SOUTH KOREA: Popular App is a Bad Babysitter

SABRINA VERDUZCO WRITES – Smart Sheriff, the most widely used child-monitoring app in South Korea, has been pulled from the market and public sphere altogether, after issues with privacy and security raised concerns about the program’s safety.  Initially, the surveillance app was created with the intent to serve as a pseudo-babysitter, where parents were able to monitor how much time their children spent with their phones.  The app’s purpose was to deter children from being exposed to questionable websites.

Lee Chang-june can be in a different city and still be able to monitor when his 12-year-old son plays a game on his smartphone.  According to CBC News, Smart Sheriff and other similar apps have been downloaded at least 380,000 times in South Korea, which serves as evidence of how viral these types of apps have become.  SouthKoreaChildSurveillance-049c0

As of this November, the app was recalled due to vulnerabilities that security researchers depicted as a threat to all user accounts’ sense of security.  Smart Sheriff contains a lot of its users’ private information, which includes phone numbers, birth dates, Internet history, and other personal information stored on the phone.  This becomes a threat to safety because the apps’ sub-par security could easily be hacked and put 380,000 users at risk.

The app brings to light a question of whether children using this app in South Korea are having their rights violated.  In addition, cybersecurity experts argue that the app’s form of surveillance infringes too far on privacy and freedom of speech.  One South Korean parent said “A few officials arbitrarily determine which websites are harmful and unilaterally shut them off. They rob the rights of Internet users.”

According to  Citizen Lab, Smart Sheriff’s surveillance infrastructure receives a rating of “zero out of 10,” which clearly depicts the app’s lack of effectiveness.

A critic of the app stated that “We are going to raise people who are accustomed to surveillance.”  Others have expressed concern that children raised in such an atmosphere atmosphere will be stripped of the ability to ever think for themselves.

Smart Sheriff’s disappearance is a blow to South Korea’s constant effort to keep ubiquitous surveillance a growing reality.  Overall, “Smart Sheriff is the kind of baby-sitter that leaves the doors unlocked and throws a party where everyone is invited,” says Collin Anderson, an independent researcher.

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