The Smart Sheriff app rides into South Korea, ready to watch over teens’ smartphones

Child Phone Tracking
wrangler/Shutterstock
In South Korea, the media regulator is bringing in a controversial new rule for smartphones purchased for use by anyone under the age of 19 — the installation of Smart Sheriff, an app which monitors Web browsing on the device, blocks websites that appear on a banned list, and will alert parents to the use of certain keywords.

A list of harmful websites is being created, to which access will be blocked, and words such as pregnancy, suicide, threats, and bullying are all on the alert list. Additionally, phrases including “run away from home,” will also be flagged up by the app. The app can also record how much time is spent using the device, which apps are used, and parents are able to disable apps or block access to the phone entirely.

It’s not an option either. According to the BBC, smartphones without a tracking app — it doesn’t have to be the government-developed Smart Sheriff, there are several alternatives that have the same functionality— installed simply won’t work. However, the rule only applies to newly purchased phones, and the app doesn’t have to be added to old phones.

Smart Sheriff Billboard Ad
Phone tracking advert in South Korea BBC/AP

This does provide an opportunity for parents to avoid the new rule, thanks to hand-me-down phones being exempt, but there are reports that schools are writing to parents encouraging them to install the app regardless. There are television adverts promoting the service, and retail stores have posters informing smartphone users of the new rule.  The pressure is certainly on to keep watch.

There is another solution, but its one local smartphone companies may not encourage: Use an iPhone. Smart Sheriff is an Android-only app, and due to the differences between the Android and iOS platforms, the new rules can only be fully applied to devices running Google’s OS.

Opinion is split on whether Smart Sheriff’s mandatory installation is a positive step. The government says children should be protected from harmful online content, while others say it’s an affront against personal freedom, and parents should be left to decide how to address the issue.

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