Gov't to spy upon South Korean minors through smartphone apps

South Koreans under 18 who own a smartphone must now accept a monitoring app on their devices by law.

Telecoms and guardians must install a spying app on mobile devices used by anyone under 18 years of age.


Last month, South Korea's Korea Communications Commission decreed mandatory monitoring of smartphones used by minors, the Associated Press reports. Under the new ruling, telecom firms and parents must ensure a spying app is pre-installed when anyone under 18 years old acquires a new smartphone.

There are a number of apps on the market which spy upon smartphone users, including the free and government-sponsored Smart Sheriff, also known as SmartCOP. In total, 15 surveillance apps have been approved for use. The apps are primarily used to block content deemed inappropriate for minors -- such as pornography -- but can also be used to monitor smartphone usage, app use, log website addresses visited and even send GPS data to parent devices.

Apps which spy upon users in this way have been downloaded almost half a million times in the country, but due to the new ruling, downloads are set to spiral.

The new regulations, however, only apply to models which run on Google's Android operating system. This does give parents who wish to opt-out the chance to do so by electing for an Apple iPhone model for their children. In addition, old smartphones are exempt, although South Korean schools are sending out letters encouraging parents to install the spying apps on old models anyway.

By making surveillance compulsory, it could be argued that the next generation will grow up used to even more monitoring than ever before -- and so the KCC is undermining personal freedom and privacy. There is also problems relating to willingly installing government-crafted surveillance apps on smartphones and how far the software's capabilities both officially -- and unofficially -- go.

According to the news agency, some students have decided to keep their old phones until they are 19 to circumvent the ruling -- or go without altogether until they are older.

Last month, South Korean officials said the government will invest 1 trillion won in funding for various IT industries including smart wearables, 5G networks and the Internet of Things.