If you are a parent or guardian and have installed parental control apps to keep an eye on your children, you may want to check whether the apps you have installed are reliable enough.
Kids tracking apps have become a popular way to track kids. According to a 2021 survey, 50 percent of parents in the US and 40 percent in the UK use such apps.
It turns out that these apps can be dangerous for your family. While some of the most popular monitoring apps have weak security and privacy features, others contain links to malicious websites and all have trackers. These apps even keep an eye on the parents who have downloaded them to keep their kids safe.
Jason Glassberg, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Casaba Security, says tracking apps are “essentially a back door to your child’s phone, which at the very least collects piles of data about them.”
A security analysis tool, the Mobile Security Framework (MobSF), was used to evaluate the security and privacy of the apps. Seven out of ten apps received a B for privacy, the second best score, and two received a C. Phone Tracker By Number, which has been downloaded more than 50 million times, received the lowest F score.
The app also shares Broadcast Receivers, an Android component that allows an app to respond to messages broadcast from the operating system (OS) or another app. This allows other apps on the device to access the Phone Tracker By Number app and access the data, such as the location of the child tracking a parent.
Karim Hijazi, CEO of cyber intelligence firm Prevailion, believes that the reason behind the lax security is that app developers don’t always devote the time and resources necessary to ensure an app is secure.
All of the apps that were reviewed contain third-party trackers, which means they collect data about both the parents and the kids. That means any data shared with the apps, including accounts, passwords, and personal information, can be stolen.
The companies behind tracking apps are interested in collecting specific data to track the user who installed the app and third parties may use this information for many purposes such as targeted advertising or monitoring.
Find My Kids: Location Tracker, which has been installed over 10 million times, and Family Locator – GPS Tracker & Find Your Phone app, contain nine trackers. MMGuardian App for Kids Phone (1 Million+) and Find My Phone. Family GPS Locator from Familo (1 million+) were found to have eight trackers. My Family locator, GPS tracker (5 million+) and FamiSafe: Parental Control app had seven trackers.
These and other similar apps with trackers have hard-coded API (Application Programming Interface) keys stored, which are generally used for authentication purposes. Find my phone. Family GPS Locator had the most API keys, four to be exact. If threat actors find these tokens, they could get their hands on sensitive data.
Four out of ten apps reviewed had malicious links. So while the apps themselves may not be affected, the links could lead users to sites with malware. For example, the FamiSafe: Parental Control app had two links that some security vendors thought were filthy. Phone Tracker by Number, Find My Kids: Location Tracker and Family GPS Tracker KidsControl each had one malicious link.
Some experts are outright against such apps because they believe they violate the bond of trust between parents and children. They think you should teach kids about online safety instead.
Ultimately, it’s your decision as a parent whether you want to use a tracking app or not, but you should do your research to make sure the app you want to install doesn’t endanger you and your kids.