It appears that South Korea is playing Orwellian catch-up with its security-obsessed northern neighbor.

Under a new law, parents in South Korea will be required to have government-approved spyware on the smartphones of children below the age of 19. Given that almost 80 percent of South Korean schoolchildren own smartphones, this move is likely to almost eliminate the old question for parents, “Do you know where your children are?”

As The Associated Press (via Yahoo) explains:

The app, “Smart Sheriff,” was funded by the South Korean government primarily to block access to pornography and other offensive content online. But its features go well beyond that.

Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child’s location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as “suicide,” ”pregnancy” and “bully” or receives messages with those words.

Last month, South Korea’s Korea Communications Commission, which has sweeping powers covering the telecommunications industry, required telecoms companies and parents to ensure Smart Sheriff or one of the other monitoring apps is installed when anyone aged 18 years or under gets a new smartphone. The measure doesn’t apply to old smartphones but most schools sent out letters to parents encouraging them to install the software anyway.

Critics have noted that the Smart Sheriff app might give government agencies access to minors’ communications, all under the auspices of helping parents protect their children. As a result of this mandate, some South Korean teenagers are no longer viewing smartphones as essential equipment.

And it’s not just South Korea’s youths that are — justifiably — concerned. A slew of teen-tracking apps such as TeenSafe have been soaring in popularity in the United States. Claiming more than half a million customers, TeenSafe allows parents complete access to their children’s smartphone data for just $14.95 a month. It seems that those coming of age in our era of hypersurveillance may have something far worse to fear than NSA snooping: the digital eyeball of Mom and Dad.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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