appcertain-the-app-monitor_633333287_01.jpgAs a parent, I am always concerned with what content my girls are consuming on their iOS devices, but fortunately they are young enough (ages 3 and 6) that I still have full control on what they download.

However, if you have older children, then it may be tough to constantly police what they are playing on their iOS devices and to monitor if all of their apps are really appropriate. That’s where AppCertain comes in. It is a service that notifies parents within 24 hours about any new apps that have been downloaded to the monitored device. Parents receive a detailed email that lets them know the app’s price, whether or not it has in-app purchases and whether it contains inappropriate or adult content, photos/camera access, educational content, social sharing options, healthy living and more.

The best part is that because you can safely delete the app after installation, AppCertain is virtually untraceable. The way AppCertain works is that when you install and run the app on the device which you want to monitor, it installs a Security Profile on that device. Unless you have a very inquisitive child, I’d bet none of them will ever even realize the Security Policy is on their device. This profile uses “mobile device management” resources to monitor which apps are installed on the device. When a new app is installed, it detects it. Once the profile has been installed, there is no need to keep the app on the device and it can be deleted, leaving no indication to the child that the service is running. Your first monitored device is free, with additional devices on the same account costing $4.99 each.

appCertain-sampleI’ve been checking out AppCertain for the last week or so and it is really neat. It not only analyses the existing apps on the device, and emails you about any newly installed content as well. The per-app analysis is fairly comprehensive and the “heat zone” style coloring allows for quick triaging at a glance and regular reports mean that you can get any inappropriate apps off your child’s device in a timely manner. It is super easy to install in a just a minute or two. I used the same iTunes account as the rest of the apps on my test device, but if you and your child have separate iTunes accounts, I don’t see why you couldn’t use your own iTunes account to install it. That way there is no possibility of your child accidentally seeing ‘AppCertain’ in their purchase history.

A major concern that I had (and I’m sure others have) is privacy. Obviously the privacy of the person’s device on which the policy is installed is being violated, that’s really the whole point. Though I was curious as to exactly what information AppCertain has access to on the device on which the security profile is installed. For instance could it see any kind of password, contacts, iMessages, sms, web traffic, email, or other info on the device…in other words, what is the exact scope of the profile?

I was also concerned that the App purchasing habits of my child were being sold to some third-party data collector, but I was told that this was not the case. AppCertain’s CEO and Co-Founder Spencer Whitman quickly responded to my concerns and assured me that their customer’s privacy is a big deal to them and that many of my questions were already addressed in detail in their Privacy Policy and FAQs.

He went on to say that the only things they see are “the email address to send the reports to, what apps are installed on the device, and some system information that they use for debugging purposes in case anything doesn’t work appropriately”. He emphasized the fact that they “don’t see any other data on the device; we don’t see the pictures, text messages, or any data within an app”.

Privacy is a big deal to us, especially to me and my co-founder Jim, as we both come from the security world. While there is some privacy in the apps that are installed, we think that keeping track of what apps is a huge step back from full out spy ware (which requires a jail broken device) and is a great middle ground for parents. Our objective is to help educate parents on the apps that their children are using so that parents can make educated decisions as to whether they are appropriate or not.
Right now we don’t do anything with the information we collect. We are working on more premium features (for example a way for parents to turn off all apps at specific times of the day) that will require a fee. Once we have a large number of users (on the order of 50,000+) we think aggregate analysis of the install and deletion patterns of apps becomes interesting, but we don’t intend to sell or give individual device information out.

appcertain-the-app-monitor_633333287_05.jpgShould you decide to stop using the service, it is easy to remove the AppCertain security profile from the device at any time and it doesn’t even require you to reinstall the app. In case you miss an email or would just like to get an overall picture of what’s installed on a monitored device, you can log into your AppCertain account at any time and view a complete list of the analyzed apps.

In Conclusion

I am always surprised to discover just how many parents don’t have a clue as to what apps their kids are downloading and playing on their iOS devices. While Apple does do a fairly nice job of keeping out really bad apps, there are still plenty of iOS apps that may be inappropriate given your child’s age. With AppCertain, there is now no excuse not to be informed. Whether or not you’ve already locked down your child’s iOS device, in the constant fight to keep our kids safe in this always connected, instant access, digital world, AppCertain is a great way to get just a little more peace of mind.