Family Link: Applications to control minors’ cell phones, what level of surveillance is appropriate? | Technology

“The difference of this application “is that it uses AI (artificial intelligence) to monitor the images that (the adolescent) consumes, the texts he reads and what he writes,” explains psychologist Alicia González, influencer with half a million followers, in a video paid for by Bosco, nail application of parental control which has just arrived in Spain. “But you don’t have access to all their communications and all their Internet history, you will only receive an alarm if they receive offensive messages and see images of inappropriate content,” adds González.

Bosco promises a report every evening with a “summary” of the activity, but without parents “seeing the content”. What you see application and what to do with this data is another question. EL PAÍS asked González if he appreciated this detail in his collaboration with Bosco, but no response was received before the publication of this article. The standard rate for a promotional video like the one you made, with this number of followers, is usually paid around 5,000 euros, although it can vary.

Parental control apps allow you to remotely monitor what’s happening on a teen’s cell phone. There are all kinds, more or less intrusive, both in the privacy of minors’ lives and in their data. Millions of parents around the world use one of these apps. Experts believe that its usefulness diminishes as the child gets older and that there is no single solution that works in all cases. But now, as authorities take action on all fronts against cell phones, they represent a growing resource. “We are seeing more offers of these products apps because there is greater demand in the market, driven by the fact that cell phones are being used earlier and in more diverse areas,” explains Jorge Flores, founder of the organization Screens Amigas, which promotes a technology healthy.

The variety of offerings of these applications is enormous. “There are certainly many apps Parental controls are being developed to keep children safe online. What is worrying is the way they are designed and sold,” says Karla Badillo-Urquiola, professor at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, United States).

The most popular program is Family Link, from Google, which allows for example to establish authorized usage times and requires parents to authorize the downloading of applications. “There are details that are not really an invasion,” Flores acknowledges. “Screen time gives the information to the young person themselves: ‘Today 3 hours on Instagram, let’s see if I slow down.’ “Certain schedules help to manage and prioritize. An automatic system that reduces time, even if you know that your parents are behind it, helps reduce daily negotiation conflicts, which wear out and weaken the communication relationship,” adds he.

Spy on the minor

But the variety of control options even makes it possible to find tools that come close to spying – without consent – ​​on minors. In response, teens are using a range of methods and alternatives to avoid surveillance: creating parallel accounts, using unmonitored browsers, or speaking in code. The digital skills of some young people to circumvent surveillance are admirable. A father describes how his son overcame Family Link surveillance in an App Store review: “I saw this firsthand with the application Duolingo (language learning), my son was able to open a Chrome browser, without any control, by logging in as a Facebook user,” he explains.

“These methods do not really contribute to the development of resilience and skills of children and families”

Jun Zhao, University of Oxford

Today, the main objective is to limit cell phone use among adolescents. But experts agree that focusing on control is not a good long-term solution: “The market trend focuses on solutions based on control and monitoring, which have proven to be ineffective for ensure online security. » minors and do not do so. doesn’t help them know the risks,” warns Jun Zhao, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford. “These methods also do not really contribute to the development of resilience and skills of children and families,” he adds.

This tendency towards control does not mean that the tools are useless or must disappear. Combining it with other methods, especially in the company of adolescents, can produce good results: “Parents should talk honestly with their children,” says Tiffany Ge Wang of the University of Oxford. “Listening and understanding can make the difference. “We have seen cases where the use of technology tools, combined with regular family communication, works better than simply setting limits on screen time and permitted activities,” he adds.

Families sometimes try to achieve something through parental controls that parents themselves cannot achieve: reasonable cell phone use. “Minors perceive that the preferential control of their parents is restrictive, orderly and that it is a style for which they do not set an example,” explains Beatriz Feijóo, professor at the International University of La Rioja (UNITE). “The first to think about the use of cell phones and networks are adults and what example we are giving to minors. The most appropriate mediation is active mediation, but it is much more complex. The installation of apps It is short-term mediation, but active mediation takes a long-term perspective, because it encourages work at a critical and ethical level and requires a lot of interconnection with minors.

There are no miracles, yes the brown ones

Without agreement, problems can multiply, and not only within the family. These are delicate questions with very complex ethical implications: “Spying without consent is not the solution,” Flores explains. “Trust cannot be built. I came across the case of a mother who, spying on her daughter, discovered a critical situation for her daughter’s friend. She found herself in a dire situation and the mother was faced with the dilemma: to keep quiet and take responsibility or to intervene and betray herself. I told him the problem was with him. It’s not technology, it’s a dilemma of another kind.

Using apps, along with regular family communication, works better than simply setting limits on screen time.

Tiffany Ge Wang, University of Oxford

There are parents who believe that these apps with artificial intelligence, they can work miracles: “Does this application (BoscoApp) know how to decipher when teenagers speak in code to try to deceive?”, asks a mother on Instagram. influencer Alicia Gonzalez. “Mmmmm, I guess that finds something,” González replies optimistically.

Artificial intelligence is doing more and more things, but in the area of ​​parental control applications, they can be problematic: “AI is seen as a potential solution for detecting risks on the Internet,” says Badillo-Urquiola. “Many of them apps They use AI to detect inappropriate language or images, but the inaccuracy and bias of these algorithms can be detrimental. The problem is that AI needs tons of data to train well, so accuracy depends on collecting intimate data from teenagers. “The question then becomes who has access to this data and what they do with it.”

Privacy violation

The invasion of privacy can lead young people to become victims of the data collected by the platforms. “It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of apps seeks to generate profits by collecting user data to show them personalized advertisements,” explains Álvaro Feal, researcher at Northeastern University (Boston, United States) and co-author of a study on the private lives of 46 people . apps parental controls with over 20 million downloads. “Therefore, the use of these apps, which by definition must have access to a large amount of personal data, carries risks. In our study, we found that the majority (72%) of apps analyzed data shared with third-party companies. A smaller number of apps (11%) sent unencrypted data. In some cases, this data is as sensitive as the location of the minor,” he explains.

There is a curious contradiction: while parents want to protect their children from the harms of the Internet, they make them vulnerable through some of these dangers. apps which are only a channel for obtaining information from minors and future consumers: “When children connect, whether via their mobile phone, tablet or voice assistants, their data is constantly collected, analyzed and processed by many companies. This allows these companies to send you personalized game promotions or advertisements. People don’t realize how data is processed across all platforms, allowing these digital companies to have a much more complete picture of our children than we could imagine. This knowledge is often exploited to extend the time children spend online and expose them to less appropriate content,” warns Professor Jun Zhao.

Minors are increasingly aware of the use of their data by these companies, according to researchers at the University of Oxford: “Our research has shown that children in the UK, from the age of 10 , are already starting to take control of their data. , and are even demonstrating something like data activism, demanding more transparency and access. This demand for autonomy over their data is even stronger among the older children with whom we worked,” explains researcher Tiffany Ge Wang.

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