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October 06, 2014

WebSafety App Allows Parents to Monitor Activity of Children on Mobile Devices

WebSafety announced recently that it had launched a new app that allows parents comprehensive monitoring of their children’s activity on mobile devices. The app is available on Android devices and tracks several things like app installations, web browsing, social media activity, location and text message content.

A wide range of features allow parents to monitor just about any of their children’s online activity. All SMS messages can be tracked, both incoming and outgoing. The app sends an alert if any offensive language is used. These alerts are also sent when children visit inappropriate websites, such as those with adult content.

A curfew feature lets parents restrict online activity, other than making phone calls, after certain hours. Additional features include social media monitoring, tracking location, reports and a dashboard that summarizes their children’s usage habits.

According to research from School Psychology Quarterly, students are most likely to be the target of cyberbullying during their middle school years. This and the ability to detect online predators are among the top concerns parents have with school-aged children. WebSafety certainly has a rich set of features for monitoring activity, but it won’t stop minors from circumventing it if they want to badly enough. With enough money it’s possible for anyone to purchase an unmonitored prepaid smartphone, load it with minutes and go online freely.

Not only does online monitoring have limitations, but some apps are even harmful. One of the most widely distributed solutions is a PC-based program called ComputerCOP. Its makers marketed the software to local law enforcement agencies, which in turn gave it away to parents in their communities.

In addition to using dated technology, ComputerCOP isn’t all that secure. It captures screenshots while the user goes online, but there is no context to these images. The only way to know what’s going on would be to examine hundreds, and possibly thousands of images individually. A keystroke capturing feature may be able to let a parent know what their children are typing, but this info would be available to hackers too. It might also constitute an illegal invasion of privacy, since it would likely also capture keystrokes of adult users without their consent.

No one wants their child to suffer the same fate as Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard did, but online software monitoring is nothing more than a tool, and like any tool, it has no value in and of itself unless used wisely. Parents can use tools like these to protect their children and address other problems, but as Gizmodo’s Dave Maass suggests, they should not expect these tools to babysit their children. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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