IT ministry tests parental control app, progress to be reviewed today | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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IT ministry tests parental control app, progress to be reviewed today

By, New Delhi
Mar 18, 2024 01:04 AM IST

The SafeNet app allows parents to set up content filters for their children’s phones

The ministry of electronics and information technology is testing an app called SafeNet, which will allow parents to set content filters for their children, access their live location, and keep a watch their calls and messages, the progress of which will be reviewed on Monday.

At a November meeting convened by the department of telecommunications, an industry body recommended that mobile, computer and laptop manufacturers should preload this app (HT archive)
At a November meeting convened by the department of telecommunications, an industry body recommended that mobile, computer and laptop manufacturers should preload this app (HT archive)

At a November meeting convened by the department of telecommunications, an industry body recommended that mobile, computer and laptop manufacturers should preload this app. The progress will be reviewed in a meeting on March 18, according to the minutes of the November meeting that HT has seen.

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The SafeNet app has been developed by the Centre for Internet Studies and Artificial Intelligence of the Kerala-based Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, with R&D support from MeitY.

“MEITY has developed an application named ‘Safenet’ for parental control for PC/tablets/mobile phones for use by parents which is under testing. All the participants were served with document of Safenet, provided by MEITY, to take their valuable comments immediately so that MEITY may launch (including uploading the App on Google Playstrore [sic]) the App at the earliest,” read the minutes of the meeting convened at Sanchar Bhawan on November 23, 2023.

As per the minutes of the meeting, the Internet Service Providers Association of India suggested that the SafeNet app should come pre-installed in mobile phones, laptops and personal computers. The industry body requested the ministry to “take appropriate action with respective manufacturers”. Members of the association include Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Communications, ACT Fibernet and Hathway, among others.

In the November meeting, telecom department officials told participants that the Prime Minister’s office had directed to “incorporate parental controls in data usage” by July this year.

In the meeting, the department of school education was requested to issue instructions to all schools through their respective boards to raise awareness on parental control filter solutions though display boards, parent teacher meetings, WhatsApp groups, and other communication tools.

At a previous meeting on this issue on August 29, it was decided that MeitY may “arrange to develop” an app for parental control. It was also decided that telecom and internet service providers would “provide details of configuration in mobile/computers with regard to parental control on their website through PPT/short videos, etc.”

The SafeNet app allows parents to set up content filters for their children’s phones, get detailed YouTube activity insights, manage how much time a child spends on each domain, and block “age-inappropriate” content, according to its website. If the parent and the child use the same phone, both versions of the app -- meant for parent and child --- can be installed on the same phone.

SafeNet has also set up three custom domain name servers (DNS) with a graded approach to filtering that can be implemented at network level in different institutions. Through the “primary” DNS, recommended for schools, more than 70 million domains and more than 34 categories can be blocked. Through the “secondary” DNS, recommended for colleges and research organisations, more than 40 million domains and more than 21 categories can be blocked. The third DNS, called “ternary” on the SafeNet website, allows everything except terrorism, nudity, and porn and blocks more than 4 million domains. HT has not tested these filters.

“Such apps, if widely available on all devices, without verification of legitimate parent child relationships, can also lead to incidences of intimate partner violence, so enough safeguards need to be built to avoid abuse of these tools as well,” said Aparajita Bharti, founding partner of the Quantum Hub Consulting. She has worked extensively on protecting children online. She has worked extensively on children’s privacy and safety online.

Apps meant for parental control are often used as stalkerware, which are used by abusers to monitor and track their victims without the victim’s knowledge and consent.

“Countries around the world are exploring device level parental controls. However, there are competing concerns to be balanced such as overall safety and well being of children and privacy of children from their parents, excessive content censorship,” Bharti said.

Before deploying such tools, it is important to address “unintended consequences” by engaging with child rights experts, educators, adolescents and civil society organisations who work with children in distress, she added.

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