Google Play suspends applications that spy on users for viewing pornographic and homosexual content

“Do you have something you need to tell me?” This is the question that the leader of the evangelical church of Gracepoint, in the USA, asked one of his parishioners, Grant Hao-Wei. The boy had installed a very popular mobile application in this church, Covenant Eyes. Is about an anti-pornography tool which is supposed to help those who download it to “control their impulses”. Grant did.

However, behind Covenant Eyes there is a scapegoat that watches every movement that the owner of the mobile phone in question makes. Grant had searched for terms like “mature men” and “gay,” and Covenant Eyes had, of course, identified them. As in the case of Grant, the leader of the church in question can see if his parishioners are “on the right track or on the wrong track.”

It is not the first church to use it, at least in the US. There are those who use this invasive telephone monitoring technology to discourage “sinful” behavior. A moral guardian technology that sees even more than the correct parishioners believe.

Covenant Eyes is not alone. In fact, there a multi-million dollar ecosystem of right and wrong guardian apps, and that some churches and parents use to monitor what their children see when they navigate in their strictest privacy. These are apps that monitor everything their users see and do on their devices, even taking screenshots and even eavesdropping on web traffic.

We have another example in Fortify. Developed by the founder of an anti-porn nonprofit called Fight the New Drug, it’s an app that tracks how often an individual masturbates to help them overcome “sexual compulsiveness.” As of today, the app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has thousands of reviews on the Google Play store.

“I wouldn’t call it spyware,” a former Gracepoint member said on condition of anonymity, “it’s more like shameware, and it’s just another way the church controls you.” And it is that, like other surveillance software such as Bark or NetNanny -which is used to monitor children at home and at school-, shameware applications are lesser-known tools used to track behaviors that parents or religious organizations consider unhealthy or immoral.

This is how Covenant Eyes works on devices

In the case of Covenant Eyes, the system is supposedly capable of distinguishing between pornographic and non-pornographic images. The software captures everything visible on the screen of a device, parsing the images locally before blurring them slightly and sending them to a server for saving. However, a Covenant Eyes spokesman, Dan Armstrong, affirms “that people are not monitored without proper consent” and hides behind its use, arguing that “responsibility relationships are better between people who already know each other and want the best. to others, such as close personal friends and family members.”

The company behind Covenant Eyes even hosts conferences attended by thousands of people, warning attendees about the dangers of porn. According to app analytics firm AppFigures, more than 50,000 people have downloaded Covenant Eyes in the last year. The company is estimated to have annual revenue of $26 million.

Applications like Covenant Eyes, Accountable2You and EverAccountable They claim to have helped many people overcome their addictions to porn. Despite the fact that experts who study sexual health are skeptical that the applications have a positive effect on it in the long term.

According to Wired, apps ignore android accessibility permissions to monitor almost everything someone does on your phone. While accessibility features are intended to help developers create features that help people with disabilities, these apps take advantage of those permissions to capture screenshots of everything actively viewed on the device or detect the name of features. applications as they are used and record each website visited in the device’s browser.

Wired has reported these applications to Google and has determined that two of these famous applications, Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, have violated their internal policies for which have been suspended from the Google Play store. In 2012 alone, as many as 450 Gracepoint church members were monitored.

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