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Software of last resort

1/28/2010 7:45:00 PM

After visiting the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, one of the things that struck me was how quickly software comes to market these days. Just a couple of years ago, developers would sit in darkened rooms for months writing reams of code, to be followed by more months of beta testing, rewriting, and bug-fixing.

Nowadays, development is largely automated, with hundreds of companies using open-source software and Web 2.0 tools to churn out applications faster than we can keep track. Witness Apple's App Store, which went from 550 applications at launch to over 140,000 in just 18 months.

The speed at which new software now appears has changed the balance of power in the tech industry in favor of the consumer. No sooner do we think of something we need – traffic information, stock quotes, vacation rentals – and some tiny start-up delivers exactly what we are looking for.

And the hardware manufacturers better be on board. If your device doesn't have the latest software and perform the latest tricks, then you can kiss goodbye to your increasingly demanding customers.

Nowhere is the balance of power shifting faster than in parents' ability to monitor their kids.

For the last couple of years, we have been fretting about the risks and dangers our kids face in a world dominated by webcams, Facebook and YouTube. Sure, we had installed a few parental controls but that told us nothing about what was going on in the walled-off social networks. And then everything went mobile anyway, replacing our carefully controlled family computer with a smartphone world of texting and sexting.

Now, the power is shifting back to parents and it could be a case of "careful what you wish for".

Companies like Taser and Mobile-Spy are marketing programs that allow parents to track every move their child makes. A new start-up, Paralert, promises to provide "live monitoring of Internet surfing, chat calls, messenger, ICQ, online forums, Facebook and MySpace, emails and more."  Parents can pre-program the software to look for any "dangerous" words or messages, like "meet", "naked", "drugs" or "cutting", and an email and screenshot is instantly sent to the parent if one of the trigger words is used.

So what will parents do with this new-found power? Do we effectively spy on our kids – covert surveillance as the Paralert web site calls it – and let them earn our trust? Or do we assume they are innocent until proven guilty, turning to such intrusive software only when we think there is a real problem?

As always, I expect the answer lies somewhere in between and will largely depend on your child's impulsiveness and how at risk you think they are. Whatever your view, it looks like lots of kids are going to have to face a new reality and get used to a very different kind of big brother.

To spy or not to spy? Would you install some of the latest state-of-the-art child-monitoring software? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!   

Comment by Kelly, posted 2/13/2014, 4:12 AM:

Hello Gail. I appreciate your answer. But now time has changed. Children keep so much privacy that we can not catch their steps. So better spy them and stop them to be out of tracked before the time. You can use zealspy which is a software for Android users. It works for free.
Comment by Monica Vila, posted 2/1/2010, 9:50 AM:

I agree with your comments, a child that feels trusted and respected makes better decisions than others who feel spied on.
Comment by Winnie, posted 1/31/2010, 8:59 PM:

I communicate w/my kids very well,and regularly at that.I'm not interested in using these types of programs(certainly not as a substitute for"being there"as a parent),and hope I won't at any time,but stating the future in absolutes is a bit"dangerous",too.I base parenting decisions/policies on maturity level and environment.I graduated during Columbine-so if I see trouble & there's a noticeable change in demeanor and somehow that includes not being "let in,and I've exhausted "better"options,may
Comment by Jean Parks, posted 1/30/2010, 5:30 PM:

How can we teach our kids about healthy boundaries and cultivate in them a need for privacy and dignity when we use things like Mobile-Spy to track them like federal prisoners? I'd suggest that if a parent feels the need for such software,they'd be better off unplugging the TV, computer and PS3,turning off the cell phone and communicating with their child.
Comment by Roberta Caplan, posted 1/30/2010, 11:46 AM:

Spying is NOT the way to go. What's next - bugging their clothes so you can hear every word they say to their friends? We are losing our grip on reality worrying about what our kids can get up to online. They can do far worse in the real world.
Comment by Gail Murray, posted 1/30/2010, 11:39 AM:

This is dangerous ground for all parents. If you spy on everything your child does, there will be no trust and pretty soon no relationship. Even if you don't tell them you're spying, it will be impossible not to react or have an opinion on everything you see. Leave this stuff well alone and monitor your child the old-fashioned way - by communicating!
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