Why parents should think twice about tracking apps for their kids

The use of self-tracking and personal surveillance technologies has grown considerably over the last decade. There are now apps to monitor people’s movement, health, mindfulness, sleep, eating habits and even sexual activity.

Some of the more thorny problems arise from apps designed to track others, like those made for parents to track their kids. For example, there are specific apps that allow parents to monitor their child’s GPS location, who they call, what they text, which apps they use, what they view online and the phone number of their contacts.

As a bioethicist who specializes in the ethics of emerging technologies, I worry that such tracking technologies are transforming prudent parenting into surveillance parenting.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Companies are tracking for profit

The first reason has to do with concerns over the tech itself.

Tracking apps are not primarily designed to keep children safe or help with parenting. They are designed to make money by gathering loads of information to be sold to other companies.

A 2017 report from a marketing research firm estimates that self-monitoring technologies for health alone will reach gross revenues of US$71.9 billion by 2022.

The lion’s share of the profit is not in the device itself, but in the data drawn from its users.

To get as much data as they can, these apps work hard to keep one constantly using them via push notifications and other design techniques.

This data is then often sold to other companies – including advertising agencies and political campaign firms. The primary aim of these devices is not people’s well-being, but the profit that can be made off of their data.

When parents track children, they help companies maximize their profits. Should a child’s information become de-anonymized and fall into the wrong hands, this could put one’s child at risk.

2. Risks of leaking private data

There are also significant privacy risks.