The New Must-Have App for Parents: FBI Child ID
When a child goes missing, parents and other caregivers must immediately give relevant identifying information to the police -- height, weight, hair color, eye color, birthmarks, etc. In the panic that often surrounds such moments, that information may not come together as quickly as it needs to. The FBI's latest contribution to the App Store is intended to address that.
Aug 9, 2011 5:00 AM PT
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released a fabulous new app to help locate missing children, but it has one glaring omission: password protection. Still, there's a lot to like in this new free iOS-based app called "FBI Child ID."
The premise for the app is this: When a child goes missing, precious time is wasted while frantic parents, grandparents or caregivers gather relevant information for the authorities to aid their search. It seems like simple things like hair color and eye color and photos would be in their minds ready to share, but I imagine they could be difficult to say when your child has disappeared. This app not only aims to help keep those details handy, but it compiles additional key details like height, weight, and any other identifying characteristics, like birthmarks.
Plus, there's room to enter additional comments where parents can add less-common information, like medications a child might need.
While the app does not yet let you use a photo from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad's camera roll, you can snap a photo of your child through the app to use. Unfortunately, the app only appears to let you snap one photo, so parents should make it a good one.
At the same time, while the app does let a parent enter in quite a bit of information, only a clear-headed parent will be able to add what a child was last wearing, like a blue coat, white basketball shoes, jeans, etc.
What Happens Next?
If a parent downloads the free app, which is currently only available for iOS, it's easy to add a child to the app through a self-explanatory form. In the unlikely event that your child does go missing, the app (and the FBI) recommends that you first call 911. In fact, the emergency button at the bottom of the app provides a big red button that says, "Call 911." (I didn't test this, but I assume it works.) There is another button for calling the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
After that, how do you get the information from your iPhone to the authorities? Presumably the only way is to get an email address from a 911 dispatcher, but I'm guessing you would be verbally relaying this information to the dispatcher in the first place. Once you have the email address of the local authorities, you can email the missing child report, using your own default email address and service you use with your iPhone.
It's important to realize that the FBI doesn't not collect or store any of the information you place in the FBI Child ID app. In fact, the FBI wouldn't even get involved in your missing child case until the local authorities alert the FBI or you contact the agency directly. There is a handy "Checklists" feature, too, that walks a parent through what should be done if their child goes missing. No. 2 on the list, right after calling 911, is to ask local investigators to put the missing child in the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person's file. And No. 3? "Request that the FBI be involved in the search for your child."
Great Top-of-Mind Details
Anyone who has been around children knows how easily they can wander off and get lost, never mind the heartbreaking chance they could be abducted. In my mind, the best thing about the FBI Child ID app is that it would seemingly help a parent be more aware about the potential for disaster, as well as what to do in the event their child disappeared.
On the downside, the biggest problem with the app is that it encourages a full profile of your child ... but doesn't provide for rudimentary security of that information. For instance, even my "to-do list" apps provide app-based password protection through simple PIN numbers. There is no such PIN for FBI Child ID. It's possible that the FBI has some experience with frantic parents, and maybe frantic parents can't remember PIN numbers. If this is the case, the security feature would defeat the app.
Still, I can imagine plenty of parents who might be weighing the pros and cons of using the app without some small measure of security. Sure, you can secure your iPhone with a PIN, but who wants to constantly be entering a PIN each time you want to access your iPhone?
Then again, this issue is more about a parent's feelings than reality: What are the odds that some kid-focused bad guy will snag your iPhone and then use this app to harm your children? Even without the FBI app, I'm guessing that most parents have plenty of pictures and various other details, perhaps easily called up through social networking apps, that would make them uncomfortable if the iPhone got into the wrong hands. I'm no mathematician, and while the FBI claims a child goes missing in the United States every 40 seconds, I'm guessing that the odds of your iPhone being used against you and your children is significantly smaller than the chance that your child will go missing in the first place.
My recommendation? If you've got kids, get the app. At least you can decide to use it in the heat of the moment, say, while you're waiting in line to get into your local theme park. And when the FBI finally comes around to giving super-safe parents the ability to lock the app with a password, you'll get the notification to update the app when it's available.