Culture

Creepy New App Lets You See What Your Kid’s Googling in Real Time

Zift website screenshot.

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A new app for iPhone and Android is giving parents the ability to watch, in real time, exactly which websites their children are viewing, what videos they’re watching, and the exact phrases they’re Googling.

“Parents are confronted with so many challenges when it comes to their child’s screen time including overuse, mature or inappropriate content, in-app purchases, and cyberbullying,” Zift app co-founder David Savage told PJ Media.

“Parents who use the free Zift app have told us how much they appreciate the visibility of the Family Feed, which gives them real-time updates as to their child’s online and app usage activity,” said Savage.

While many applications allow parents to monitor children’s screen-time, Zift is the first with the capability to track exact websites. To do this, parents download the Zift Parental Control App, set up an account, and then download the Z Child application onto their children’s phones.

Once both are installed, moms and dads have 24/7 access to their kids’ search history.

“We have parents using the app who have children from age 6 to 18,” said Savage.

While Savage and his team developed the application with good intentions — there are 12 children among the three founders —  it’s not hard to see how it can be abused or misused, and can increase strife between parents and children.

For example, the app could automatically “out” kids to their parents. Perhaps this is a good thing. Children who research suicide or self-harm may be in need of parental intervention and guidance. But what about kids who aren’t a threat to themselves?

What about the gay kids with homophobic parents? Teens who think they may be transgender? Or teens attempting to leave religious cults or extremely orthodox religious sects? For many teens, the Internet is the only place they can turn to without judgment.

What happens if that is used against them?

Another concern is that the app can track a child’s location in real time. Perhaps this too is helpful for parents. But even Savage admits that Zift tracks children as old as 18, the age of adulthood in the United States.

And if the app is used to track 18-year-olds, what’s to say it can’t be used by adults to track other adults, in the context of abusive relationships, sex trafficking, or domestic violence? I emailed Zift to ask what they’d say about these concerns, but received no response.

“This should never be a thing,” wrote the most recent reviewer of the Z Child app. “If you want the trust of your child don’t regulate and restrict them. The only use I found this useful for was to see how much [Internet] they are on and even then you don’t need an app to do this, iPhone has this built in.”

“Parents aren’t meant to be an all powerful dictator over their children,” the reviewer added.

But many parents seem to appreciate the app. Zift currently has 45 reviews and a 3.4 star rating, with many parents commenting that Zift does exactly what it claims to do and gives them peace of mind.

The most common complaint? That some kids and most teens know they’re being watched. “[It] would be nice if they had a stealth mode,” wrote reviewer nate-3kids.

After publication, Zift sent PJ Media this statement:

“Even if someone chooses to violate our Terms of Service by attempting to track someone for whom they are not the legal guardian, and even if they can access the phone’s PIN code to install Zift software, they can’t run Zift in secrecy.  The phone’s user will see that our app is doing something.”

Follow the author on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.