School Safety Partners. The group, which aims to help support best practices for online safety, says that parents may be unaware of the ways in which the Terms of Service of child monitoring software companies dictate how personal information that's monitored is used.Parents who use anti-bullying and anti-sexting software to monitor their children's online activities may be giving up family privacy and increasing their personal liability, according to the group
The company at the heart of School Safety Partners' report is MouseMail.com, an anti-sexting and anti-bullying company that's being promoted by stockholder and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett. Parents who register with MouseMail may not realize, say School Safety Partners, that they are granting the software the right to publish all private messages and photos that their families transmit through the system.
Furthermore, even though parents can cancel the service at any time, MouseMail still retains rights to users' content.
Terms of Service
These rights are part of the 5,500-word Terms of Service that parents agree to when they sign up for a MouseMail account. Clause 17 states:
Law Enforcement Notification
School Safety Partners cautions parents about these monitoring services, and not just for these privacy matters. While many parents opt to use monitoring software in order to have an early notification system, if you will, for online dangers, School Safety Partners notes that this doesn't mean that problems it finds will get to be resolved by parents. MouseMail reserves the right to turn over any personal information or messages to law enforcement agencies without first notifying parents or children.
These clauses are typical in the industry, according to School Safety Partners, which has examined the Terms of Service and privacy policies of dozens of similar software companies. And as is standard TOS language, they almost all reserve the right to change any of their terms or policies at any time without notice.
Monitoring children's online activities is complex and overwhelming - particularly when you consider the volume of messages that children send. But School Safety Partners encourages parents to think carefully about monitoring services and to ask themselves questions about privacy, storage and notification. Does the service provider acquire all rights to publish my family's private messages? Will my family's private information be accessible for investigations centered around other families?
And finally, should we all start paying a lot closer attention when we click "I agree" to Terms of Service?
Photo by Alan Cheaver