Public surveillance initiatives are well-meaning, but do they threaten privacy and freedom?

[tweetable alt=”New #SouthKorea law requires children under 19 to install surveillance #apps on their #smartphones, says @SCMP_News.” hashtag=””]In South Korea, a new law requires children under the age of 19 to install surveillance software on their smartphones.[/tweetable] While many of their parents openly praise this policy, some question how necessary — and how ethical — the new rule truly is.

There’s a New Sheriff in Seoul

According to the South China Morning Post, the aptly named “Smart Sheriff” app was funded by the South Korean Government as a means of blocking access to pornography and other forms of explicit or inappropriate content.

The app is like a mobile-friendly version of the internet censorship website Net Nanny. In other words, this type of technology isn’t completely groundbreaking — Smart Sheriff is one of many tools that allow parents to monitor their kids’ online activities.

But this app takes surveillance to the next level, reporting everything from app use to location data directly to a chaperone’s device. Smart Sheriff also sends alerts in response to sensitive keywords such as “suicide,” “pregnant,” or “bully.”

A Potential Consequence



In an age when young people are often detached from the traditional family structure and glued to their phones, many parents will take any form of connection and supervision they can get, no matter what form it takes.

But even with surveillance — and sometimes because of it — kids can find ways to gain the upper hand. Canada’s CBC describes a new social media prank called The Game of 72, [tweetable alt=”Canadian teenagers dare each other to go #OffGrid for 72 hours, sometimes resulting in police searches, says @CBC.” hashtag=””]in which teenagers dare one another to go “off the grid” for a few days and reappear at the end of their mischievous hiatus.[/tweetable]

Their parents, who rely on surveillance apps to track their activity, assume their children are missing when they see that they’ve had no recent phone activity. As a result, law enforcement and local authorities waste time and resources conducting mass searches in attempt to find the teens who are in fact safe and sound.

A Generation Desensitized to Spying

If kids grow up in a world in which they’re being watched constantly, it’ll likely seem natural to them. According to Kim Kha Yuen of Open Net Korea’s general counsel, “We are going to raise people who are accustomed to surveillance.”

Eventually, installing spy software on teenagers’ smartphones will give way to installing cameras.

Here in the U.S., parents are expressing both excitement and disapproval for spyware apps. Smart Sheriff’s American counterpart Phone Sheriff claims that it isn’t spyware because it informs users that they’re being monitored.

The app has nonetheless faced criticism, as many people feel the issue is not the lack of teen consent, but rather, the unhealthy desire to eavesdrop.

In a post by Today’s Parent, author Emma Waverman argues that indulging the temptation to know everything about your kids’ lives is “not the right way to raise children in a technology-obsessed society.”

If parents don’t want their kids to be completely desensitized to unhealthy invasions into their privacy, they should ease up on surveillance.

Infinite Potential

In today’s post-9/11 world, people want privacy and security simultaneously, a balance that sometimes feels outright impossible to achieve. Is it truly possible to design spy apps that are non-invasive and only alerted by certain keywords?

When it comes to app development, there is infinite potential for designers to set new benchmarks in functionality and create stellar user experiences — especially in the area of phone surveillance. With Infinite Monkeys, you can try your hand at app development regardless of skill level, and maybe be the one to revolutionize mobile censorship.