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The unholy policing of anti-porn ‘shameware’ apps

“It’s not really about porn,” says Brit, a former Accountable2You user who asked to be identified only by her first name, due to privacy concerns. “It’s about getting you to settle for what your pastor wants.” Brit says that her parents asked her to install the app after she was caught looking at porn and that her mother and her pastor were her appointed partners in accountability for her. “I remember I had to sit down and have a conversation with him. [her pastor] after searching Wikipedia for an article on atheism,” he says. “He was a kid, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some sort of right to read what I want to read.”

While accountability apps are primarily marketed to parents and families, some also advertise their services to churches. Accountable2You, for example, advertises group rates for churches or small groups and has created several landing pages for specific churches where members can sign up. Meanwhile, Covenant Eyes employs a Church and Ministry Outreach Director to help religious organizations on board.

Accountable2You did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.

Eva Galperin is director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, and co-founder of the Coalition Against Stalkerware. Galperin says consent for such surveillance is a big concern. “One of the key elements of consent is that a person can feel comfortable saying no,” she says. “It could be argued that any application installed in a church environment is done in a coercive manner.” While WIRED didn’t talk to anyone who didn’t know the app was on her phone, which is often the case with spyware, Hao-Wei Lin says she didn’t feel in a position where she could say no to it. her church. she leader when she was asked to install Covenant Eyes. Gracepoint had secured her a $400-a-month apartment in Berkeley, where she was attending college. Without the support of the church, she may not have had a place to live.

But this is not the experience of everyone we spoke to. James Nagy is a former Gracepoint church member who, as a congregation leader, reports on both sides of Covenant Eyes. Nagy, who is gay, was taught from a young age that homosexuality was a sin. So when Gracepoint offered him a software solution that claimed to be able to help with what he then considered a moral dilemma, he jumped at the chance. He says that while he believed many people at Gracepoint were pressured to install the app, in his case, the pressure came from himself. “Gracepoint didn’t try to change me,” says Nagy. “I tried to change.” Nagy is now an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and until 2021 he was a facilitator with the reform projecta non-profit organization whose mission is to promote LGBTQ inclusion in the church.

In the quest to curb behavior that churches deem immoral, these accountability apps will collect and store extremely sensitive personal information from their users, including those under the age of 18. Fortify, which describes itself as an addiction recovery app, asks its users to log in for information on when they last masturbated, where they were when it happened, and what device they used. While Fortify Privacy Policy states that the company does not sell or share this data with third parties, its policy allows it to share data with trusted third parties for statistical analysis, although it does not mention who these trusted third parties are. In a phone call, Clay Olsen, CEO of Fortify’s parent company, Impact Suite, clarified that these trusted third parties include companies like Mixpanel, an analytics services company that tracks user interactions with web and mobile apps.

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