SPECIAL REPORT: Spying on your Kids


Often parents today feel like they are in a losing battle when it comes to staying one step ahead of their kids where technology is concerned.

"It's always changing. You never know what's going to happen. It's very concerning," Elkhart parent Angela Whitlow says.

With cellphones, tablets, social media, cyberbullying and online sexual predators -- increasing numbers of parents are turning to spyware.

Rebecca Mathes of Elkhart says she might consider using spyware in the future and she also can envision what her child's reaction might be.

"Mom is it really your business? And I feel as a parent it is my business." Mathes says.

There is a huge growth industry in spyware being marketed to parents who are desperate to try and keep their kids safe online.

The products have catchy names like PhoneSheriff, DadGuard, TextGuard, My Mobile Watchdog, Mobile Spy, and the list goes on and on.

These are products parents install on kids' devices that can give information on a child's location, texts, pictures, social media activity, even how fast a teen is driving.

Parent Paula Plasencia uses DadGuard.

"Every parent should know where their kids are. I don't think there is anything inappropriate about that. And they don't either. They want to know parents are looking out for them. Who wouldn't?" Plasencia explains.

Robyn Spoto who is one of the creators of the MamaBear app says her product isn't spyware, but rather a conversation starter to promote dialogue between parents and kids. MamaBear has seen more than 100,000 installs since it became available last year.

"I don't want it to be about trust. I want it to be about training wheels. I trust my children. I don't trust everyone around them," Spoto says.

At Mobile Spy and Phone Sheriff although they recommend parents tell kids about the installation of the spyware, they acknowledge most don't.

"Most users prefer to install it in 'stealth' meaning not making the child aware it is on the phone," says Craig Thompson a media rep. for Mobile Spy and Phone Sheriff.

Cyber crimes investigator Eric Tamashasky of the St. Joseph County Sheriff's Department has been educating parents and teens on the dangers of the internet for years. But when it comes to spyware, he doesn't recommend it.

"When you talk about spying on kids online, it's actually a very unsettled area in the law. This generation is the most spied upon generation we have ever seen," Tamashasky says.

But if you're the one paying for your child's phone, what's the problem?

"Even though a parent may be paying for the kids account, the child still has an expectation of privacy in the contents of the phone. I think the safest move for parents... is to get consent from your kids," Tamashasky explains.

But what if your kids won't consent? Tamashasky says that then the answer is simple -- take away the phone.

He says filtering software is a much safer bet where the law is concerned. But be warned. Tamashasky says kids have become experts at getting around filters.

He also recommends that parents obtain their kids user names and passwords to keep tabs on what they are doing.

As for the spyware, he says it's an area where the law simply hasn't caught up to the technology.

Parents aren't the only ones interested in spyware. It's also being marketed to companies so they can keep tabs on what their employees are doing on company-issued phones.