The Bulletin - Bend, Oregon - Break down My Mobile Watchdog to its essentials and you have a phone application that lets parents know who is interacting with their children, according to the Bend resident who developed it.
In past decades, parents had an easier time knowing who their children were talking to, with personal communication primarily person-to-person or a conversation via a home’s landline.
But rapidly developing technology — first the Internet, now the growing prevalence of mobile phones among preteens and teens — has allowed anyone from stalkers to bullies to child predators easier and more direct access to youth, said Bob Lotter, founder and CEO of eAgency.com, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based company that sells My Mobile Watchdog.
“Nowadays, you pick up the phone and you have a relationship with somebody a thousand miles away,” said Lotter, who moved to Bend from California six months ago. “Know who your kid is talking to.”
My Mobile Watchdog allows parents to monitor everything a child sees on his or her phone, including downloaded applications and sent or received text messages, phone calls or pictures. Lotter said parents can prevent a child from downloading a risqué mobile application with My Mobile Watchdog, or they can see when a child might receive inappropriate text messages, which they might not have access to otherwise. Each time a child receives a text or a picture message, the parent is notified with a duplicate, which also states who has contacted the child. A copy of everything also is retained in a database for record keeping.
To catch a predator
The tool has been quite useful for law enforcement, too, Lotter said, having helped officials catch 315 child predators in 12 jurisdictions nationally since he launched it in 2007. Most people think of child predators as people lurking in chat rooms or perusing the Internet for pictures, Lotter said.
But predators have evolved, along with technology. Many start in chat rooms, then persuade teens to share phone numbers and, eventually, pictures, he said.
“They figured out the Internet,” Lotter said. “They move children to cell phones.”
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has plans to start utilizing a police version of My Mobile Watchdog later this month.
Law enforcement is the reason Lotter created the system. A detective who is Lotter’s friend asked for his help on a case involving cell phone pictures sent from a 29-year-old man to an 11-year-old girl.
Now, Lotter gives the noncommercial version of My Mobile Watchdog, Radar, to law enforcement agencies at no cost, along with training. When a cell phone user gives the agency permission to observe cell phone communication between the user and the suspect, Radar logs the information in a database, helping law enforcement organize evidence.
“There’s a lot of work on the law enforcement end. It has to be done right,” said Deschutes County Capt. Marc Mills, adding that Radar will allow the Sheriff’s Office to handle a larger caseload. “It’s a tool we’re going to use that’s going to take us in a direction that we want to go.”
A way to help
My Mobile Watchdog, the commercial version of the product that Lotter sells for $10 a month for up to five mobile lines, works essentially the same way, keeping data stored that can, and has, been used to catch child predators who get children’s cell phone numbers. Lotter said many predators today pretend to be children, so they can befriend children and convince them to send illegal pictures.
After hearing of cases nationally in which children are abused by predators — or where they’re bullied by other children through text messages — Lotter said he had to do something to help.
“When you have enough of these cases, you go through kind of an interesting transition emotionally,” he said. “What you realize is that if you did something about it, then you can start to deal with it.”
The service can be used to reach a broader audience than merely parents and children. It can be used against stalkers, keeping track of text messages sent, for example, from someone stalking another person, Lotter said.
Users of the service don’t have to fret. The predator can’t tell that the user’s cell phone is being monitored, but a message does appear on the user’s phone stating that My Mobile Watchdog is active.
In instances where parents are observing their child’s cell phone, the child’s cell phone will notify him or her that the program is activated.
Other than keeping predators away, the service is useful in preventing children from misbehaving, Lotter said. With it on, a child might tell his or her friends not to send certain messages because the parents are watching, Lotter said.
My Mobile Watchdog is currently available on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and some Verizon smart phones. It will be available on smart phones that operate on the Android platform in a few weeks, Lotter said, and the iPhone soon thereafter.
The Oregon Attorney General’s Office is not familiar with My Mobile Watchdog, said spokesman Tony Green. But Green said the office encourages parents to take precautions to protect their children.
There are at least six Oregon Revised Statutes specifically regulating crimes related to sexually related child abuse. There were 479 convictions statewide in 2009 based on those six crimes, with 33 in Deschutes County, 20 in Jefferson County and one in Crook County, according to the state.
Children are impacted by crimes regulated by other statutes, but the state does not have child-specific data on those.
Mills, of the Sheriff’s Office, said he expects Deschutes County will use the tool to work with the city of Bend, adding that he believes other police jurisdictions also will begin using it soon. He said it will help create a healthier, safer community.
“If you’re involved in the exploitation of children, we’re coming after you,” Mills said.