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Since a new generation has literally been raised by social media all throughout their childhood, responsible parents have tried to monitor their children’s activity. The answer was the invention of parental control apps. But some parents and their children have had questions about the legality of parental control apps in general. Are parental control apps illegal? We’ll find out in this article. 


Parental control apps allow you to monitor your child’s online actions (to a certain extent) and restrict them if you think necessary. But parental control apps differ from spyware for three main reasons: 

  1. Spyware is used without the other person’s knowledge (usually an adult) 
  2. Spyware only lets you monitor another person, not restrict them 
  3. Spyware is used for spying whereas parental control apps are used to protect children from cyberbullying and sexual predators 

In the law’s eyes, as long as you are acting in the interest of your kid’s best possible well-being, you’re good to go. Parental control apps allow you to open up a healthy channel of communication with your child. Using a parental control app can make your child’s life much brighter and your responsibilities much more relaxed.

What Do Parental Control Apps Do?

The term “parental control” can mean different things based on the context. In the case of parental control apps, it means the capability to control the digital life of your child to a certain extent. But what does control actually mean? 

We first have to understand that as the parent of an underage child, you are their guardian in the law’s eyes. On a more personal level, you probably feel responsible for their future otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. When you’re responsible both legally and ethically for their actions and the consequences that follow, there should be ways for you to control your authority. 

In the physical world, there are many ways parents try to do their job. In the distant past, many parents, unfortunately, would use physical violence to control their children. But as time went by, more and more parents learned to talk to their children and teach them about good and bad in less violent ways. For example, grounding a child is a fairly common practice nowadays. This way they can experience negative consequences in a safe manner. 

We live in the social media age which means that children have access to lots of inappropriate material. What can you do to keep your child safe in this day and age? What is the virtual equivalent of grounding? If your answer is using a parental control app, we agree. But you still might be wondering about the legal implications of such apps.

How Can We Tell If Parental Control Apps Are Illegal?

There are dozens of parental control apps on the market today. Also, keep in mind that many games and apps such as social media platforms have in-app parental control settings and family modes. The legal questions raised concerning parental control apps should also be raised concerning in-app parental control settings. 

In general, monitoring your child’s online activity is not illegal unless they are considered an adult by the country or state you live in (check the laws of where you live to be sure). Using a parental control app on an adult’s phone without their consent is a crime in the US, practically becoming wiretapping. Some of you might be asking, “then what’s the difference between a parental control app and spyware/stalkerware?” 

Are Parental Control Apps Spyware?

Though some spyware apps advertise themselves as parental control apps, they’re very different from what a parental control app should be. Spyware is what one thinks someone like James Bond would use. You wouldn’t think James Bond uses a parental control app. But what is the difference? Is it simply that spyware carries negative connotations while parental control carries positive ones? Well, here are some of the main differences to clear up this confusion. 

Masked man looking at his phone with his laptop in front of him in a dark room

Spyware Is Unauthorized 

Spyware is usually used without the other person knowing they’re being monitored. Such applications can feature abilities that parental control apps also have such as telling you where a person is and what apps they use. 

It is precisely for this reason that many spyware apps are hidden from view in a phone’s menu. On the other hand, parental control apps that you install on your child’s phone are visible for the child to see. Also, using a parental control app to monitor your child doesn’t need your child’s authorization if they’re not an adult. 

Parental Control Apps Do more than Monitoring 

Parental control apps have many features which they share with spyware, such as checking someone’s location. But the difference is what you can do about it. Typically, spyware is just for spying. It doesn’t let you take any actions. On the other hand, parental control apps are all about taking action. For example, Safes enables you to: 

  • Limit your child’s screentime 
  • Set a schedule for your child’s screen activity 
  • Instantly block their apps 

Parental Control Apps Are All about Communication

Safes aims to let you open up a healthy communication channel between your child and yourself. We invite you to talk about the app with your child and explain to them why you’re using it. The Safes Kids app is available on their phone and even has features that are implemented for your child’s use. For example, your child can contact emergency services or you when they are in need of assistance. 

On the other hand, spyware is used to spy on people. Parents that use spyware aren’t trying to keep their children safe, rather they want to keep their children under control. These are two separate reasons for monitoring your child. Spyware is what non-trusting adults use on their spouses, co-workers, or kids. It’s not even comparable to what parental control apps are created for.

Laws Against Parents Invading Privacy

Children have an obvious right to privacy but when that right is juxtaposed with parents’ authority, usually the latter wins. Because as a rule of thumb, it is presupposed that parents have the best interest of their children at heart. 

The rights that parents have as guardians to make choices for their children are accompanied by responsibilities. This means that if parents don’t make choices in pursuit of the best interests of their children, or worse if their choices harm children, courts can take their authority away from them. 

Until further notice, using parental control apps has not been deemed as a choice that harms children. In fact, it is in children’s best interest even if they don’t believe it themselves. You do have to take your child’s age into account as well. A 16-year-old has a larger capacity to make meaningful decisions for themselves compared to a 5-year-old.  

Beware that parental controls after 18 don’t exist unless your country or state’s laws say the age when a person becomes an adult is above that number. Most parental control apps such as Safes don’t allow you to control your child when they are over 18. 

Concluding Whether Parental Control Apps Are Illegal 

Parental control apps used to protect your child are not illegal. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be available for download. But using spyware instead of a verified parental control app, or using a parental control app for inappropriate reasons can be deemed illegal by a judge. Such cases are rare and depend on a large number of factors such as the child’s age and capacity for judgment. Overall, you can safely use a parental control app without worrying about the police taking away your phone. 

If you want to know more about the features of Safes and how you can use it to become a better parent feel free to check out our FAQ or contact us if you have any questions.

Mohammad Z.

Mohammad Z.

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