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Should Parents Use Apps to Spy on Their Kids?

Teenage Tracker

Could you imagine if your parents had the ability to watch and listen to your every movement through your cell phone without your knowledge?  Sounds a little, I don’t know, intrusive? Creepy?  Wrong?

Well, if you think this idea is farfetched, think again.  Teenage Tracker is in a Beta Stage and it is available for public testing through IndieGoGo Campaign. The app has 17 days left to get to its target goal of $40,000.  So far, the app has raised a little less than $1,000.

But this Android app is more than just a GPS tracker…oh, so much more (helicopter parents start salivating).   The application, created by Pure App Studio, allows parents’ phone to act like a receiver and child’s phone to work as a transmitter. Once a secure connection is established, parents can listen in to what is going on around child’s phone, and can access both frontal and back cameras. During this process, the the child doesn’t know that they are being monitored at a given time. The captured video and sound can then be recorded and stored (and used as ammunition in the next argument with your teen).

The website is a lot more nonchalant about how it works.  I personally like how it turns the fact that your teen doesn’t know he’s being spied on as a positive because you won’t be bugging them:

Teenage Tracker2

Teenage Tracker is not a new concept, although it is a a lot more intrusive than some other tracking apps on the market.  An increasing number of apps for mobile devices are utilizing GPS technology to help parents keep tabs on their kids. According to a report by Berg Insight, more than 70 million people across North America and Europe will be using such programs to track family members by 2016.

A number of other apps that use GPS technology to track kids include Life360, which has already been downloaded more by more than 20 million people, and Mama Bear.  Mama Bear not only tracks your kids using their cell phone, but also alerts you if they leave school early, make new friends on Facebook or break a predesignated speed limit while driving.

Some are even more intrusive such as SMS Tracker.  Once installed on a phone, this program runs in the background and allows a third party to see all ingoing and outgoing call logs, text messages and photos. It’s already been downloaded more than half a million times.  Another app some parents use is called the iKey monitor, which records keystrokes to crack secret passcodes that some kids keep from their parents.

But experts advise that installing tracking devices on your kids cell phones can send them negative messages that you don’t trust them and even set them up for failure.  Without building trust and allowing kids to make mistakes on their own, they will have more trouble navigating the world around them when they leave the confines of their home.

We spoke with Dr. Michele Borba, a leading expert on parenting, and asked her for her opinion on apps that spy on children, she told us, “It’s all about the parent’s motivation. We parents always need to prioritize our children’s safety and well-being. Nothing matters more. But there’s a fine line between monitoring and snooping. Monitoring – is when the child knows you’re looking out for his or her safety and keeping track. Snooping is the undercover, clandestine approach. If there’s ever a doubt that you’re child is untrustworthy or safety is in jeopardy, you do whatever it takes. Just know that overprotection — or too much monitoring – can rob kids of self-reliance and undermine your relationship.”

As a mom with three toddlers, I personally think these GPS trackers are a bad idea.  However, I don’t have teens.  What I do know is what I was like as a teen, and if these things existed then, I would have been grounded for my entire high school career.

— Cassie Slane

Cassie Slane is a technology and consumer products expert and appears as an electronics guest on QVC and Philly's Fox 29 Channel. She has been a producer and writer for major media outlets including Bloomberg News, CNBC, and CNN.