The Federal Bureau of Investigations launched its first-ever mobile app on Friday, a data-storage tool that keeps handy current photos, physical traits, and other information about your child, plus provides phone and email links to the appropriate agencies should you need to report the tyke missing in a hurry. According to the bureau's own press release, the app "provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s literally right at hand if you need it. You can show the pictures and provide physical identifiers such as height and weight to security or police officers on the spot. Using a special tab on the app, you can also quickly and easily e-mail the information to authorities with a few clicks."

The bureau is late to the app game compared to other federal agencies. The Army and the White House both released iPhone apps last year, and the Internal Revenue Service launched one this year (though it was pretty harshly panned). And the FBI's product is relatively simple, compared to its federally funded peers. The Army's original app was "surprisingly well-featured," according to Mashable, with lots of information on ranks, vehicles, and weapons, and a news feed from the Army home page. The latest Army product is an iPhone-based blogging platform for soldiers. The White House app is a little more simplistic -- it streams news and video from the White House's home page -- but at least it's kinetic, with current information coming in  all the time. The FBI's iPhone app, on the other hand, is very simple: All it does is store things together that were probably already on your phone, or could easily be. But according to some early impressions, that's enough to render it effective.

  • Parentcentral points out the new app is similar to one already being used in Canada. It refers to Pina Arcamone, director general of the Missing Children’s Network, to tell us why an app like this is useful. "The experience of losing a child is so emotional for some parents that they can’t even describe their child to authorities... Many parents are so traumatized that they can’t even speak. But time is off the essence when it comes to missing children."
  • Gizmodo was positive: "It won't prevent your child from getting kidnapped, but it could mean saving their life if they do. That's a lot more than you can say about most apps."
  • TechCrunch noted a point the FBI made in its release: "The FBI stresses that it doesn’t collect or store any photos or information that users enter in the app until they themselves decide to send anything to the authorities." To which one commenter responded, "If you trust the FBI application on your phone, there's a bridge I want to sell you."
  • Ubergizmo took a more cynical tone: "Well, perhaps the FBI sees the Child ID app as a way to help ease their workload in the future – especially those concerning missing kids." 
  • A Gizmodo commenter had this less-than-impressed reaction: "Yeah, there's no way this app would cause any problems, what with kids playing with their parent's phones. And, if I'm reading this right, this app is meant to replace either a 30 second email or brief conversation with law enforcement? ... Genius, I guess"
  • InformationWeek's report included a detail about the FBI's partner in promoting its new app, the National Child Identification Program, which "provides a physical kit so parents can gather vital data and biometric information to keep with them in case of a possible abduction."