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Parents monitoring children’s phones or secretly keeping an electronic leash?

Aisha Sultan - St. Louis Post-Dispatch • May 3, 2013 at 4:18 PM

Imagine if you could see every phone call, every text, every picture, every video, every contact on your child’s phone.

If you could track every location of your child’s phone and get alerted if the phone traveled outside certain boundaries.

If you could record and hear every conversation, including the conversations happening around the phone, as if it were a mic.

And your child would never have a clue that you were watching, listening, keeping track.

One entrepreneur has created a set of apps that allow this type of

surveillance and are marketed to parents as a way to keep their children


Catch Me If You Can and Protect Me If You Can are available only for Android smartphones.

“What we do is pretty hard core stuff, and Apple doesn’t allow us to

do half the stuff we do,” said Kevin Bloom, of Chesterfield, Mo.

He’s a father of two daughters, ages 5 and 8, and sees a market for

parents who want to keep tabs on their children’s moves, both digitally

and literally. The only difference between the two apps is whether you

want your child to know about your electronic eye.

Parental monitoring apps have proliferated lately. But these take snooping to a new level.

“It’s a more robust tracking mechanism than you’d find on a ‘where’s

my phone app,’” Bloom said. A user, let’s hope a parent and not a

stalker or abusive partner, installs it on the phone they wish to track.

Once it’s configured and set up, the app disappears from the phone, and

the user monitors all the settings and accesses all the information


Or you can inform your child that you have an app keeping tabs on her

communication, browsing and movements and keep it password-protected.

The information from the phone is stored in a cloud, which the parent

can access remotely.

Bloom, who recently launched the apps, which have an annual

subscription fee ranging from $20 to $60 a year, depending how long you

want your child’s data stored for viewing, realizes not all parents

would be comfortable with all features.

“It’s quite controversial if you as a parent have a right to record a

phone call and listen to the surroundings. Like at a slumber party. You

could listen in,” he said. But he plans to use the app once his

daughters are old enough to have their own phones.

“Until they are of some certain age, 14 or 15, I don’t feel my

daughters have a right to privacy when they are speaking to people.” He

says he plans to start with having all the features turned on,

monitoring everything, until he figures out which ones are needed.

“Will I read their text messages? I don’t know yet,” Bloom said. But,

given concerning circumstances, “I won’t feel uncomfortable listening

to her phone calls.”

The apps allow parents to create electronic “fences” and “boundaries”

of certain geographical areas. When the child’s phone travels out of a

certain area or into a designated location, they can get an alert. The

app allows the user to create a “heat map” using GPS technology of all

the places the phone has been over a period of time, Bloom said.

“You can be very comfortable and know where your daughter is and

build a very accurate heat map,” he explained. “You can see all the

places she has gone.”

I asked him why parents would need to install such invasive measures without even informing their child.

“Well, unfortunately, all parents don’t have equal and open

relationships with their children. Some children are, unfortunately,

problem children,” he said.

Stealth technology hardly seems like the way to build a trusting

relationship with one’s child. Although there’s an understandable desire

to protect one’s child from mistakes that could have dire consequences

or behaviors that endanger their personal safety, this level of

electronic monitoring sets up an electronic Big Brother.

Children do not enjoy absolute privacy rights during childhood and

adolescence. But, they learn and grow from being taught responsible

technology use.

Bloom says the “me” in his Catch Me app can refer to many potential persons.

“There’s a lot of bad ‘me’s’ in the world today,” he said. “It’s a

totally different world when you can’t let your child go into the next

aisle at Walmart. You can ask John Walsh about that.”

They are working on a tracking device that can be used on a belt buckle for a regular phone.

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