Why did Google Remove Covenant Eyes?
Maybe you’ve noticed that Google removed the popular “accountability” apps Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You from its Play store last week.
Maybe you haven’t, and that’s probably for the best.
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What are accountability apps?
These apps can filter undesirable content, such as pornography, and “other questionable material” from devices. More than just filtering, though, they offer to allow someone to be your accountability partner. They can send either immediate alerts or a digest of activity.
Having someone else hold you accountable in your efforts to be productive or curb a compulsive behavior sounds great, right?
Absolutely! If it’s done willingly.
Why were they removed?
And why is this article about Covenant Eyes on a blog about mental health?
During an investigation by Dhruv Mehrotra for Wired, it was discovered that the Android versions of these two apps used the accessibility features of Android devices. Accessibility features are intended to help those with hearing or vision impairments. Unfortunately, these apps used these features to monitor and report all device usage, even innocuous behavior.
That wouldn’t be an issue if your accountability partner is someone you have selected and trust, but therein lies the problem.
Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You have large outreach projects dedicated to getting churches to use the apps. In other words, to assist the churches in controlling and monitoring the behavior of parishioners under the guise of strict adherence to the church’s beliefs.
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Consent versus Coercion
Threatening, pressuring, or strongly recommending, an individual consent to having their digital activities monitored is not consent.
More than just standard filtering and monitoring, Accountable2You also flags LGBTQIA+ content regardless of whether or not it is pornographic in nature. This is the “other questionable material” I referred to earlier. My issue is not that LGBTQIA+ material is blocked or flagged, but that any topic related to it is flagged in a similar fashion to hardcore pornography.
Pressuring people, vilifying them for whom they love, and monitoring all of their digital moves can create intense shame for the individuals being monitored. Particularly if they don’t conform to the heteronormative ideals of some religious organizations.
Shame encourages people to hide, withdraw, or turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms. Therefore, shame can make the initial behaviors worse. More about shame from Dr. Jen here and here.
Google has chosen to remove these apps from their store using violations of their technology policies because condemning them for violating users’ privacy rights is too political. Time will tell if Google steps up in favor of individual rights over appeasing a small but vocal and wealthy minority.
Do you believe you have an online pornography addiction? Take this free Cyber Pornography Addiction Test (CYPAT) and have the results to speak with your therapist.
What to do about Covenant Eyes after these revelations?
Broadly speaking, if you’re using an accountability app and you feel you were under duress when you selected your accountability partner, it’s time to re-evaluate that relationship and your continued use of the software.
If you still want to use one of these solutions on a non-Android platform, Windows, MacOS, or iOS, they are still available. You can still use them on Android because they can be “side-loaded” using instructions on the company websites.
If you would like a simple, straightforward filtering solution without the shame, check out BlockSite, for desktop and mobile devices.
For those of you who’d like accountability monitoring and filtering, I recommend EverAccountable, for desktop and mobile devices. EverAccountable also uses mental health friendly language in relation to how to handle slips and relapses.
An Important Note about Privacy
I did a quick read through of the privacy policies of both alternatives I mentioned above and saw no red flags, but I encourage you to read through them yourself.
If you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, local to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, and need support a great place to start is the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.
Need support and not local to the Lehigh Valley? Check out the LGBT National Help Center.
Do you feel your sexual behavior, or that of someone you love, is out of control? Consult with a professional.
Have you found yourself in legal trouble due to your sexual behavior? Seek assistance before the court mandates it, with Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.