South Korean minors to be monitored via smartphone spying apps

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The Korea Communications Commission, South Korea’s media regulation agency modeled after US’ FCC, has made it mandatory for telecoms and parents to install a monitoring app on smartphones used by anyone aged 18 years or under, AP reports.

The decision was put into effect last month, but it will take a while for it to be implemented completely, as only new phones are, for now, required to have such an app installed.

Still, it seems that some schools are set on forcing the parents to install a monitoring app on their kids’ old smartphones, too, as they have sent out letters urging them to do so.

What does such an app monitor, exactly? Among the 15 approved apps is SmartCOP (or Smart Sheriff) by Korean app maker Moiba, whose development was funded by the South Korean government and is distributed for free by it.

When installed on a child’s smartphone, SmartCOP can be set to block access to certain apps and websites, and to limit the time a child can spend using an app or visiting a site.

When installed on a parent’s phone, it allows them to view their child’s app and website activity, to check the GPS location of the device, to be notified when the child searches certain keywords (“suicide,” “pregnancy,” “bully,” etc.) online or receives messages containing those words, to shut down the phone, and so on.

Most minors are likely to have a problem with this new rule, and some have already decided to keep their old phones until they turn 19 (if possible) so that they don’t have to submit to the monitoring.

Parents are more divided on the subject. Some find it helpful to know what their children are doing online, while others are worried about the chilling effect such surveillance can have on children’s interests and behavior, as well as the fact that all this private information is stored by telecoms and can be tied to specific users – in Korea, all phone numbers are personally identifiable as telecommunication subscription is allowed only on a real name basis.

Internet advocacy groups are also worried that the monitoring will infringe on minor’s privacy, and limit free speech.

“It is the same as installing a surveillance camera in teenagers’ smartphones,” commented Kim Kha Yeun, general counsel at nonprofit Open Net Korea. “We are going to raise people who are accustomed to surveillance.”

The organization has already submitted an appeal to the Korea Communications Commission’s ordinance to the country’s Constitutional Court.

In the meantime, it seems that iPhone users are temporarily safe from this invasion of privacy, as this new system can’t be applied to Apple phones.