Should the church or university know if you visit adult websites? The Disturbing World of Liability Apps – Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG)

Social media and advertising giants such as Alphabet Inc. GOOG GOOGL and Meta inc.Facebook regularly make the news with their violations of user privacy, but now technology allows churches and educational organizations to monitor user activity.

eyes of the alliance is software used by organizations to spy on the online lives of their members.

According WiredSouthern Evangelical Baptist Church Gracepoint uses the app to track subscribers’ online activity, with some rather disturbing episodes.

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Gracepoint is probably not the only organization using this software to “protect” church members. Christianity today promoted Covenant Eyes and similar software among “Helpful Tips for Protecting Church Employees and Equipment” in 2010.

Spyware? More like “Shameware”

Grant Hao-Wei Lin reportedly spoke to a Gracepoint church leader who asked him to install Covenant Eyes to help him “control all his cravings.” Within a month of installing the app, he started receiving emails from his church leader, with questions such as “something you need to tell me? and showing a list of the content they viewed online in the previous week.

The church leader pointed out that Lin had searched for #Gay on an Instagram viewer – an interaction flagged as “mature” by the accountability app.

Gracepoint also “serves” students from more than 70 US campuses and has had 450 church members sign up for monitoring through Covenant Eyes. A former member of Gracepoint supposedly refused to call it spyware, saying “it’s more like ‘shameware’ and it’s just another way the church controls you”.

The current version of Covenant Eyes was developed by Michael Holma mathematician who previously worked for the National Security Agency – the same agency that Edward Snowden warned that the world was conducting mass surveillance. It can allegedly distinguish between pornographic and non-pornographic images that are viewed on devices by capturing everything on the screen and analyzing it before sending it to a server that saves the data.

Holm Told The Christian Post in 2019 that “the battlefield has moved from the heavily hobbled world of networked text analysis to the visual input of your eye”.

Covenant Eyes spokesperson Dan Armstrong expressed concern that people are being monitored without their consent.

“Relationships of accountability are best between people who already know each other and want the best for each other, like close friends and family members,” he said.

Gracepoint published a statement specifying that “only those who volunteer to serve as staff members are expected to have some sort of accountability software or arrangement”. Although the company may be “concerned” about such coercion, it still benefits from it. According AppFigures data, over 50,000 people have downloaded Covenant Eyes in the past year.

Rocketreach estimates the company to have an annual turnover of 26 million dollars.

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“A little too heavy”

Kang said church leaders are instructed to monitor congregants’ phone activity, but activity is usually monitored by someone designated by congregants themselves. Leaders would be discouraged from being the responsible partners because “it seems a little too heavy handed”.

Despite these statements, all Gracepoint alumni Wired spoke to had their church leader as an accountability partner.

Wired’s analysis of Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You revealed that the apps exploited Android’s accessibility permissions to continuously capture screenshots, detect apps used, and log every website visited.

In Lin’s case, that included Amazon purchases, articles he read, and whose profiles he viewed on Instagram. Covenant Eyes even flagged its online psychiatry textbook as “very mature” (the highest level of sensitivity).

During Wired’s testing, a monitored device consulting the United States Center for Disease Control’s website for LGBTQ youth resources resulted in the accountability partner immediately receiving a “suspicious activity report” warning that the user was visiting a “very dubious” website.

A former Accountable2You user told the outlet that these apps aren’t just used to prohibit the viewing of pornographic content and instead, “it’s about making you comply with what you want. your pastor”. This particular user “must have sat down and had a chat with him [her pastor] after having published on Wikipedia an article on atheism.”

After Wired contacted Alphabet about Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, both apps were removed from the Google Play Store due to abuse of accessibility tools.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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