For parents looking to keep track of their kids’ whereabouts, there’s no lack of gadgets designed to do the job. Now parents will be able to do it for free in one area in China.

A district government in the southern city of Guangzhou recently distributed free location-tracking smartwatches to about 17,000 students from 60 elementary schools, according to Guangzhou Daily. The aim, the government says, is to help parents supervise their children.

Dubbed “Safe Campus Smartwatches,” the wearables are equipped with GPS and China’s equivalent satellite navigation system, BeiDou. A senior engineer responsible for the project says positioning is accurate to within 10 meters.

In 10 years, he probably won’t look as thrilled about the idea of constant surveillance. (Picture: Guangzhou News Radio FM962 via Weibo)

Parents can monitor their child’s location through their smartphones. They’ll be instantly notified if the child sends out an emergency alert. The watch also warns parents if the child gets too close to lakes or rivers to help prevent drowning. 

Tracking devices like these can ease parents’ concerns, but they also raise questions about personal privacy and data security. 

Authorities maintain that participation in the scheme is voluntary. They also say that users’ personal information will be verified and stored in a database run by the police and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. More than 8,000 people are said to have signed up so far.

Past initiatives to track students have generated plenty of controversy. Earlier this year, Chinese social media erupted in anger when a blogger revealed that a high school was trying to purchase 3,500 radio-tracking bracelets to monitor students on campus. Some questioned if the school had the right to track students. Others wondered about the risk of a data leak.

In another case, it was revealed that several schools had been asking students to wear GPS-tracking uniforms. While one school said the aim was to monitor student attendance, some netizens suggested that the technology is more suitable for prisoners or pets.

Unlike these previous initiatives, though, the latest project in Guangzhou has the official backing of multiple government agencies. It’s part of a government showcase aimed at demonstrating civilian applications of BeiDou, originally built for the Chinese military as an alternative to the United States-owned GPS. 

Basic deployment of BeiDou was completed late last year with 43 satellites in place. Most Chinese branded smartphones, such as those from Huawei and Xiaomi, already support BeiDou, though GPS still remains the most widely used system globally.