Some parental control apps have been exposed as dangerous for children.
Some parental control apps have been exposed as dangerous for children.

How parents are risking kids’ privacy

AUSSIE parents have been warned against unwittingly endangering the privacy of their children - some as young as three years old - by using risky apps designed to protect them.

Third-party companies and hackers could use "highly invasive technology" within these apps to track a child's location and even read their text messages.

While Apple quietly banned apps using the dangerous technology, most were still available in Google's Australian app store today and for download from the companies' websites.

However, education experts warned their removal was likely to make parents even more confused about which digital controls were safe to use.

Apple revealed the serious security and privacy risks inside apps designed to protect children this week, confirming it had "removed several parental controls apps" from its App Store.

Banned apps included OurPact, Freedom, Mobicip, Kidslox and Qustodio, which remain available through the Google Play Store in Australia.

 

In a statement, Apple said the apps allowed external firms to control and access a smartphone or tablet's "most sensitive information, including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history".

The tech giant said software inside the apps, known as Mobile Device Management, was "incredibly risky" as research showed it "could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes".

Cyber security educator Leonie Smith commended Apple for removing the software from sale, but warned the ban could create worry for parents who were "looking for an easy, magic-button solution to navigate this space".

She said many adults were not as technologically savvy as their children, and relied on apps and software to enforce limits on their behalf.

"For a lot of parents, having a parental control app is easier than navigating all of the settings in every app," she said.

"But they don't always work."

Apple revealed the serious security and privacy risks inside apps designed to protect children this week.
Apple revealed the serious security and privacy risks inside apps designed to protect children this week.

Ms Smith said parents should choose screen-time software carefully, and should always be transparent about what they were monitoring on their child's phone to avoid breaking trust.

"If your child is old enough to navigate a phone, they should know if you're monitoring them," she said.

"If you compare it to the real world, it would be like spying on your child in the playground, hiding behind a tree. You openly supervise them in the park and that's what parental controls on devices should be like."

Australian Parents Council president Shelley Hill said parents needed to set rules about devices and appropriate app use earlier than ever as even preschool children were being required to use technology for lessons.

"It used to be that you had these conversations about screen time when they were early teenagers," Ms Hill said.

"Now you have to have them when children are three or four years old, and set those boundaries."

Ms Hill said using software to control screen time was "very much an individual parent choice," but parents should work with schools to set limits, create clear rules, and ensure a balance of apps and outdoor play for young users.

Parents need to set rules about devices and appropriate app use earlier than ever.
Parents need to set rules about devices and appropriate app use earlier than ever.

FIVE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR KIDS' DEVICES SAFER

1. Apple Screen Time: This addition in Apple's iOS 12 menu lets parents see what apps kids have been using, and how long they're spending on their devices. Guardians can also block apps, set time limits, restrict inappropriate content, and set up 'Ask to Buy' for apps kids want to purchase.

2. Google Family Link: This free app, available for phones using Android Nougat software and above, lets parents monitor their children's app use, set time limits, and even lock devices remotely. The app can also be used to locate devices, and allow or deny access to new app downloads.

3. Microsoft Family: This app can be used on Windows computers, the Xbox One, and Android smartphones, and lets parents block items based on their content rating, set daily use limits, and receive alerts when kids want to buy a new app or game.

4. Family Zone: This Australian security package includes a router to filter inappropriate content on your home wi-fi network and an app to manage what kids can do and what are exposed to on their mobile devices. The software also delivers reports and alerts to parents.

5. Norton Family Premier: This subscription software is recommended for children over the age of 15, according to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, and will let parents see what sites their children visit, show web search terms and videos they watch, and enforce time limits.