Sprint Mobile Controls allows the parent phone to control the child phone’s hours of usage. There are options to lock the phone for a predetermined amount of time (a kind of phone grounding) or lock the phone during specific periods such as school hours and bedtime. It even has specific controls to lock out or enable certain apps. An ‘allow overrides’ option gives the child phone the ability to unlock the phone even when locked. When the child uses this feature, it sends an alert text to the parent phone. Not allowing overrides locks the phone for anything except emergency calls and calls to a predetermined list. The ‘anytime contacts list’ allows the child phone to call numbers on that list even when the phone is locked. Lockout periods cannot be defeated even if the time zone is manually changed on the child phone. With airplane mode (mobile signal turned off) and Wi-Fi on, the child phone can still be locked but if the child phone has airplane mode turned on and the Wi-Fi is off, the phone cannot be locked. However, this mode severely limits the functionality of the phone essentially turning it into a game console or Palm planner for those old enough to remember them.
Sprint Mobile Control’s Achilles’ Heel
Sprint Mobile Controls has a glaring weakness for older Android phones. It depends on the presence of the Sprint Safely Family Utility on the child phone. The child can simply uninstall this app and the parent phone will no longer be able to lock the phone. Worse yet, there’s no immediate notification to the parent phone that the dependent app is no longer installed. It will act like it is locking the phone while the child phone remains active. Sprint’s developer partner Location Labs confirms the requirement for this dependent app but also noted that the parent phone will get a notification if it does not receive a handshake signal from the app after 24 hours. They also noted that all newer Sprint phones will not have to depend on the presence of Safely Family Utility. Instead, it will have the service embedded in the OS of the phone and cannot be easily uninstalled like an app. Since it’s not an app, restoring the phone to factory settings will not get rid of the service.
Sprint Drive First locks the target phone from calls and texts when the phone is in motion. Emergency calls and a white list can still be made and the child can override it but the parent will get a notice. There’s an option to allow hands free calls. It only works with GPS enabled so the child can circumvent this function simply by turning off GPS. Obviously, the app cannot tell if the child phone is a driver or a passenger so it will affect the child phone even if that child is a passenger in a car, on a bus, or in the subway. As is the case with Sprint Mobile Controls, Sprint Drive First relies on the Safely Family Utility app if the phone is not one of the newer models with the embedded service.
This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Read the other parts by following the links below.