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  /  cybersecurity   /  Shame-Inflicting Spyware Will Force You into Disgust If You Go Against the Church
Spyware

Shame-Inflicting Spyware Will Force You into Disgust If You Go Against the Church

Shame-inflicting spyware apps used by churches will judge you harshly for sinful activities

The growing popularity of “shame-inflicting spyware” tracking apps among evangelical communities is in discussion now. These accountability apps have originated to monitor and report “sinful activity”. These profiled apps need users to log in when/where they gain the urge to masturbate. And of course, these shame-inflicting spyware apps have erupted heated debates about how they are handling all this extremely sensitive and personal information.

The rise of the use of shame-inflicting spyware apps is basically to control users’ watching adult content on their smartphones and other devices. Platforms like Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You are marketed as “accountability apps” and are designed to monitor everything a user views and does on their device, detecting pornographic images and gathering internet histories, along with screenshots and reports on web activity. The data is sent to an “accountability partner,” and such surveillance software apps are widely gaining popularity among parents and churches who desires to keep tabs on their offspring’s or congregants. This surveillance software undeniably raises questions about privacy rights, and Google has observed that at least two of the top accountability apps, Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, violate its policies. A Covenant Eyes spokesperson mentioned that the company is “concerned” about “people being monitored without their consent,” and discourages the use of this surveillance software where there is a power imbalance, noting that “accountability relationships are better off among people who already understand each other properly and want the best for one another, likely close personal friends and family members.”

Still, researchers have revealed that such shame-inflicting spyware apps are misusing Android’s accessibility permissions to collect far more data than is necessary to police porn viewing, monitoring virtually every activity the user performs on their phone. And the collection of such sensitive data arises questions about how the data is stored and protected and what could happen if it gets hacked. Spokesperson Danielle Cohen said, “Google Play permits the use of the Accessibility API for a wide range of applications. However, only services that are designed to help people with disabilities access their device or otherwise overcome challenges stemming from their disabilities are eligible to declare that they are accessibility tools.” After getting informed about the apps’ exploitation of accessibility permissions, Google suspended Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You from the Google Play store, but both apps are easily available on iOS, but as of now, it is yet not clear if they exploit an Apple user’s permissions.

“It’s really not about pornography,” said Brit, a former user of Accountable2You who asked to only be identified by her first name, because of privacy concerns. “It’s about making you conform to what your pastor wants,” Brit revealed that she was asked to install the Accountable2You app by her parents after being caught looking at pornography and that her mother and her pastor were both her designated accountability partners. “I remember I had to sit down and have a conversation with him [her pastor] after I read Wikipedia’s article about atheism,” she mentioned. “I was a kid, but that does not mean I do not have any right to read what I want to read.” While accountability apps are widely advertised to parents and families, some also marketed their shame-inflicting spyware apps to churches. Accountable2You, for example, advertises group rates for churches or small groups and has set up several landing pages for specific churches where members can sign up. Covenant Eyes, meanwhile, employs a director of Church and Ministry Outreach to help onboard religious organizations.

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, and cofounder of the Coalition Against Stalkerware says consent to such surveillance is a big concern. “One of the key elements of consent is that a person can feel comfortable saying no,” she mentions. “You could argue that any app installed in a church setting is done in a coercive manner.” But, a user Hao-Wei Lin says he didn’t feel like he was in a position where he could say no to his church leader when he was asked to install Covenant Eyes. Gracepoint had secured him a US$400-a-month apartment in Berkeley, where he was attending college. Without the church’s support, he might have had nowhere to live.