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Tracking apps gain traction among Vietnam parents after school bus death, despite concerns

Monday, August 12, 2019, 16:51 GMT+7
Tracking apps gain traction among Vietnam parents after school bus death, despite concerns
A man checks the location of a paired wearable device at his office in Ho Chi Minh City, August 12, 2019. Photo: Son Luong / Tuoi Tre News

Mobile applications that allow parents to track their children’s location have become more popular in Vietnam after a six-year-old boy was found dead on a school bus in Hanoi last week, but experts warn picking the wrong app might only invite trouble.

A Hanoi first grader died on Tuesday last week after he had apparently failed to get off a van contracted by his school to transport students, and had purportedly been left inside the parked vehicle for hours.

Although his teachers had been aware of the boy’s absence from class for the whole day, his parents were not alerted to his disappearance until he was found lying motionless inside the school bus that same afternoon.

While investigators are still hard at work to determine the cause and circumstance of the six-year-old’s death, some Vietnamese believe the tragic incident would not have happened had the boy’s parents been able to monitor his exact location at all times.

Parents interviewed by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper after the incident said they have started installing mobile applications advertised to be able to collect GPS information from their children’s wearable devices and send it to their smartphones for monitoring.

However, some of these apps and devices have turned out to cause more trouble than what they are worth.

Phuong, a mother in Ho Chi Minh City, said an app she had on her smartphone once showed her child’s location to be on a bridge, 500 meters from their apartment in Binh Thanh District, although the kid was actually playing in a neighbor’s apartment in the same building.

Some tracking apps available on the Google Play store are seen in this screen grab.

Some tracking apps available on the Google Play Store are seen in this screen grab.

Easy-to-meet requirements for publishing apps on online app stores as well as a lack of government monitoring have rendered the technologically challenged in Vietnam especially vulnerable to installing low-quality or even scam apps on their smartphones.

“The approval process for the Google Play Store is very lenient,” said Ha Duc Trung, a programming expert.

An app could get approved for publishing on the Google-run app store after two rounds of review - one performed using automated tools and the other by a human team, a process that takes only a few hours.

“Google continues to look for and ban apps that violate company policies after they are published,” Trung said.

For Apple, he said, the process is more tedious as a team of reviewers must go through every aspect of the app to ensure that there are no errors, which could take days.

The number of downloads as well as an app’s star rating are good indicators that could give a general idea of whether the app is useful and reliable, said Ngo Tran Vu, director of Vietnam-based cyber security firm NTS.

It is also advisable to choose apps from trusted and well-known developers, he added.

Many applications require control of the device and access to users’ information, contacts, photos and cameras, which could be abused for ill intentions, Vu said.

“Such access could be used to steal personal information or bank details,” he warned.

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