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OpEd: Why do we think it’s ok to use spyware on our kids?

Brazilians say they won't use apps that track a person's whereabouts; it's time for parents to do the same.
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Karen Green, August 23, 2013 10:25:28 AM

The “Boyfriend Tracker” app for Android devices has been removed from the Google Play store in Brazil, after customers raised concerns over the app’s potential use for spying, stalking and otherwise invading an unsuspecting “boyfriend’s” privacy.

It was a good move, considering the ethical and safety implications of selling spyware to the public. The app allows the user to track the location of another user’s cellphone; to monitor the texting traffic on another phone, and most alarmingly, includes a function to secretly listen in on calls on the targeted phone. Pretty disturbing way to deal with your boyfriend, wouldn’t you say?

So is it any better when we call it a Parental Control and use it on our children?

Services like, My Mobile Watchdog want you to think so, encouraging you to “Start protecting your children now!” with functions that let you monitor your child’s phone calls, text messages, emails and internet use, as well as fully control your kid’s contact list, app downloads and even the amount of time they use their phone to go online.

Of course, no spyware – sorry, parental control system – is worth its salt without full GPS tracking, complete with alerts that notify you if your child strays from his or her designated safe zone.

Apps like this might seem prudent to the twentieth century parent raising twenty-first century children. The real world is scary enough, but add that ever-present layer of technology, that entirely new way to get into trouble, and it’s a wonder we ever let the kids leave the house. These apps are here to give parents peace of mind and to ultimately keep kids safe, right? And that’s not at all the same as spying on a lying, cheating boyfriend, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not too far off, if you look at the glossy site for the StealthGenie app, where they implore of parents:

“Do you often feel like your children are being untrue about their activities? Do you find that your children are always on their phones? Do you want to be able to monitor their mobile phone usage? Do you want a foolproof way to get to the truth?”

Is this really the best way to deal with a kid that a parent suspects is lying, sneaking, or getting into trouble? Teenagers don’t always make good decisions, but does stopping them before they can make any mistakes at all teach them anything? Is spying on a kid you suspect of lying better than, say, having a discussion with them? The same question could be asked of those using the Boyfriend Tracker, except it has already been deemed an unsuitable tool for use on another adult. Too bad kids don’t get the same consideration.

We can say that we are using these apps to protect ourselves or a loved one, but in the end they only prey on our insecurities, on our fears and at its worst, our desire to delve into the private moments that every person deserves to keep private. Perhaps, instead of trying to discover the terrible things we are sure a loved one is doing, we could try to discover why it is we feel compelled to let technology stand in for trust, and paranoia for parenting.

And if you’re having trouble figuring out how to get there, don’t worry – there’s an app for that.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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Karen Green


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