Prying parents use apps to keep an eye on kids
Phone monitoring apps flourish in South Korea 手機監控程式在南韓蓬勃發展
Lee Chang-june can be miles from his 12-year-old son but still know when he plays a smartphone game. With the press of an app he can see his son's phone activity, disable apps or totally shut down the smartphone. The app, "Smart Sheriff," was funded by the South Korean government primarily to block access to offensive content online. Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child's location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as "suicide," "pregnancy" and "bully" or receives messages with those words. In South Korea, the apps have been downloaded at least 480,000 times. The nation's Korea Communications Commission required telecoms companies and parents to ensure Smart Sheriff or one of the other monitoring apps is installed when anyone aged 18 years or under gets a new smartphone.
Many countries have safety filtering tools for the Internet but it is rare to enforce them by law. Japan enacted a similar law in 2009 but unlike South Korea it allows parents to opt out. But cybersecurity experts and Internet advocacy groups argue the monitoring infringes too far on privacy and free speech. Some warn it will produce a generation inured to intrusive surveillance.
South Korea, one of the Asia's richest nations, is crisscrossed by cheap fast Internet and smartphone use is ubiquitous. Many Koreans get their first smartphone when they are young. Eight out of 10 South Koreans aged 18 and below own a smartphone, according to government data. Some 72 percent of elementary school students owned a smartphone in 2013, a huge jump from 20 percent in 2011. How technology is affecting the young has become a national obsession. The government and parent groups have pushed numerous initiatives to limit device and Internet use as well as prevent excessive gaming. Many parents welcome the ability to peer inside their children's online world.
Lee, who worked in the online game industry for nearly a decade, said that having control over his son's smartphone has been positive and increased dialogue in the family. His son plays a mobile game for about two hours on weekends. If he wants to play a mobile game outside those hours, he comes up to dad and talks about why. "What is important is that parents and children talk to each other and try to build consensus. He is only in sixth grade but he wants to have his privacy," Lee said. "I told him: We are installing this and father will know which app you use," he said. "I see it as positive in helping nurture his habit of self-control."
To get around the regulations, some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone. "I'd rather not buy a phone," said Paik Hyunsuk, 17. "It's violation of students' privacy and oppressing freedom." Cho Jaehyun, 17, had to install a parental control app when he was in middle school. But he said he was lucky that his parents agreed to uninstall the app when he entered high school. "We don't always use the smartphone for something bad," said Cho. "Because I could use my phone freely without control, I got interested in developing iPhone games."