Parental Control Apps Are Helping Themselves To User Data, But Aren’t Delivering On Their Promises Of Child Safety

Parental controls often require that the individuals implementing them give up some measure of user privacy in order to create a healthier technological and online environment for their children. However, perhaps that trade-off is not as equal as we have been led to believe.

Top10VPN, an online site that provides rankings on different VPNs and cybersecurity software, decided to test how effective internet filters were in some of the top ranked parental control applications on the Google Play app store. Twelve apps with over fourteen million installs in total were used for the basis of this experiment. With all such applications, users are forced to give up access to their browser history and other potentially sensitive information on their devices so that the applications can govern them better. Ultimately, we see this as a necessary sacrifice of sorts; no matter how much we try, kids can’t be fully separated from technology and they will come into contact with it in some form of another. Of course, I applaud efforts made by parents at reducing screen time and encouraging outdoor activities first and foremost, but ultimately not letting a kid use an iPad is just crippling him for a future in a world where technology is the dominant form of all exchange. However, these parental control apps aren’t exactly delivering the proper bang for their buck. In fact, they’re sometimes doing the exact opposite, even.

Internet filtering is a difficult task to accomplish, and social media platforms struggle with it on a daily basis. However, it’s a worrying sight to behold when 70% of administered tests were failed by all the applications across the board, none of them managing to effectively keep out harmful content. This, of course, refers to any and all matter of extremism, racism, misinformation, and the like. Remember that eight-year-old calling your mother derogatory names on CS: GO? Well, parental control apps such as these failed them, and they might end up failing your children as well. Also, if you do remember the kid, please let him know that I want to talk, and that is it, no ulterior, mildly violent motive whatsoever.

20% of the tests revealed a rather different sort of problem encountered across these apps: one of over-blocking of content. Helpful sites detailing healthy conversations revolving around sex-ed were crossed out by the apps due to containing keywords such as, well, sex. Aghast are we indeed at the mere thought that children might be learning about…reproduction? Yeah, doesn’t make sense to me either. At any rate, many such platforms also actively blocked out any and all LGBTQ+ content. So hey, if you’re a Mormon living in Utah, these are the perfect apps for you.

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