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    Frustrated Spouses Keep Trying to Get Around This Porn-Blocking App

    Written by

    Rachel Pick

    Contributor

    Photo: Shutterstock

    There are few worse things I can imagine than your parents or spouse receiving periodic access to your web browsing history. Even if you have nothing specific to hide, your browser history can be intensely personal and has the potential for all kinds of embarrassment. It’s the closest someone could come to reading your thoughts.

    Yet that is the exact purpose of the app Covenant Eyes.

    Covenant Eyes was created by evangelical Christians, and is designed to minimize all the temptations the web has to offer—specifically, porn. For $10 a month, you can get an Internet Accountability report sent to your spouse, a friend, or anyone who would understand your struggles with erotic desire. This report is customizable, so you can set it to only report what times you went online, or the most “highly mature” sites you visited. (The website provides a sample report.)

    You can also add filtering services to your account. One person, designated the “Filter Guardian,” chooses an age-appropriate level of internet restriction for family members, and Covenant Eyes blocks domains they deem unacceptable. As the website notes, “Any attempts to get past the Filter will appear on the Accountability Report, which allows those moments of weakness to be discussed.”

    In case that’s not enough to keep you in check, the app also provides a “Panic Button” you can hit when you’re in crisis and worrying you might give in to temptation. This effectively shuts down all web access until you call Covenant Eyes personally, and ask them to reinstate your connection—after you confess to them that you wanted to look at porn.

    It works on computers, smartphones, and tablets. It even works when you browse incognito, which Covenant Eyes refers to as “porn mode.” (However, one user notes in the comments on that post that it does not work with the Tor browser.)

    I learned about Covenant Eyes from Twitter, when someone I follow mentioned it in an “lol look at this” context. But what really intrigued me was a response to the tweet by an IT professional, who said they’d encountered several cases of husbands trying to circumvent the app by asking her IT company for support, or successfully disabling it and getting their computer subsequently infected by ransomware.

    I reached out to this person, a woman who wants to remain anonymous for professional reasons, over Twitter direct message to learn more. (For clarity's sake, I’ll refer to her as Jane.) Jane words for a third-party tech support company similar to Geek Squad.

    "People, when they’re left to themselves, they think they can get away with something, they’re gonna try it."

    “We definitely had a guy who would call in to get us to disable it...and his wife calling in to be like DO NOT TURN THIS OFF,” Jane told me. “[The] user continuously called us to have us do system restores to wipe out the software. [It was] like a constant tug of war with him and his wife calling us.”

    Jane sent me a screenshot of a work ticket a married woman had filed with her company. The ticket says that the account holder (the wife) uses Covenant Eyes to keep her husband from looking at porn or having “ungodly thoughts,” because his porn-viewing habits are ruining their marriage. The wife was warning the IT company that her husband kept calling in to get the system restored, which she didn’t authorize. But he kept managing to circumvent the app somehow, and getting his system infected with ransomware.

    “After the tech who wrote this ticket cleaned up the ransomware [the] husband caused, he called the house, got the husband, told him specifically ‘do not touch the machine, tell your wife this is all set,’” Jane continued. “[The] wife calls back 20 minutes later, her husband ignored the tech and went on the machine and immediately reinfected it with ransomware from a porn site. These users had about 42 tickets in the system, and over half were [for] ransomware.”

    That seems like an awful lot of times to fall victim to ransomware, but Jane told me her company was “absolutely slammed” with it a few years ago, though she thinks it’s on the decline now. “The websites I’ve seen people get it from are pretty gross,” she said. “Not child pornography levels of gross, but just really extreme fetish stuff. But overall… people who got ransomware got it over and over and over because they couldn’t keep from going to these [same] sites.”

    And this man wasn’t the only person trying to use Jane’s IT company to get around Covenant Eyes. She told me she remembered users calling in and pretending it was an add-on they hadn’t authorized, which Jane notes is “semi plausible.” She also told me she’s heard that if you try to cancel the service, Covenant Eyes prays with you. “They’re evangelicals and they definitely believe in their product.”

    When I first read Jane’s tweet, I thought the concept was funny—desperate pornhound husbands trying to get around the app using an IT company. But it’s really more sad than anything else.

    Whether it’s possible to be addicted to porn or sex in the same way is still officially up for debate, though there are plenty of people who will tell you otherwise firsthand.

    But whether or not the scientific community thinks it’s possible to be addicted to porn is irrelevant in the face of a crumbling marriage or a constant compulsion that makes you feel sick. There’s also the fact that watching pornography in healthy amounts is nothing to be ashamed of, and can even be a fun thing for couples to do together. Whether the men ensnared by Covenant Eyes were watching porn compulsively or just being normal human beings, living in a shame-based society sucks, and Draconian limitations likely only increase someone’s desire to rebel.

    I contacted Covenant Eyes to hear what they thought about the possibility of porn addiction, and whether their product was really helping anyone. The employee I spoke to also requested not to be named, and said he was speaking on a personal level and didn’t want to presume to make statements on behalf of the company as a whole.

    I asked him what he made of husbands calling Jane’s IT company and whether he thought imposing strict limitations would only increase the impulse to circumvent them.

    The employee said he thought that would be more common with the filtering aspect of Covenant Eyes than just the accountability reports.

    “People, when they’re left to themselves, they think they can get away with something, they’re gonna try it….[But] a very small percentage of people who use Covenant Eyes use it unwillingly," he said.

    “The lack of trust and transparency between two parties that causes them to want to put a monitoring software on a device—when they find out about that, it has a whole other echelon of consequences to it,” he continued. “When people are willing to be accountable, it has very positive results and can be very fruitful for a marriage.” Covenant Eyes wants to start a conversation about internet temptations between two willing spouses, instead of providing argument fuel for struggling couples.

    The Covenant Eyes employee compared pornography to mold. “Mold grows in darkness, it grows where there is no light...that’s really what accountability does, it takes away the darkness of the way people use technology and really reminds them of the consequences.”

    I asked him if he thought watching porn in any amount could be healthy.

    “I think from a sociological standpoint it’s unhealthy, because it’s contributing to the commodification of human beings," he said. "When you’re looking at pornography you’re telling somebody on the other side of the screen that this is not just acceptable, it’s desirable...Pornography is a huge detriment to our world.”

    Covenant Eyes believes deeply in its product, and wants to cultivate a compassionate approach. But erasing personal privacy on any level doesn’t seem like the best way to build trust, and calling porn unhealthy in any context is becoming more and more of a minority opinion.