Are parental control apps helpful or a violation of privacy? - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

New app allows you to monitor child's phone only if they permit it

Sarah and Lydia install the bark app together on their cell phones. (Source: WOIO) Sarah and Lydia install the bark app together on their cell phones. (Source: WOIO)
The bark app notifies parents of threats on their child's cell phone in real time. (Source: bark) The bark app notifies parents of threats on their child's cell phone in real time. (Source: bark)
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

Your child's whole world now fits in the palm of his or her hand.

Teens spend hours on their cell phones and social media every day.

From bullying to online predators, how do you monitor the possible dangers?

Cleveland19 is getting answers on an app that sends you the red flags in real time.

A cell phone app called bark monitors your child's cell phone, alerting you as soon as it finds possible threats on social media, texts and emails. 

It sounds like a great idea, but does this overstep your bounds as a parent?


Related: An updated list of teen texting codes you should know


The bark app says it will do the hard work for you, scanning through hundreds of texts and posts on your child's cell phone.

"Our approach goes way beyond simply looking for keywords. Using advanced machine learning and data science techniques to recognize potential dangers,” the video on its website says.

You'll get alerted by text if they find anything suspicious, and only then will you see your child's flagged text.

So there is still some level of privacy to their conversations.

We put it to the test with a local family.

Sarah Anderson is the first to admit she’s on her phone all day.

“Social media is basically my life, like I'm on it all the time,” she said.

Sarah lives in Rocky River. She’s 16 and a junior at Magnificat High School.

Keeping up is exhausting for her mom Lydia Lowe.

“It's been very difficult honestly. And I think in their younger years I was much more concerned about it because I was trying to monitor everything that was on their phones,” Lowe said.

She doesn't do that anymore.

“You know as they've gotten older we've had many more conversations about it. I want to see certain things, I want to make sure that they know the dangers of putting stuff out there,” Lowe said.

But Lydia still worries, like any parent. So we asked her to try the bark app.

We had Lydia and Sarah sign up for a trial run. They both had to download the app for it to work.

“So I'm connected to her snapchat through this app, her thing just came up,” Lowe said.

Parents can't do this on their own. You need your child's passwords.

Sarah gives her mom permission from her cell phone.

“It says 'bark technology has added me as a friend.' Wow!” Sarah said.

Sarah's snapchat and Instagram accounts pop up on her mom's phone.

“Wow, they just changed my picture. That was weird—to a picture of me that I posted,” Sarah said, looking down at her cell phone.

Parents can even ask their kids to check in where ever they go.

The app sends their child a text saying, “do your parent a huge favor, check in.”

“Look you checked in there. Thanks honey!” Lowe said, looking at her cell phone.

“It shows the exact location,” Sarah said, looking at her own cell phone.

But the true test is when bark starts analyzing all of Sarah's texts and posts.

“It's analyzing. Oh no! I'm actually so scared, I feel like I'm at the stake right now!” she said giggling.

The app doesn't find anything, to Sarah's relief.

But she already shares a lot of her posts with her mom, so she didn't expect any surprises.

After this short trial run, we asked Sarah what she thinks of Bark.

“I don't think it's too crazy or anything because it is used as a safety mechanism for people who are struggling,” she said.

As a parent, Lydia thinks bark balances monitoring pretty well with privacy.

“This might be a good tool to use to alleviate some fears or maybe feel like they're a little bit more connected. But I also think that some people may not even want to go that far,” Lowe said.

After trying it out, Sarah thinks the app is fair game.

“Some parents are just totally oblivious to what kids are posting or being shared with, and so I think it's a good tool,” she said.

So are Lydia and Sarah sticking with the bark app after the trial is up?

They decided not to, but Lydia knows some parents who will definitely be interested in using it.

Child psychologists, youth advisors and law enforcement helped create the app.

It costs $99 a year.

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