Controversy rises over app for tracking kids' phone activity - Korea Times
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Controversy rises over app for tracking kids' phone activity

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC) decided that parents' monitoring of their children's smartphone usage could be a violation of human rights. Gettyimagesbank
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC) decided that parents' monitoring of their children's smartphone usage could be a violation of human rights. Gettyimagesbank

By Bahk Eun-ji

Kim Jung-eun, 49, an office worker living in Nowon District in Seoul, found her 12-year-old daughter was participating in eight anonymous group chats when she checked the girl's web history on her smartphone. In the group chats, participants who were mostly teenagers like her daughter talked about how to buy cigarettes and beer while some even shared their experiences running away from home.

Kim immediately installed an app on her daughter's smartphone which allows parents to remotely monitor which apps their children use and to limit the time of use.

Lee Hae-mi, 47, a mother of a fourth grader in Seoul's Gwangjin District, installed a similar app recently on her son's smartphone, shortly after she found her son to have searched for information about suicide on an internet portal site.

"Then I read text messages he exchanged with friends in a number of group chats. I couldn't believe elementary school students could have such conversations full of swear words," she said.

Lee said she had never been interested in the parent monitoring apps before.

"I criticized parents who use those apps before, because I thought those tracking technologies are transforming parenting into surveillance. But now I changed my mind because I think this is the best way to protect my child," Lee said.

While many parents like Kim and Lee use such apps to check how much time their children spend on their smartphones, which apps they use, who they call, what they text, what they searched online and their GPS location, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) decided recently that monitoring with such apps is an infringement of the children's human rights, raising further controversy among parents.

The decision came after a high school freshman and a sixth-grader filed petitions with the human rights watchdog against developers of apps to control children's smartphones and the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) last year.

The petitioners claimed their human rights were being infringed upon as the parents unfairly controlled their smartphone use through the apps.

A relevant law on telecommunications allows apps to provide services to block content "harmful to youth" such as pornography, but the commission said many of the apps provide functions such as tracking location, limiting time of phone use, spying on text messages and blocking Wi-Fi. Some apps also blocked access to websites for news, sports and travel information.

App developers claimed that such services are intended to guarantee parents' right to educate their children.

The commission disagreed. "These apps excessively limit children's basic rights such as the right to self-determine personal information, privacy and freedom of communication, which are guaranteed by the Constitution and international human rights norms," the commission said.

"Parents' right to educate children should focus on their children's happiness and interests, and it is not desirable to regard parental rights as an absolute standard that can limit children's basic rights."

The commission recommended the KCC examine the relevant functions of the apps and take necessary measures against developers of apps that infringe on children's human rights.

"When claims are raised that these functions violate children's basic human rights, the KCC has the duty to check and take countermeasures. But it has not made any efforts to resolve the issue, just saying it is a matter between parents and children."

Kim, Lee and many other parents showed negative responses to the commission's decision, saying the apps provide a bare minimum to protect children from the harmful aspects of a digital environment.

But some others agreed, saying monitoring children's smartphones, which reflect their private lives, is not an appropriate method of parenting.

"Location tracking can be necessary for young children's safety, but reading text messages or checking their web history is a violation of privacy," said a mother of a 12-year-old elementary school student living in Seoul's Mapo District, who wished to be identified only by her surname Kim.

"When I was young, I was so upset when my parents read my diary without my consent because it was an invasion of my privacy. Checking text messages and monitoring their phone usage is the same thing," Kim said.

Bahk Eun-ji


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