Good Morning America has run two recent segments on a parental control phone monitoring app. called Bark. For a fee, the tech company advertises that it’s app. can monitor your children’s social media online activities for signs of potentially dangerous situations such as cyber-bullying, adult content, sexual predators, drug use, depression, suicidal ideation, threats of violence and other assorted issues.
Understandably, the online world can be a dangerous place, so some parents might choose to monitor their children’s computer activities by paying a tech company to act as “big brother”, and that’s fine.
But Bark, and you can read the Good Morning America segment by clicking here to see what you think, has taken the act of “monitoring” to what I think is a disturbing new length, luring in what they refer to as “potential predators” the same way law enforcement does with online entrapment type stings. (Their website doesn’t divulge whether or not they are connected with law enforcement, only that they work closely with law enforcement.)
Bark has what they refer to as a Special Projects Team. (No professional qualifications of those involved in this Special Projects Team are listed on their website.) According to their information, this team is a “natural extension of the work the company does on a daily basis to keep kids safe by monitoring their online activities.” Here’s where it begins to seem disturbing to me.
One of the team members is a 37- yr. old mother who reports that she has worked for years, disguising herself online, using different personas and with the help of a “dynamite” graphic design team, portrays young teenage girls, in order to uncover potential predators online.
Her personas vary in age, socioeconomic status, race, hair color, etc. Her facial features and body image are manipulated by the graphics team and fictitious tweens, teens and their backstories are created. The team members field incoming calls and messages, communicate in each individual persona voice and then identify potential predators before turning the evidence they’ve gathered over to the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) and law enforcement.
According to the Good Morning America article, this team member then goes home to her own family, taking off the “kid’s clothes” that she wore for images and video calls with perpetrators and changing into clothing more appropriate for a 37- year old.
Why does this seem kind of wrong and creepy in so many ways? Perhaps it’s because this seems to go way above and beyond what one would expect from a company hired to “monitor” your child’s computer use. The words that came to my mind when I read this article were “phishing”, “set-up” and “entrapment”. It reminded me of an old TV show, To Catch A Predator, where predator-entrapments were played out right before our eyes with law enforcement, ready and waiting to nab suspects.
I’m not certain what kind of authority, if any, companies like Bark are required to have in order to “act” like law enforcement, luring people into a web, gathering so-called evidence against “potential” perpetrators and then turning it over to “real” law enforcement. There’s just something that doesn’t quite sit right with me about the “luring” aspect of this whole thing, team members dressing up in kid’s clothes, putting on make-up in order to pose as tweens and teens to attract “potential online predators.”
To me, the whole thing just seems, well, disturbing, and certainly out of the ordinary.