I’ve been reading a disturbing number of articles lately advocating and promoting software solutions for the monitoring of children’s smartphones and computers.
I don’t have too much issue with children having software on their computers for filtering access to the internet, I figure once they’re old enough to make the right choices on what content to view, they’ll know how to bypass and remove it. It’s passive software that prevents access, rather than stalking the child and reporting on all their activities back to their parents, so it’s less of a privacy concern for me.
(Although smarter parenting is a better idea, using software is just outsourcing the problem of raising your kids right, talk with them and put the computer in a family area for younger kids so you can bring them up right).
Recently in NZ, there has been coverage of a case where a young (15yr old) girl committed suicide after a sexual relationship with an older man and abusive messages from his angry wife.
This case is interesting since the coroner is advocating the use of this parental spyware on phones as a solution to prevent this sort of event from re-occurring.
The idea of parental spyware has been around for some time, there are numerous products on the market which go beyond simply adding parental safety restrictions to acting as full on spyware, monitoring what the user of computer or smartphone is doing and enabling a parent to see what it is that they’re doing.
Unfortunately this is entirely the wrong solution – it’s bad enough that it will do little to solve the issue it is being recommended for, but even worse is that it will open new, potentially worse issues:
- Primarily and foremost: children aren’t stupid. Children, particularly teenagers, will know that they are being monitored and will simply solve the issue by owning another handset that they keep secret from their parents. It’s not hard to obtain a cheap cellphone and prepay SIM card.
- Unfortunately becoming a parent doesn’t mean that a person will have the best interests of their child in mind. There are plenty of bad parents, ranging from parents imposing their own flawed ideologies on their children, to violent and sexual abuse.
- For example, a gay teenager living with homophobic parents is going to need a lot of support and help from others, something that is best done using electronic communications.
- Another example is that a parent committing a sexual abuse can use the technology to watch for any sign of their child telling someone about what has been going on.
- Loss of trust and lack of children learning to make good choices. Part of growing up is learning to make your own choices and your parents respecting that, whilst still being available to advise and steer in the right direction when going astray.
It’s very easy to say “but think of the children!” to justify technological lock downs, we’ve seen this time and time again with attempts to filter internet connections, but the problem is that in all these cases, they introduce new issues that are just as bad, if not worse than what they are trying to solve.
I just wish people would consider the bigger picture than making knee-jerk reactions to things all the time – seeing comments such as “Why aren’t the police monitoring all internet traffic all the time???” on parenting blogs is quite mind blowing stupid.
I’m also not the only person concerned about this, whilst in the process of writing my post, Gareth Hughes did a good post about spying not being a solution to bullying. Gareth is one of the few MPs in NZ with a good understanding of 21st century issues around technology and information freedom, I’m still ever-hopeful that he ends up as PM one day….