We all know about the dangers children face on the internet, like oversharing, cyberbullying, and online predators. That’s why so many parents search for something that will ensure their kids are safe online whether they’re using their desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, or Android device. Parental control apps fill that gap, but is it legal to install a monitoring tool on a child’s phone without their permission? This is especially important to consider when you understand how powerful parental control software can be. It allows you to read your child’s text messages and their social media interactions, see pictures saved on their phone, or even know their exact GPS location. The answer depends on a few factors, and here we’ll go through the legality of parental control software.
Parental Control Legality
You may have used the phrase ‘my house, my rules!’ before and while it may be tongue-in-cheek, there is some truth to it. Even if a child uses their own money to buy a phone, tablet, or any other device, a parent has the legal right to control its usage if they’re underage. This means there’s nothing to prevent parents from installing parental control software on it. Of course, when it comes to children who are considered legal adults (in the U.S. this applies to anyone over 18) things are different. In that case, you’d have to get their consent before installing parental control software.
Powerful Software in the Wrong Hands
Parental control software treads into murky waters when it’s applied to what is legally considered an adult. In this case, the monitoring capabilities mean that, if abused, the software could turn into what is commonly known as ‘spyware’ or ‘stalkerware’. It’s easy to see why: with parental control software you can find out who a person is talking to, what they’re saying, and where they are with real-time updates – information that is incredibly sensitive. Some can even activate a device’s camera or microphone without the person’s knowledge
Installing parental control software on an adult’s device without their permission is illegal. Essentially, it’s the same as wiretapping. Punishments vary by state, but it is considered a felony throughout the U.S. punishable by up to five years jail time and a large fine of up to $250,000.
Parental Control Controversies
Some software really blurs the line between parental control and spying. One example of this is mSpy, which markets itself as parental control software but with a name that is a little revealing. Its technical capabilities are incredibly impressive, but looking at the customer reviews on its website you’ll find plenty written by people who have used the software to spy on partners they suspect of cheating. But that’s just scratching the surface – there are a variety of other so-called ‘parental control solutions’, that may seem relatively harmless on the surface but are open for abuse or actually designed for spying.
Sensitive Data Storage
Besides the legality of parental control software, there is one final thing to worry about: your child’s data. Every piece of software stores some kind of data about its user, but parental control software is particularly sensitive. Taking the example of Family Orbit, the software’s hacking resulted in almost 300GB of pictures and videos being exposed. Other services have had similar issues, including Circle with Disney, which was discovered to have vulnerabilities, and mSpy, which has experienced multiple leaks.
Best Parental Control Software of 2021
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