Anti-porn ‘shameware’ apps removed from Google Play for breaking privacy rules

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anti porn apps google play

Two ‘shameware’ apps that monitor phones and report content including porn and LGBTQ material to ‘guardians’ have been removed from Google Play for breaching privacy rules.

Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, so-called ‘accountability’ apps dubbed ‘shameware’ by critics, are marketed at parents and church organizations. Google Play suspended them from the app store after Google was contacted by Wired for an investigation published in September 2022.

They remain available on Apple’s App Store.

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A still from Covenant Eyes’ promo video: one of these two men probably recently masturbated to porn

A Google spokesperson told Wired that “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.”

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Largely marketed to parents and religious groups keen to crack down on internet content they deem immoral or undesirable, the apps act similarly to spyware when installed on a phone. They send reports on the phone’s use —‍including websites visited or any phrases searched for online—‍ to a designated chaperone or ‘accountability partner’.

Wired found that Covenant Eyes takes screenshots from a phone it is installed on at a rate of at least one shot per minute. The app can allegedly differentiate porn from non-porn images in its reports, and has flagged the hashtag #gay.

Accountable2You was found to flag the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ when they featured in URLs. During testing by Wired, the app flagged the US Centers for Disease Control’s website for LGBTQ youth resources as “highly questionable”.

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Another still from Covenant Eyes’ promo video: ill-fitting superhero costume not included with the app

The apps are not designed to be used on a phone without the device owner’s knowledge or consent, but concern has been raised about people potentially being coerced by family members or church leaders to use it.

Gracepoint Church in Berkeley, California, has a rule that requires volunteer staff at the church to use one of the two apps. Covenant Eyes has been downloaded around 50,000 in the past year.

In 2019 Michael Holm, who developed Covenant Eyes, told The Christian Post: “Image-based pornography detection was a huge conceptual change for Covenant Eyes. While I didn’t yet know it, God had put me in that place at that time for a purpose higher than myself, just as I and others had desired and prayed for.”

A Covenant Eyes spokesperson told Wired that the company was “concerned” about “people being monitored without proper consent.”

Read next: Remojo app is for people who want to quit watching porn permanently

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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