What the Tech? Screen time and incognito
(ABC 6 News) – When teenagers and pre-teens find tricks to dodge smartphone restrictions, they share their discoveries on TikTok. There’s no shortage of how-to video clips showing how to hide apps from the home screen and how to disguise apps to sneak something by mom and dad.
Parents face an uphill battle trying to stay one step ahead of tech-savvy kids. One feature on iPhone and Android devices aimed at protecting privacy is being used by teens and pre-teens to hide their tracks.
Many parents use Screen Time on iPhones to limit how much time their kids can use certain apps. Say mom and dad give the okay to use Snapchat for an hour each day, they can set up a time limit under Screen Time settings. When the time is up, the Snapchat app won’t open unless the parent with the passcode gives permission. Parents can set that up for any app in Screen Time, under app limits.
But let’s say mom and dad put a limit on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram. Those apps can be accessed through a browser by going to Tiktok.com, Instagram.com, etc. Parents can set time limits for those websites but here’s the thing a lot of parents might miss: Screen time limit doesn’t count the time if their kid is using incognito or private mode to access them. So anyone can visit any website in incognito mode for as long as they want, even if there are time limits set up in Screen Time.
I checked this with both the Safari and Chrome apps and while the Safari browser did time out at TikTok.com in incognito mode, the Chrome browser somehow ignored the time limit as long as I visited the website in incognito mode. And if the kids delete the history in private mode, there’s no way for mom and dad to see where they’ve been online. If a parent is having trouble with their kids visiting certain websites, they can lock down the phone to allow them only to visit websites they approve.
Back in Screen time, tap content and privacy restrictions and set a passcode to allow changes. Then, select content restrictions where you can block explicit music, books, and age-appropriate apps. Below there’s an option for limiting web content to block adult websites. To lock it down tighter, you can allow only certain websites to be accessed. Apple has a few permitted apps already added but you can add websites you approve. This setting will prevent visiting any other websites, even in incognito mode and even while using the Chrome browser.
Unfortunately for some parents, you cannot simply block incognito or private mode on an iPhone. Android phones do offer that ability if the child is logged into a phone with Family Link supervision. There are third-party apps that monitor a child’s phone and block apps and websites from being viewed. These cost around $15 a month.
The other option many parents of young children are choosing is an old-fashioned flip phone. These are widely available now at all cellular providers and are relatively inexpensive. Flip phones allow only for calls and texting for parents who allow their young child a phone just to keep up with their whereabouts and in case of an emergency.