e. piercings, hoodies, a skateboard, ripped jeans, a “talk to the hand”). The company will then create an electronic fence around their house and school, informing parents when their kids aren’t where they’re supposed to be and sending them their child’s location.
“I was stealing cars. I was breaking into houses, so I had one on. I didn’t like it,” a 17-year-old boy who wore one of the ankle monitors told FOX 13. “So I wouldn’t want no one else to wear it.”
The company’s website claims that the intention behind these devices is to offer parents a way to ensure their kid is safe and/or not sneaking out. Tampa Bay Monitoring develops drug and alcohol monitoring tools for courts in the region to keep tabs on their offenders, and the owner also runs a bail bonds company.
“Let’s say, from 8:30 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon, your sorry butt better be at the local high school,” Kopczynski told Quartz. “The minute you cross that perimeter, we know.”
There are two ankle bracelet devices for teens listed on the company’s website – the buddi, the “lightweight” option, and the ReliAlert XC, which is characterised as the “intense” option for “high risk teens,” and the one described in the aforementioned promo video. The ankle monitoring service reportedly costs somewhere between £6 and £8 a day, depending on the device. Kopczynski told FOX 13 that he’s serving about “half a dozen” parents a week.
“We provide a bracelet that is near-impossible to cut off,” Kopczynski told Quartz. “It also allows us to have two-way communication and gives us the option of sounding a piercing alarm.”
The device is reportedly equipped with a 95-decibel siren, and Kopczynski said that parents can contact the company to sound an alarm on the device telling them to come home, characterising it as a “god-like voice out of nowhere.”
“All his friends who are likely to be getting him into trouble suddenly realise that his ankle can talk to him,” Kopczynski told FOX 13 with a smirk. “It also can hear him.”
Kopczynski pointed out to Quartz the embarrassment that comes with strapping an innocent child with an intrusive GPS device. “You may have to wear slacks or looser jeans,” he said, adding that the humiliation is a fair trade-off for the risk of a teenage girl “running off with a guy who’s going to eventually take her to a motel and beat her ass.”
Parents already have access to an ecosystem of online apps and services designed to geographically monitor their kids, which a recent study found aren’t that effective and, shockingly, cause a riff among parents and kids. While there is something to be said about the disconcerting trend of undetectable spying, like with apps and online parental controls, this very tangible approach takes this level of intrusion to a deeply unsettling new place.
We have reached out to Tampa Bay Monitoring for information on how many parents it’s currently serving and how it responds to criticism that its devices are out of a dystopian hell.