MyFone is a device that enables people to view both the traffic and the content of texts from other people's phones. Promoted as a way of parents keeping their children safe by alerting them to any phone bullying or other problems, it is actually a process whereby parents can track their childrenĀ  wherever they go and whatever they do. Of course the device can have much greater consequences as well. It can be used for husbands to spy on wives or for bosses to snoop on their staff. We do not know what safeguards actually exist to prevent the device being used by other people wishing to tap into a person's private messages. In the Close-up item on the night of Wednesday 23 March it appeared that it required the consent of the cellphone user. However there was no elaboration about how that consent was to be obtained or whether it was actually required to operate the device.

The argument that the device will only be used to prevent school bullying is naive in the extreme. As there can be no control over who may use it or the purposes to which it may be put, it is more likely to be used as a control process to limit the freedom of expression and movement of the person been snooped on. This is uncomfortably close to the bullying behaviour it purports to eliminate.

Besides, is it not illegal under Part 9A of the Crimes Act 1961: Crimes against personal privacy?

For news comment and NZCCL response view


Myfone Snooping

To use MyFone you need to be able to install the software on the phone you wish to track. While this could be as simple as "borrowing it to make a call", at least you're safe if you keep physical control of your phone.

There's nothing stopping anyone with MyFone installed from removing it again. Or getting a second phone to communicate privately.

If you installed it without the knowledge or permission of the owner of the phone it would be as illegal as any other form of spying on someone, just like installing spy software on someone's computer or installing a video camera.

It gets more interesting when a parent uses it on a phone they give to their child. It wouldn't be in breach of the Crimes Act because the software would be installed with the consent of the child (as a quid pro quo of being allowed a phone) and the child wouldn't expect their communications to be private.

I think you dismiss the problem of bullying a little too glibly as well. Bullying is a real problem and while it doesn't just happen by phone, personal phones give a way to project it into the house in a way that wasn't possible before they existed.

To me it seems obviously appropriate for parents to do this for an 8 year old (indeed, there is a duty for parents to protect their children) and equally inappropriate to do it for an 18 year old, with some sort of sliding scale between those two points. NZ common law seems to have a similar view of parental control of their children.

A useful "self-regulator" as well as great protection for kids

This service (in the context of being used within a family pool of mobile phones) seems very similar to the Microsoft Windows Live Family Safety service. It is known to all parties using the two PCs in our home. We all know it's in place and that all internet activity is regulated and also tracked for reporting (my wife is the only person who knows the admin password). It rarely gets in the way of work/play, is easy to use, and most importantly of all, it provides the background knowledge that anything done on our home PCs is visible to at least one parent - which discourages inappropriate online activity at home. We are checking out this mobile service as an option for protecting our children until they finish secondary school. When they leave school it will be optional for them to leave it on or remove it. The knowledge that Mum can still potentially check out your mobile internet activity is not to be undervalued for someone who is keen for a bit of extra protection from personal lapses of judgement when it comes to viewing online content. Of course it has to be *agreed to* once the person is past school age though.

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