Live.ly is supposed to let users of an impressionable age create videos, broadcast them live and message their friends about them. It is supposed to have access only to contacts already stored on the phone, but, for reasons that are currently under police investigation, that is plainly not always the case. Schools in Leeds have advised parents that this and other apps introduce a significant risk of inappropriate contact by unknown adults, rendering them utterly unsafe for children.
That’s quite apart from the general vacuousness and debasement of humanity that distractions like these engender. But as a parent or grandparent you can’t be expected to monitor which new apps the kids are using; your life would be one long game of whack-a-mole.
The bigger question is how you can exercise control over what children can access in the first place, and when they can access it.
Although there is no catch-all solution short of confiscation, your basic broadband router gives you a greater degree of puppet-mastery than you might have realised. Buried within its settings will almost certainly be options that let you restrict the hours during which individual devices are allowed to access your wi-fi network, and perhaps also the facility to draw up a blacklist of banned sites.
To implement this, you need something called the MAC address, a unique identifier of each phone, tablet or computer you want to restrict. If you are familiar with your router’s administration page, you will find the addresses there already - and if you aren’t used to such under-the-bonnet tinkering, your internet company will have published a guide on its website.
Following this, you can set up a schedule which, for instance, turns off internet access to a bedroom PC at 10pm each night, and disallows access to YouTube during homework hours. You can also choose to turn off access to file-sharing sites, whether permanently or on a schedule.
Your internet provider may also offer a suite of internet security tools, sometimes at an extra cost, which automatically disallow sites and apps considered to be suspect. However, both these methods are effective only on wi-fi connections - for mobile data you will need an app on the phone itself.
MMGuardian Parental Control is one of several such services that lets you monitor text, call and web activities, and restrict the apps it’s possible to install. The presence of such an app will be obvious to the phone’s users, however, and they may not thank you for your interference.
Your choice of phone may also be an influencing factor next time around. iPhones, in theory, are safer than Android models because all apps have to go through Apple’s vetting process. But they are also more expensive, and their supposed safety net failed to stop live.ly getting into the app store and remaining there.
It’s a mistake to think that you can never effectively police children’s activities online because they know more about the technology than you do. Usually they don’t; they just think they do.