Teenage Rebellion: Why This Country’s Smartphone Tracking Has Kids Up In Arms


What if the government required every teenager to install “spy” software on their phones?  What if the government forced parents to monitor their kid’s cell phone and online activity, and block them from visiting “undesirable” websites?

Unbelievable as it may sound, that’s the current situation in South Korea.  The government has announced a new policy requiring that all people under 19 install government-approved web-monitoring software on their smartphone.

The government has even created its own app called Smart Sherriff to be used for this purpose. The app alerts parents when their children conduct internet searches on particular terms such as “suicide,” “run away from home” or “pregnancy.”

Once installed, these programs allow parents to see everything their kids are up to online and block them from visiting particular sites that they deem inappropriate for any reason.

Opting out is not an option. Failure to install monitoring software means the phone will not work.

While few people believe that such laws would ever become reality in the United States, there are programs American parents use to monitor their children’s smartphone activity — and they’re gaining in popularity.

But how far is too far when it comes to trying to protect children and teens? The South Korean government believes the internet is fraught with risks for kids, and they need to be protected from harmful influences. But the argument of those opposing the policy is just as straightforward — it’s all about privacy.

One organization fighting the South Korean law is Open Net Korea.  Kim Kha Yeun, talking to the BBC, said, “It is the same as installing a surveillance camera on teenagers’ smartphones.”  These organizations also fear that it will be the government itself, and not parents, which will determine the list of “banned” sites, and that this list may include sites blocked because they oppose the government on policy matters.

Opponents generally argue that children should be allowed some freedom to explore the internet on their own. If they don’t, they will not be able to mature responsibly and learn to deal with risks and adversity.

Other parents believe they have both the right and responsibility to monitor what children are texting and sharing online so they can tackle problems before they manifest themselves.

Of course, many people fall between these two extremes, and the age and circumstances of the child will have an impact on how a parent wants to approach this issue.

One smartphone monitoring device in the U.S. was recently featured on ABC’s The View. It’s called TeenSafe, and Rosie O’Donnell raved about using it to monitor her kids. This program works for both Apple and Android phones and creates a simple online dashboard where parents can view all of their kids’ texts — including deleted texts and texts from popular apps like WhatsApp and Kik Messenger — website browser history, call logs and more.

Kids adopt new technologies so quickly that parents may need a service that keeps pace with all of them, and TeenSafe purports to do this all for a low monthly cost and without jailbreaking the phone. And, as long as the parent is financially responsible for the devices being monitored and the child is under 18, it’s completely legal, whether the child is informed or not.

One thing is clear – the risks teenagers and children face online are real and growing. While the steps taken by the South Korean government may go too far, U.S. parents who want to actively monitor their kids online do have options.