In a world of constant notifications and social media streams, the age of those obtaining smartphones is getting younger and younger. With popular TV shows such as “Black Mirror” and “Mr Robot” foretelling our downfall with regards to our screen addictions, it is becoming the norm that the line between fiction and our reality is blurred. Nowadays, even toddlers have their own Instagrams and twitter accounts. This raises multiple issues on how to monitor and keep children safe in terms of online and offline. One surge of applications that has taken the app store by storm is child tracking apps. These apps turn your child’s phone into a portable GPS device and allow you to track and monitor your child’s whereabouts. For example, it could be useful for keeping your child out of possible trouble if you know they are not staying at their friends’ house but are out drinking at the local park. However, the ease of mind these apps can often provide comes at a price and it’s not just a monthly bill to your iTunes account. Privacy is a commodity that is becoming rarer and rarer these days due to the addictive lure of social media, these tracking apps can further infringe on children’s privacy without their consent. Additionally, if your child finds out you have been covertly observing them then their trust in you may become broken.
Most of these child tracking apps are free however some have additional features that are locked behind certain pay-walls that are billed per month or once a year. One of the most popular free apps in this category is “Find My Kids”. The app has over 1,800 ratings and reviews and most are completely favourable. Features of this app include notifications when children go to a frequent location (home, school, etc), history of where they have walked, direct audio from your child’s phone and an SOS-signal where your child can send you one if they feel they are in danger.
However, there’s a bigger problem with privacy concerning these apps. Many parents overlook the lengthy terms and conditions of these when they should be extra vigilant. When the data concerning an individual child is recorded, it is stored within the company for an indeterminate amount of time to analyse current trends. This means at their discretion, LLC “Refresh”, the owners of “Find my Kids” can use the GPS data and numerous other personal information from certain cases for their testing purposes. Thankfully with these particular app developers, it is stated that disclosure of personal information to any third parties will not occur unless it is required by law or court order.
Nevertheless, many of these free child tracking apps sell data personal data to third parties to generate revenue. Should this data become de-anonymized, it could seriously put a child at risk. This means that details of payment, home addresses and even your child’s current location may be bought and sold. Furthermore, a 2014 study by the security firm Symantec concerning tracking apps found that phones that don’t appear to be traceable can still be wirelessly tracked, as a result of insufficient precautions and lack of privacy features. This means that many apps are in breach of the “Data Protection Act 2018” due to variances on either not specifying the explicit purposes of data collection or not being used fairly, lawfully and transparently.
It certainly seems that with the development of more social media websites and more parents turning to alternative measures like these apps, the trade-off between parenting and privacy has become more strained. However, concerns over fine print may make parents think twice before hitting download.