Post

Shameware

Posted by Flux on 

24 January 2023

What’s trending?
‘Shameware’ refers to apps that use phone-monitoring tech to monitor digital behaviour. This information is then sent to a so-called accountability partner such as a parent or someone intent on helping you. Phone use is tracked by capturing screenshots, detecting apps used and recording websites visited. Many proponents believe there is a growing moral crisis and these apps serve to dissuade certain kinds of behaviour, such as porn watching. Covenant Eyes is one such app. On its website it encourages you to “join over 1.5 million people who’ve used Covenant Eyes to experience victory over porn”. Gracepoint, a Southern Baptist church in the US, has reportedly recommended this app to congregants. Accountable2You is another example.  

Why is it important?
These apps generate strong and divergent opinions. Anti-porn advocates (for example) see them as innovative tools to further their beliefs but for critics they are an invasion of privacy, with many ‘users’ unlikely to understand the extent of the surveillance. For example, in a Wired magazine test of Accountable2You, the app identified content with the keywords “gay” or “lesbian”.  Not surprisingly, the ethical implications of this controversial technology are profound. In September 2022 Google removed the Covenant Eyes app from the Google Play Store citing a violation of its malware policy. The app is however still available on iOS. There is also scepticism over whether or not these apps have a positive effect on users. Nicolas Praus, a scientist at the University of California, who studies the effect of pornography on the brain, says, “I’ve never seen anyone who’s been on one of these apps feel better about themselves in the long term. These people just end up feeling like there’s something wrong with them.” 

What can businesses do about it?
There’s clearly an appetite for this type of technology and it remains to be seen whether it will proliferate. It is, however, mired in controversy and businesses would be well advised to take a lesson from a previous Flux observation, ‘Somebody’s watching you’, where we outlined the dangers of companies employing surveillance technology to spy on employees. For many reasons, a relationship based on trust is preferable to one based on suspicion. Companies with high trust levels outperform companies with low trust levels by 186%. Trust between managers  and employees promotes staff retention and productivity. If there is a breakdown in trust, employees may become unreliable, disengaged, disloyal or uncommunicative.

By Faeeza Khan

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Image credit: Marwan Ahmed

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