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Helicopter Parents Can Track Kids’ Posture With This Wearable Device

Sense-U keeps tabs on the whole family. A new era of guilt is born.

Fitness trackers now tackle everything from pregnancy to dementia, but a new kind of wearable device aims keep tabs on family members of all ages. The Sense-U calls itself the “all-in-one activity tracker to connect your family,” and it can even alert a parent to when a kid is slouching in school.

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Remotely monitoring posture may seem overboard, but it’s only one of the Sense-U’s concerns. The device, a small clip designed by a team of Silicon Valley-based Yale graduates and a former Frog Design employee, tracks daily steps, caloric intake, and sleep patterns, then uploads the data and displays it online. It also sends text alerts to family members or a third-party if it detects a fall from an elderly parent or extended idleness.


For founder and CEO Bryan Huang, who first developed the product while studying RFID and wireless communication as a Yale University graduate student, Sense-U is a way to stay connected with his parents, who live near Shanghai. “For many young people, the only way we can communicate or show care for them is to call them or visit a few times a year,” he said. “We can learn more about our family members, and we can do more.”

Luckily, there are settings to turn some of these functionalities off if you’re not too thrilled about Mom checking in on your lifestyle habits (like eating a full meal after what appears to be strenuous exercise). But privacy outside the family could also pose a problem, as many popular fitness trackers leave private data vulnerable or actively sell it.

For what it’s worth, Huang says that Sense-U has made the commitment to refrain from making a buck off the identities of its users.

“Simply put, we do not and will not sell or rent your personal information, especially user data, to anyone, for any reason, at any time,” the website claims, and Huang says that no information will be shared with advertisers or third-party trackers without permission. Sense-U also encrypts the data traveling between its website and its Amazon cloud servers, but still collects some information, like your IP address, using cookies.

Still, nothing is ever absolutely secure, and some worry that a comforting privacy policy doesn’t go far enough–especially if it still allows room for advertisers to gain access to other information, like search terms, through the site or app. “This is written so broadly that the enforcement on it is broadly null,” Craig Michael Lie Njie, founder and CEO of Kismet World Wide Consulting, says. Earlier this year, Njie helped author a report with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse that found a significant number of mobile fitness apps shared personal data for profit.

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Lie also wonders how increasingly sophisticated health app/devices like Sense-U might figure into future insurance policies. It’s not a reality in the present, he says, but what if, one day, your insurance company asks you to fork over the data? “That’s not part of [insurance companies’] model now, but I see that coming in the very near future,” he says.

Sense-U, meanwhile, will arrive by December. When I spoke to Huang he was traveling in China to finalize production overseas. Helicopter parents eager to remotely breathe down their kids’ necks, however, can hop on the early bird special, available by Indiegogo campaign here.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.

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