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

May 3rd, 2013 4:18 pm by Aisha Sultan - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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

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
safe.


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
remotely.


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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