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Monitoring iPhones: What Parents Need To Know – Part I

shutterstock_218810494 Kids and iPhones!  Those little handheld computers are both convenient and a problem, and problems are what parents worry about the most:  Sexting, social media, shooting inappropriate photos/videos, downloading undesired media, bullying.  And they should.

In the past year (2015-2016) courts have ruled that parents may be held legally responsible and considered legally negligent due to children’s activities online when the parents are aware that a child’s online activities may be injurious or are in need of correction (BOSTON et al. v. ATHEARN et al., Georgia Court of Appeals).  In addition, purchases made online, especially in-app purchases, can blow the family budget.  So, if parents are on the hook, what do they do?

A parent has a difficult job these days. They have to raise a child with responsible self-control and trust while acknowledging that the child is not yet fully mature and may make mistakes.  This has always been the case, but the big difference in the 21st Century is that the consequences and impact of childhood mistakes/pranks/etc.  dwarf those of previous generations due to the amplifying nature of technology, the Internet in particular.  Today’s parents must balance trusting the children and protecting them from themselves.

This is an extremely difficult task, to be sure.  It’s hard to raise kids so that they have a sense of responsibility and self-judgement when Mom and Dad track every move, text, call, and Google search.  Indeed, over-monitoring could cause some of the problems it chooses to prevent.  We’ve all seen “helicopter parents” and we have to avoid flying a “digital helicopter” while ensuring our children…and the entire family…are protected.

shutterstock_205134430So parents need to ask some difficult questions:

  • How much do I really need to know about my child’s online activities?
  • Has my child demonstrated behavior to warrant monitoring, or increased surveillance if already monitored?
  • What will my child’s reaction be to monitoring, and how will I prepare for that?
  • What will justify decreasing monitoring levels, if anything?
  • What events will trigger reaction by parents, and what won’t. (You can’t react to everything, it will drive you and them nuts!)
  • Technically, what are my choices for monitoring, and what are their pros and cons?

I’m going to focus on that last item as it applies to Apple iPhones as there are some dangers ahead for the uninformed.

To begin with, there are a number of products out there for monitoring your child’s iPhone.  They fall into one of  two categories:

  • Products that require you to “Jailbreak” your iPhone, and
  • Products that monitor activity on an iPhone without “Jailbreaking” it

shutterstock_171756977WAIT A MINUTE!!!!

What is “Jailbreaking”?  It’s the process of modifying the operating system of your iPhone so that you have access to all of the functions of the operating system.   Or, in simpler terms, it is hacking the operating system to disable many of the important security features built into the operating system so that the monitoring software can perform its job. Most of the software/apps for monitoring that I’ve looked at require Jailbreaking or its Android equivalent, Rooting.

Apps that monitor an iPhone through Jailbreaking allow the monitoring app access to everything on the iPhone in real-time, as it happens.  Apps that were normally tucked safe in their own little “cocoon” now can be monitored, accessed, and even modified.

Disabling your iPhone’s security features like this might have seemed OK  in the past.  With our expanding use of mobile devices for many personal tasks (including shopping and banking) we have to ask ourselves if Jailbreaking to permit monitoring software to work is worth increasing the risk of:

  • shutterstock_340592294Being more vulnerable to virus/malware attack.
  • Having personal and financial data compromised (stored credit cards, bank passwords, etc.)
  • Aiding identity theft (“we have all your data”)
  • Risking medical data.
  • The iPhone, itself, becoming unstable.
  • Not being able to update your iPhone’s operating system (for fixes and new features) until new tools come out to crack the update
  • Voiding the warranty on your iPhone (as Apple has announced)

If you are willing to take such risks, then using these types of apps will give you all the information you want, and probably more than you can reasonably review!

However,  Apple is making it harder and harder to Jailbreak iOS devices. Currently (July 2016) Jailbreaks are only available through iOS version 9.1. As we are now using 9.3.2, with 9.4 on the way, you can see the problem with relying on Jailbreaks for monitoring.

You might also want to read this article in THE TECH TIMES, a respected technology online periodical:


So it seems that using software that requires a Jailbreak may not be our best solution.

What about monitoring your iPhone without cracking the operating system? That generally requires more access to the phone, at least for initial setup, and it will often require that you have all of logon names and passwords for the apps and accounts you wish to monitor (which you should have, anyway).  Apps that monitor without Jailbreaking the phone have a more limited scope (filtering, etc.) and are not real-time.

shutterstock_208630084These programs actually ignore the phone (after setup) and instead analyze the latest device backup stored in iCloud.  This works pretty well, but it still doesn’t give you everything, like real-time alerts.  Instead, it allows you to investigate the calls, text messages, browser histories, etc. that are in the back up.

Of course, it is crucial that your child’s phone is configured to back up regularly.  That’s an easy task, fortunately.

In order to back up the iPhone you must:

  1. Set the iPhone to back up to iCloud:  Go to Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup, then turn on iCloud Backup.
  2. The iPhone must be plugged into a power source (wall charger, computer USB port, etc.).
  3. It must be connected to a WIFI network
  4. The screen must be locked, and finally
  5. You have to have enough storage in your iCloud account (if you don’t, it’s dirt cheap at $0.99/mo. for 50GB.)

This may seem like a big task, but once you take care of the first and last task you merely have to establish a routine where your child charges their iPhone each night (NOT IN THEIR ROOM) while connected to the family WIFI!  Simple.  Then all you have to do the next day is login to the app’s web site and see what’s been going on.  Remember, you will need your child’s Apple ID and password!

WARNING:  You only have the legal right to monitor the phone of a minor child (under 18) that is your dependent and that you have legal parental rights over.  Monitoring a phone of a legal adult, regardless of family relationship (even a spouse) may constitute a FELONY at the state or federal level.  In Vermont and Iowa, parents should consult an experienced family law attorney before monitoring a minor’s device as those state’s legislatures have passed laws limiting parental rights in this area.

In PART II we’ll look at the first of three products that Knights’ Quest recommends for parent to use to monitor an iPhone without Jailbreaking it.

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