South Korea has recently gone into full parental government mode and passed a law that mandates the installation of government approved spyware on smartphones owned by person under the age of 18. These apps are meant to allow the government to block unapproved websites, while also allowing parents to keep tabs on their childrens’ online activity.
Parents in South Korea are mostly familiar with the apps that the government is legally forcing them to install on smartphones; mainly because the spyware itself has been around for some time now. The government funded “Smart Sheriff” has already been downloaded 480,000 times. A number that will only increase with this new legislation.
Essentially, Smart Sheriff and its ilk monitor all activity on the smartphone and report it back to an app installed on a parents’ smartphone. It allows the concerned parent to look at what websites were visited, which apps were opened, and how much time is spent online. The app will also monitor communications and send a notification to parents when certain keywords – like “bullying”, “suicide”, and “dating” – are used. There is a list, and it appears to pretty much cover every conversation that a teenager would have.
Observers have commented on the complete lack of concern of privacy for the children, and that the apps would expose minors to potential threats in the event of a data breach. There is a fear that the law would raise a generation that is used to government surveillance, a situation that could possibly result in a society that resembles George Orwell’s 1984.
Of course, there are some small problems with the government spyware. For one, it is only available on Android devices; allowing other platforms to go unobserved. Some South Korean teens are also opting to avoid owning a smartphone until the turn 19 to avoid being spied on, and the number could increase in the event that the appeals against the new law do not go through.
Some critics have compared the new law to the Great Firewall of China, that spies on and blocks internet connections that pass through China. Of course, the Great Firewall is technically meant to be an open secret and the Chinese government has not actually passed any laws that require it to be able to spy on citizens.