Social Media Helps Find Missing People Faster

Written by Julia Hall on Friday, 05 October 2012. Posted in Computers, Sci/Tech

New mobile and social media technologies open up new possibilities for helping find missing children. But does the technology come at a price, in terms of privacy, that is too high?

Social Media Helps Find Missing People Faster

Since the advent of mainstream use for social media on smartphones and other devices, it has gotten easier to find and report missing people. It's faster and more efficient to pass a picture around a favorite social network, than it is to put it on a milk carton. As users are checking messages and accepting friend requests, they are also pausing long enough to look at that missing person picture their friends shared. Within seconds, their entire network of friends, family and co-workers can receive that picture and share it within their own networks. This method is thought to be so much more efficient, that missing persons organizations are now establishing a presence on global social sites such as Facebook.

For example, Amber Alerts has collaborated with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They have had an account on Facebook since January 2011, with a page for each of the 50 states, plus pages for the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. These pages are accessible through laptops and other WiFi-enabled devices, like smartphones. Any picture from of any of these pages can be passed around in seconds, complete with the link to report any sightings. 

Social sites and technology are also helping with the whereabouts of family and friends that are not considered missing. Mobile apps for smartphones are being developed that can actually help keep track of a person's location within that network. The Family Tracker app is one such example. With this app, parents and care takers can see where their children and loved ones are, on a map. They can also activate an alarm, remotely, that goes off every two minutes or until the person in question answers. Family Tracker also offers something it calls GPS breadcrumbs, which is a log of location data that is archived over a two week period. 

It was this archive that was recently instrumental in finding a missing nine-year-old boy in Atlanta, Georgia. When the child could not be found, and didn't respond to the remote activation, the log was accessed through Family Tracker, which gave the mother a list of possible locations for the child. This list led to the safe recovery of the nine-year-old.

There is some question and debate over whether or not such apps are an invasion of privacy. This becomes even more of a concern with emerging technology through apps from companies such as Crowd Sourced Investigations. This company describes its work as helping law enforcement to connect with social networks. It's work is based on the premise that existing systems, such as Amber Alert, are passive, and only work if a person is already using the apps that provide information on missing persons. 

Crowd Sourced Investigations wants to help these alerts “evolve,” using legally mandated text messages. With law-mandated alerts, authorities by-pass the user option of signing up for the service. These emergency alerts, sent by text, are already being employed in Washington and New York. 

Image Credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (Flikr)/3WME   


About the Author

Julia Hall

Julia Hall

Julia Hall, a graduate of the University of Florida's Film and Video Cinematography Program, has over a decade of experience working in the entertainment industry. Now that she is a stay-at-home mom living on the outskirts of Atlanta, GA, she is leveraging her entertainment background into a writing career. She provides the latest news and information from both the Television and Film industries. Check out her Google+ page.

Copyright © Julia Hall. Used with permission.

Comments (1)

  • Dinanath chauhan

    Dinanath chauhan

    08 November 2012 at 00:00 |
    I am working for missing children last 6 years in India specially Delhi and have 400 parents network of missing children. but not found any missing children who in our network.

    dinanath chauhan

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