#parent | #kids | Teens find ways to circumvent Apple’s parental controls

SAN FRANCISCO – Helen Glaze didn’t think anything of it when her two sons told her they were looking for ways to get around Screen Time, Apple’s built-in tool that gives parents control of their kids’ phones. Then she discovered her 9- and 12-year-olds watching Minecraft videos at 2 a.m. during their annual trip to Chautauqua, New York, this past August.

“I was horrified and really felt betrayed,” she said. And she realized she can’t count on Screen Time to keep her kids off their phones. “It really doesn’t work, and that’s really frustrating.”

Kids are outsmarting an army of engineers from Cupertino, California, Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. And Apple, which introduced Screen Time a year ago in response to pressure to address phone overuse by kids, has been slow to make fixes to its software that would close these loopholes. It’s causing some parents to raise questions about Apple’s commitment to safeguarding kids from harmful content and smartphone addiction.

When Screen Time blocks an app from working, it becomes grayed out, and clicking on it does nothing unless parents approve a request for more time. Or at least it’s supposed to work that way.

Everywhere from Reddit to YouTube, kids are sharing tips and tricks that allow them to circumvent Screen Time. They download special software that can exploit Apple security flaws, disabling Screen Time or cracking their parents’ passwords. They search for bugs that make it easy to keep using their phones, unbeknown to parents, like changing the time to trick the system, or using iMessage to watch YouTube videos.

“These are not rocket science, backdoor, dark web sort of hacks,” says Chris McKenna, founder of the Internet safety group Protect Young Eyes. “It blows me away that Apple hasn’t thought through the fact that a persistent middle school boy or girl can bang around and find them.”

McKenna said he’s miffed that Apple doesn’t fix the loopholes faster, despite its size, its massive hoard of cash and its copious profits. “In one day, I’m confident Apple could clean up all these loopholes,” he said.

He recently posted a list of loopholes, which he informed Apple of when Screen Time first launched, that he has been compiling in an effort to warn parents and help them close them when possible.

Apple spokeswoman Michele Wyman, in an emailed statement, said the company is “committed to providing our users with powerful tools to manage their iOS devices and are always working to make them even better.” Wyman did not comment on specific bugs and workarounds in Screen Time or the speed with which Apple addresses them.

Timothy Nwachukwu, The Washington Post

Rebecca Shelp of Littleton, Colorado, bought her 14-year-old son an iPhone 7 in May and locked it down with Screen Time, Apple’s built-in parental control software. Her son was able to bypass it by resetting the device and creating a new Apple ID.

Rebecca Shelp, a stay-at-home mom in Littleton, Colorado, bought her 14-year-old son a used iPhone 7 in April and set up Screen Time to limit his use of social media and other apps. But her son figured out workarounds almost immediately. By Memorial Day, he simply reset the phone, set up a new Apple ID and used whatever he wanted for as long as he wanted.

Shelp found out when she inspected his phone. She hadn’t realized that Screen Time didn’t block kids from simply resetting the phone.

But the subterfuge didn’t end there. She says her son figured out how to make Screen Time glitch out by turning the phone off and on constantly until it stopped working properly. Her son even coined a term for this: “colliding the system.”

Last month, while her son was at a sleepover, Shelp was monitoring his usage on her phone. The timer kept jumping wildly, from two hours to seven hours and back. Her conclusion: He must be “colliding the system” again.

“I can’t even tell you how many hours I spend trying to figure out what he did,” she said. After a long back-and-forth with Apple customer support, she was finally told that her son had found a known bug. Apple wouldn’t tell her whether it planned to fix it.

The problem has bedeviled parents who have struggled to strike a balance between allowing smartphone access for school work and basic social interaction and protecting their kids from the pitfalls of the mobile world.


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