There are a bunch of software companies selling spyware to parents, assuring the parents that the software can help detect bullies and child predators online, while maintaining the child's sense of "privacy."
I'll let someone who actually has children address that last part about privacy (Personally, I didn't have any sense of privacy until I was in my 20s, and I turned out OK...but hey, whatever). The first part is simply a scam. It is for people who do not have the time or energy to be involved in their children's lives, who want a placebo, to make them feel they are "doing something," by throwing money at the problem.
These software companies promise that for about $100/year they can do "background checks," on your child's online friends on Facebook and Twitter. This is simply not true. For one thing, most of your child's friends are too young to have a background to check. And for another, a true criminal will be able to quickly figure out how to get around their software. (If they can elude law enforcement, don't you think they can fool your little software program you downloaded off the web?) For another thing, it is never a good idea to get into a technology war with anyone under the age of 25. The kids are better at circumventing any spyware you want to use on them than most parents will ever be at locating the software, and throwing money at that problem will not fix it. For starters, most of these programs use your child's e-mail address (the one you know about) to track their online activity. I'm sure NONE of the kids are smart enough to get a second web-based e-mail address that you don't know about...right?
Last but not least, let's not forget that these software programs are SPYWARE - that stuff you're always trying to get rid of. Why on earth would pay to download it, and give the company selling it all of your and your children's personal information?!
Also see: What does a child predator look like?
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.