Parental Spy Apps – What are the differences between stalkerware apps and parental monitoring apps? What is an “acceptable” or “safe” parental monitoring app? And how can a parent know if they’re downloading a “legitimate” parental monitoring app or instead a stalkerware app that’s just disguised as a parenting tool?
In late June, it revived its long-running campaign against the type of malware in use today. This malware is observed in text messages. It indicates the movements of the victims from place to place. It reveals browsing and search history. Often hidden from users, it removes their expectations, rights and real-world privacy.
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But after we reiterated our staunch opposition to this type of malware called stalkerware, we got questions about something else: parental monitoring apps.
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TeenSafe, which has redesigned its product to focus on safe driving, previously allowed parents to read their children’s text messages. Qustodio, recommended by Wirecutter for parents who want to restrict their children’s device usage, allows parents to track their children’s location. Clearly named and advertised as a child safety app, Kidguard allows parents to view their children’s browsing and search history.
The fast lane becomes blurred. What are the differences between stalkerware apps and parental monitoring apps? What is an “acceptable” or “safe” parental monitoring app? And how can a parent know if they’re downloading a “legitimate” parental monitoring app instead of a stalkerware app disguised as a parenting tool?
Labs is not here to tell people how to raise their children. We are here to investigate, report and inform.
Knowing what we do about parental monitoring apps, their capabilities, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and privacy issues, our safest advice is to avoid these apps.
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However, we understand the digital challenges parents face today. Cyber terrorism remains a constant concern, with violent images and videos being shared online and extremist content persisting across multiple platforms.
Diana Freed, a PhD student in the Intimate Partner Violence Technology Research Lab led by Cornell Tech faculty, said she understands the appeal of these tools to parents. They advertise safety, he said.
“I believe that when parents put these apps on someone’s phone, they’re trying to make their child safer,” Fried said. “They don’t say, ‘I don’t want my child to have no privacy.’ They think they’re doing everything they can to make this a safer place for their child.”
“Let’s assume everyone is a good actor and wants to do the right thing,” Fried said. “But the question is, is it clear to that parent what these apps are doing?”
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Many privacy advocates and cybersecurity researchers say that when comparing the technical capabilities of parental monitoring apps to stalkerware apps, the light that shines between the two is dim, if not completely absent.
“Is there a line between legitimate monitoring apps and stalkerware apps?” Cynthia Khoo, author of a CitizenLab report on stalkerware, “The Predator in Your Pocket,” said:
Khoo explained that while working with his co-authors on the Predator in Your Pocket paper, the team initially struggled with how to address monitoring apps that advertise themselves in benign, non-predatory ways, but provide users with sensitive information. That’s the famous “dual use” problem of stalkerware. some apps, although not advertised or designed for invasive monitoring, still provide the same capabilities.
However, that struggle disappeared, Khoo says, when the team realized that apps could be evaluated based on their capabilities and whether those capabilities might violate laws in Canada, where CitizenLab is based.
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“We realized that if an app not only provides location monitoring, if it collects information from social media accounts, personal content on someone’s phone, under Canadian law, that could be considered illegal wiretapping of someone’s phone, unauthorized access to someone’s computer. said Khoo. “Regardless of branding or marketing, it’s a criminal offense.”
Emory Roan, policy adviser at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said not only are the technical capabilities of stalkerware apps and parental monitoring apps very similar, but the capabilities can be found in the hacking tools used by nation states.
“If you look at the possibilities. what results can be obtained from devices embedded with stalkerware and devices hacked by nation states? It’s the same,” Roan said. “Remotely turning the device on and off, key loggers, GPS tracking, all of it.”
Both Roan and Khoo also warned about the lack of consent allowed by many of these apps. Some stalkerware apps, such as mSpy, FlexiSPY, and Hoverwatch, can operate completely stealthily, missing from a device’s app drawer.
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Particularly disturbing, we discovered that the Kidguard app actually reviewed the stalkerware app mSpy on its own website. In a list of pros and cons of mSpy, Kidguard listed the following as positives:
“There’s no legitimate reason or need to hide surveillance if it’s really for a genuine, bona fide, legitimate, legitimate purpose,” Khoo said. “If you have the person’s consent, you don’t need to hide. If you don’t agree, it shouldn’t be used in the first place.”
The cybersecurity reputation of several parental monitoring apps is questionable because the companies behind them have left data, including photos and videos of children, vulnerable to threat actors and hackers.
In 2017, Cisco researchers discovered multiple vulnerabilities in the Circle with Disney network device, a tool designed to monitor a child’s Internet use. The researchers found that Circle with Disney had vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to “gain various levels of access and privileges, including the ability to modify network traffic, execute arbitrary remote code, inject commands, install unsigned firmware, accept a different certificate, than planned. , bypass authentication, escalate privileges, reboot the device, install a permanent backdoor, overwrite files, or even completely brick the device.”
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In 2018, a cybersecurity researcher in the UK discovered two insecure cloud servers operated by TeenSafe. The servers contained details of tens of thousands of accounts, including parents’ emails. addresses and children’s Apple ID email addresses, as well as their device names, unique identifiers, and plain text passwords.
“Since the app requires two-factor authentication to be disabled, a malicious actor viewing this data would only need to use the credentials to break into the child’s account to access their private content.”
Also in 2018, parental monitoring company Family Orbit, which offers an app on iOS and Android, leaked cloud storage servers containing 281 gigabytes of sensitive data. Vulnerable servers found by online hackers contained photos and videos of children.
These are just the disadvantages of cyber security. That’s to say nothing of the labyrinthine network of related third parties that can work with parental monitoring apps to receive the collected data and store it on other, potentially insecure servers scattered across the web.
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The American public has steadily begun to understand and push back against the many ways in which their data is shared with numerous third parties, often without their express, individual consent. If it’s not normal for adults, is it normal for children?
Parental monitoring apps can give parents an almost omniscient, unfiltered look into their children’s lives, allowing them access to text messages, shared photos, web browsing activity, places visited and call logs. Without consent from the child, these surveillance capabilities represent a serious invasion of privacy.
“Would you support hacking your child’s diary if this was the 80s?” Roan said: “This is extremely sensitive information.”
Many studies have shown that the relationship between parents and children can change significantly depending on the type of supervision placed on them, and the age of the child plays an important role. As a child gets older, and because their need for privacy is closely related to their autonomy, digital monitoring can interfere with their trust in their parents, their self-expression, and their mental health.
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“The tension between parental controls and children’s right to privacy is best viewed through the lens of children’s evolving capacities. While parental controls may be appropriate for young children who are less able to direct and moderate their behavior online, such controls are more difficult to justify for teenagers who want to explore issues such as sexuality, politics and religion.”
The paper also warned that strict parental control could hinder a child’s ability to “seek outside help or advice with domestic problems.”
According to the scientific journal Nautilus, a year-long study of junior high school students in the Netherlands found that students whose parents had been bullied reported “more secretive behavior, and their parents reported knowing less about their child’s activities, friends, and whereabouts.” about the place. , compared to other parents.”
Lawrence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University, told Nautilus that when parents invade their children’s privacy, those children may be more at risk for depression, anxiety and withdrawal. He told the newspaper.
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“There is a lot of research that shows that children who grow up with overly intrusive parents are more susceptible to these mental health problems, in part because they undermine the child’s confidence in their ability to function independently.”
Furthermore, in a 2012 report, Surveillance Technologies and Children, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada suggested that parents who rely on surveillance to keep their children safe are putting those children’s maturity at risk.
Australian Catholic University child development and relationship researcher Tonya Rooney said in the report.
“We have to ask a question
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