You wouldn’t think this would be a major topic of conversation, but it turns out, there’s a lot of people trying to make up their minds – and ours.
Some folks are sure, others less so. Kirsten Weir says parents shouldn’t spy on their kids; Barbara Ellen thinks you should, because you might save lives; The New York Times is on the fence; Kashmir Hill warns you’re in danger of getting hooked on it. (It’s that much fun? Really?)
But is anyone actually doing it?
Some parents are so concerned about what their kids get up to online that employing the most restrictive settings on their phones and then locking them isn’t enough.
The sinister market in parental spyware
So there’s a market in apps that spy on kids’ behavior online and report back to their parents. There are apps that control how and when a mobile device can be used, that decide which sites users can visit – and that monitor everything a user does online and shares that info with parents.
I’d have to say one problem with this is, it’s inherently iffy and weird to spy on anybody, including your kids. Trust is a two-way street. And if you were interested in my opinion, I’d probably add that there’s no way kids can’t figure their way around this. Kids have been getting round parental restrictions since we were all living in trees. If they think your rules aren’t fair they’ll break them, would be my bet.
But that’s clearly a matter of opinion and there are all kinds of viewpoints around the subject that deserve consideration.
So let’s stick to the facts.
Anyone can make an app. Even on iOS, the most secure commercial phone operating system, the main barrier to entry is the fee you have to pay Apple to get an app in the App Store. Parents who want to keep their kids away from the worst of what the internet has to offer are delivering them instead into the hands of…
…well, that’s kind of my point.
Do you really even know?
The Teensafe case: Turns out they’re not, in fact, safe
I mean, we’d all prefer our teens to be safe, so top marks for the name.
But I’m going out on a limb and saying the best way to actually make teens safe isn’t to publish the passwords to their iPhones to the web.
Yet, that’s exactly what Teensafe did.
Teensafe works like this:
Parents force their kids to install the app on their phones. Then, the app monitors what the kid does online and tells the parents.
Anywhere in that monitoring and reporting process, there’s room for things to go wrong – the reports could be sent unsecured, for instance, or the monitoring process could be vulnerable to an attack.
But Teensafe decided to keep it old school and just store the Apple ID and password of every kid who was made to use the app on an unsecured public cloud server.
Accessing someone’s Apple ID and password would allow you to take all the data off their phone – where they live, their daily routines, all their photos, information about family and friends, messages, social media access information.
And the server in question had over ten thousand passwords on it, in plaintext.
Of course you can prevent that with two-factor authentication. But Teensafe requires its unwilling users to turn TFA off.
Over a million parents have Teensafe accounts, according to the company.
The breach was initially reported by researcher Robert Wiggins before ZDnet did some digging, contacting parents involved in the breach and noting that some of the email addresses kids were using as Apple IDs were associated with high schools.
Nothing scary about that at all.
What does Teensafe say?
‘We have taken action to close one of our servers to the public and begun alerting customers that could potentially be impacted.’
Well, I guess that’s a step in the right direction.
But here’s the thing: you cannot be secure and monitored at the same time.
You can’t have encryption with a backdoor that only good guys can use, because encryption doesn’t work that way; spied-on encryption is just weak encryption.
And you can’t have a safe, secure online presence for your kids if you hand the keys over to a company whose whole business model is that parenting is the same thing as espionage.
If you want your kids to be safe, warn them and equip them. Educate them about dangers and show them what to do and not do to stay safe.
Will they do stuff you don’t approve of? Yep. Yes. Absolutely, they will.
Are they safer making their own mistakes than being delivered into the hands of ghoulish spies who aren’t even any good at it?
You tell me.
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