Ontario Amber Alert system reaches Facebook users
Published Friday, October 8, 2010 10:29AM EDT
Ontario's Amber Alert system has launched a Facebook alert program that will allow users in the province to immediately know when a child has gone missing.
"This is an exciting day for protecting children," said Toronto MPP Mike Collie at the official launch Friday morning.
"As you know, when a child is abducted every single minute is crucial. Minutes count; that is why we must begin using social networking technology to help us respond more quickly and universally to child abductions."
Amber Alerts are currently sent out on radio and television. In Toronto and some other large cities, the alerts are also posted on electronic road signs.
But Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, has the potential to reach 400 million active users instantly. Those who live in the province where an abduction has happened can be made aware faster than ever before.
Police say the first three to five hours after an abduction are the most crucial in recovering the child.
"It is important to tap into that outreach and return an abducted child as quickly as possible," Collie said.
Allan McCullough, a child safety advocate who worked with Facebook to develop the program, said partnering with the social networking site will help quickly spread the word about missing children.
"It is a special page that Facebook creates just for that organization. They created it for Amber Alerts," McCullough told CTV's Canada AM. "The alerts will not have ads, and no one can post on the page wall."
McCullough has already worked with New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to set up Facebook alert systems in those provinces.
They launched this past summer. The rest of Canada is expected to join the program by the end of this year or early next year.
The New Brunswick Amber Alert program currently has more than 23,800 subscribers, while Prince Edward Island's program reaches more than 9,300 Facebook users.
To get Amber Alerts on Facebook, users must go to the page and click the "like" button.
"You will be alerted if police issue an Amber Alert however you connect: your cellphone, your gaming device."
Technology is being developed to send alerts to mobile users even when they are not logged on to Facebook.
McCullough says that there have been 19 Amber Alerts launched in Ontario since 2003.
"Twelve of those (children) they believe were successfully recovered because of Amber Alerts," he said.
All four of the Amber Alerts issued in Ontario this year have ended well, he added.
McCullough's wife, cybercrime lawyer Parry Aftab, sits on Facebook's Safety Advisory Board. She said the key was to ensure the message is delivered quickly and without being confused with fake alerts.
"Facebook polices it to make sure … that nobody else is pretending to be an Amber Alert," she said.
"More than half the people in Canada have a Facebook page."
Canada is the first country with this feature. The U.S. may not have an official Amber Alert Facebook feature for another year.
The Amber Alert system is used to recover missing children under the age of 18. The child has to be in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.
On Monday, an eight-year-old girl in Fresno, Calif. was recovered after a construction worker spotted the girl in the passenger seat of a passing truck. He was able to stop the truck and recover the girl.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the man with an award for his heroic actions.