Using iPhone
TeenSafe app lets parents monitor child's texts, iMessages, calls, contacts and social networks without them knowing Reuters

TeenSafe, an application which gives suspicious parents NSA-style access to their child's smartphone and every message they send, receive and even delete, is coming to the UK.

Already available in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the app runs on a computer and can download everything a child does with their iPhone - but it requires parents to know their child's usernames and passwords for every account monitored.

The app also gives parents access to all social media interactions, such as conversations on Facebook, Whatsapp and Kik Messenger, images posted to Instagram, calls made and received, contacts, web history and the phone's location.

Costing $15 (£9.90) a month, TeenSafe asks that customers only use the service if they are the legal guardian of a child aged between 13 and 17, but claims there is no legal obligation for the child to know they are being snooped on; and because it runs on a computer, there is no evidence of it on the iPhone and no jailbreaking is required.

TeenSafe access call logs, texts and iMessages through the phone's iCloud backups, so the parent must enable Wi-Fi and set the device to regularly backup to iCloud for the system to work. It also works with other iOS devices like iPads and the iPod touch, and there's an Android version which promises to offer a similar level of protection/invasion of privacy.

'Privacy is trumped by protection'

Speaking to the BBC, TeenSafe's chief executive Rawdon Messenger said: "It's absolutely legal for a parent to do this discreetly. The real question is, 'Is it justified?' and those are moral decisions a parent has to make. What we believe is that when it comes to protecting your child from these things - privacy is trumped by protection."

Other apps lets parents set geographical boundaries so they'll be alerted if their child goes somewhere they shouldn't, while others monitor the speed their child is moving to make sure they or their friends aren't driving too quickly.

The app's imminent UK debut follows claims by the head of a child protection charity that educating children about staying safe online is as important as teaching road safety.

Web safety as important as road safety

Tink Palmer, chief executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, told IBTimes UK that teaching children about the dangers of communicating online is "absolutely" the same as road safety and telling a child not to run with scissors.

"It should be there from the start because you cannot divide what is online and offline, no child understands that," Palmer said.

But while apps like TeenSafe offer parents a way of covertly monitoring their child's social life, Palmer says there must be an open discourse between parent and child about what they do online.

"You need to equip your child so that they don't feel bad about telling you about [what they see and do online]. And the most important thing in the whole world of child safety is that parents need to have a discourse with their online activity from the start."