Covenant Eyes, an online accountability software, is responding to accusations that its platform is being used by pastors and church leaders to violate users’ privacy and shame them.
Founded in 2000, Covenant Eyes is a platform aimed at helping users “live porn-free through transformative accountability relationships.” To accomplish this goal, the software tracks a user’s online activity, flagging potentially pornographic content and alerting an accountability partner, whom the company refers to as an “ally.”
Covenant Eyes is a leading platform in the accountability software space, which includes other platforms such as Accountable2You, NetNanny, and Bark. The company also organizes conferences and events to educate churches and pastors about the dangers of pornography and how to address it.
However, Covenant Eyes and platforms like it have recently come under scrutiny following an article written by investigative data reporter Dhruv Mehrotra and published on WIRED.
In that article, Mehrotra tells the stories of Covenant Eyes users who expressed that they felt coerced and shamed by church leaders while using the platform, and that their privacy had been violated.
One of those users was Grant Hao-Wei Lin, who was required to install the app after coming out to a leader at Gracepoint Church, a Southern Baptist network of collegiate churches and parachurch ministries headquartered in Alameda, California.
Within a month, Hao-Wei Lin said that the level of detail in the report given to the church leader by Covenant Eyes began to weigh heavily on him. Hao-Wei Lin recounted receiving accusatory emails from the leader over website content that he had hardly even remembered viewing and was not pornographic.
Another former church member referred to the platform as “shameware.”
WIRED reported that Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You monitor far more than pornography usage. In the case of Android devices, WIRED discovered that both companies exploit an accessibility API, which is intended to help developers create features for people living with disabilities, to capture and record essentially everything a user does on their device.
For Hao-Wei Lin, this meant that even his Amazon purchases became subject to the scrutiny of the church leader. A former Accountable2You user also told WIRED that she was confronted by her pastor in a sit down meeting after viewing a Wikipedia article about atheism.