Parent spy software launched
Cape Town - Parents who are concerned about their children being exposed to cyber bullying or sexting can use cellphones to check up on them.
Verb Innovations has launched My Mobile Watchdog in SA. According to the company, the software is aimed at parents of young children who may be exposed to cyber bullying or sex predators online.
"The growing number of young children involved in practices of 'sexting' and 'cyber bullying' is alarming, as well as the use of social media applications by sexual predators to make contact with our children online has drastically amplified the need to monitor our children's cellphone communications," Verb Innovations director Gareth Miller told News24.
"Parents currently control what their children can view on satellite television and the internet accessed via the home PC, however until now there has been no effective way to monitor the "mobile generation's" first choice of cyber communication," he added.
Editor of Parent24, Adele Hamilton, cautioned that parents should be aware of the problems like sexting, but warned that parents themselves should be aware of the online environment.
"But for most of us, our own ignorance is the worst barrier to dealing with the issues. Ideally as parents we would be on Mxit and other social networks, see what the environment is like, and initiate frank discussion with our children about the possible dangers," she said.
The software will retail for R89 per month and Miller said that parents would be able to register four children. He also said that, to comply with legal requirements, the software could not run in "stealth mode", where children were unaware of it.
"The child will receive a notification message every 24 hours or every time he switches his phone on, warning him of the fact that the phone is being monitored. This warning message means that the software cannot be considered spyware, making it legal," he said.
To accommodate local conditions, Miller added that "unapproved contacts" would be sent a notification that the phone was being monitored by the software and this would eliminate instances of cyber bullying.
Hamilton, though, said that smart phones were not the kind of device that young children should have.
"We should also be careful to allow age appropriate access: a six-year-old does not need a cellphone. Where there has been an issue of cellphone misuse, monitoring software like this might be useful, but the regular monthly cost might put people off," she said.
While acknowledging the problem of cyber bullying, Matthew Buckland, CEO of Memeburn.com said that he prefers old-fashioned techniques.
"Cyber bullying is a big problem, and it's one that should be taken seriously by schools and parents. It's up to parents to decide which approach is better to combat it. I prefer education and instruction, rather than software that spies on my children," he said.
Buckland questioned whether the software would hit the target market as most of the youth used basic phones to access instant message services such as MXit.
Miller said that there were checks and balances in place to ensure that children were not abused, but that people who called from a private or unknown number would not be revealed by the software.
"The law in South Africa states that people have the right to hide behind a private number and My Mobile Watchdog respects this, should a child be harassed by someone hiding behind a private number his parents will still have to make use of the legal route to subpoena the phone records and number from the Networks," he said.
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