SOUTH KOREA: There’s a New (Smart) Sheriff in Town

MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – Big Brother might not be watching, but that isn’t stopping the South Korean government from making sure that Mom and Dad are.

A new Android app called Smart Sheriff allows parents to monitor their children’s smartphones. The app lets parents know how long their son or daughter uses his or her phone, which apps they use, which websites they visit, and sends alerts when their child searches alarming terms such as “suicide,” “pregnancy,” or “bullying.” It also sends parents information about the smartphone user’s location, allowing parents to know exactly where their child is at the tap of a screen.

Everyone under the age of 19 who gets a new smartphone in South Korea is now required to have Smart Sheriff installed, according to the South Korean Communications Commission.

Today’s young people are surrounded by technology, and the rapid pace at which technology evolves often leaves parents and older generations feeling left out. Some parents approve of the Smart Sheriff app because they say it gives them a degree of control over their child’s online life. One parent says of the app: “I see it as positive in helping nurture [my son’s] habit of self control.”

There are certainly positive aspects about this new surveillance technology. In addition to influencing parent-child dialogue, the alert system will also help parents stayed informed about their child’s mental health, especially in a society where suicide is the number 1 cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 30.

Still, the South Korean population remains divided over the issue of cellphone surveillance

“It could be an official spying app,” says Ryu Jong-Myeong, a cyber safety expert and CEO of SoTIS, who warns that Smart Sheriff could be surreptitiously installed on anyone’s phone. A few legal experts also warn that the legalization of a seemingly harmless parental control app might become a slippery slope that leads to the legalization of large-scale private data collection without any form of prior consultation.

“It’s a violation of students’ privacy,” says Paik Hyunsik, a 17-year-old smartphone user.  Despite Smart Sheriff’s good intentions, many South Korean parents still believe that trust, not suspicion and forced surveillance, is best for raising responsible children.

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