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Pornography accountability apps appeal Google’s removal from app store


NASHVILLE (BP) – Accountability software including Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, recently dropped from the Google app store, are still useful tools in helping addicts recover from their sin, abuse prevention advocates told Baptist Press.

Churches can also use such apps with ethical diligence, said Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“I believe that churches and religious employers can use these tools but must do their due diligence to understand how they work, what is being collected, and who has access to it. Some churches and organizations may choose not to use them though, depending on their situation and context,” said Thacker, who leads the ERLC’s Digital Public Square outreach.

“Many organizations filter the internet using hardware or software-based tools that block access to certain sites and apps rather than employing personal accountability software. We must remember that the use of pornography is inherently a deeply intimate and isolating temptation,” he said, “so these tools must be accompanied by trusted friends and transparent relationships, rather than simply being seen as a one-sided fix for a much deeper problem.”

Google dropped the apps amid accusations that they violate the company’s malware policy, which Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You both dispute.

Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) fighting sexual exploitation enabled by several mechanisms including the internet, said NCOSE is aware of people who’ve successfully used accountability software to fight personal addictions.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of people who have struggled with pornography addiction and dependencies that the best way most of them have found to help is through an accountability model, similar to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and many successful gambling recovery programs,” Hawkins told Baptist Press. “Pornography can be highly addictive, and research (has) objectively identified a wide array of harms from pornography use.”

Ron DeHaas, president and co-founder of Covenant Eyes, is NCOSE board chairman. Covenant Eyes is not spyware, Hawkins said, emphasizing that anyone using Covenant Eyes has to give permission for the app to work. Covenant Eyes provides details in its usage policy.

“We hope Google will change its decision to remove Covenant Eyes from its app store,” Hawkins said. “Those using Covenant Eyes or similar products want to use them because they find them helpful in managing their behaviors or addictions.

“Confronting a pornography addiction can often be a lonely and discouraging process; these sites help to focus on accountability as a way to fight this personal battle. In doing so, these sites help confront the demand for sexually exploitative material.”

Transparency is critical in using such services, Thacker said.

“First and foremost, these services need to be used with transparency. Some businesses and churches will require the use of these tools but it must be communicated exactly what they do and how they do it,” he said. “This type of openness creates trust and unity.

“The same is true in accountability relationships. While these tools can be abused much like any other form of technology, they also can be harnessed to help men and women overcome the poisonous plague of pornography as they seek to walk in freedom and purity,” Thacker said. “Second, we must also remember that these systems are designed to be tools as part of a larger framework of discipleship. Abstaining from pornography is but one part of pursuing a life of holiness. We must also seek to have our hearts and minds transformed by the Holy Spirit as we put on righteousness and holiness,” he said, referencing Ephesians 4:22-24.

Thacker sees benefits in accountability software for Christians and others struggling with pornography addiction.

“Many of these apps and services can help Christians and all people to navigate the challenges of pornography and explicit content in community with others,” Thacker said. “They can be a critical part of Christian discipleship in our digital age, especially for those with histories of pornography use or sexual sin.”

Accountability software can be especially useful in the current age, Thacker said.

“Often we’re told by the wider culture that the Christian sexual ethic is oppressive or dangerous, but Scripture shows us that God’s design for sex and marriage is actually for our good,” he said. “In a time of radical individualism, many people are led to believe that they can simply walk through life and face these challenges on their own.

“When used with wisdom and transparency, these systems can be invaluable tools in fighting the lusts of the flesh as we seek to walk with purity before God.”

Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You are available for use and downloads outside of Google. Covenant Eyes has appealed Google’s decision, and Accountable2You has accused Google of targeting the sites.

“Despite this attack, we will continue to build software that makes transparency easy for the device owner,” Accountable2You CEO Ben Lawrence wrote. “We will continue to call out sin and promote educational resources that will edify the body of Christ.”