Warning: Reports with Android or iOS activity may include suspicious background activity.

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  • Updated 2 weeks ago
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Please pause and read below before coming to any conclusions about your partner’s mobile online behavior.


Recently, we have found that some AndroidTM or iOS phones are reporting “background activity” that the user is not even aware of. In other words, the phones are accessing mature sites without the user’s knowledge.


We understand the gravity of this situation, and we are certain that you don’t want to be held accountable for your phone accessing sites without your knowledge. We strive to ensure our service provides an accurate picture of where people are going online.


First, here’s what we believe is happening.


Some apps on both Android and iOS devices “talk” to servers constantly, even when the user isn’t actively using the device.


This so-called “background activity” occurs for a number of reasons, including to “prefetch” web content to speed up performance later, even if the user never actually decides to access that domain.


We have strong evidence from members that some of this background activity generates network traffic to mature and highly mature domains that are never actually visited.

How common is this problem? We’re seeing mature and highly mature domains being reported at almost twice the normal rate.


We are doing the following to address the situation:


  • We are testing a screen monitoring solution that will more accurately reflect user behavior. This solution holds promise.
  • We are deploying a DNS-based blocking solution in the next few days to all Android users that will block the ability to visit known porn domains This feature will be accessible on the Covenant Eyes App Lock settings page. We are also investigating the feasibility of this solution on iOS.
 We are truly sorry for this situation. Our mission is to provide tools that help men and women live porn-free and to give partners the information they need to meet the responsibilities of their important role.

Our empathy for the lives being impacted by our service is deep and it’s driving us to fix the problem quickly. Whatever it takes.


In the meantime, we urge you to remember that no software or technical solution ever takes the place of honest and transparent conversations.  

Update 10/8/2018:


We are in-development on a promising solution to a portion of the problem stated above. Through some investigation, we’ve learned that almost half of the Mature and Highly Mature report entries from Android devices occur when the screen is off! Clearly, this means that the traffic during those times couldn’t be deliberate user activity. We’re investigating ways to remove this activity from the Reports. We continue to seek other solutions and will keep you updated on our progress here.


Update 10/11/2018:
We’ve received helpful feedback from customers who have told us about apps that are creating potentially unnecessary Report entries. We’re taking action on those items. We’ve also released a significant update to our reports that helps to clarify some of the DNS activity. We continue to value the information we are receiving from our members as we continue to explore ideas related to even more accurate reporting.

Update 10/17/2018:
Tomorrow we plan to release an update to our Android app that ignores web traffic generated when the screen is off. This should reduce the frequency of these false positives on Android by nearly half. There have been some requests in the comments below for a list of apps that might be generating this activity. We're not ignoring you. We've simply been unable to reproduce the HM background activity from those apps here. Therefore, we're reluctant to 'name names.' We're continuing to explore possible solutions. 

Update 5/9/2019:


  • Our Android app ignores web traffic generated when the screen is off. This should reduce the frequency of these false positives on Android by nearly half. 
  • There have been some requests for a list of apps that might be generating this activity. We've been unable to consistently reproduce the HM background activity from those apps here. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to 'name names.'
  • Bottom line: We reduced the possibility of false positives in Internet Accountability reports. But we know that Screen Accountability is the better answer to this issue.
  • Screen AccountabilityTM does not use background activity for reporting. It uses random screenshots, artificial intelligence, and on-board obfuscation for reporting.
  • In early 2019 we made Screen Accountability available to all members. 
  • Accounts created before March 5, 2019 have the option to switch to Screen Accountability.
  • All accounts created after March 5th use only Screen Accountability.
  • While this new service isn't fully developed with features, it will eventually replace our original service, Internet Accountability.
  • To learn more, please read the Screen Accountability FAQ.



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Patrick Smith, Alum

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Posted 8 months ago

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Syd, Official Rep

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Update 10/12/2018:
Above we mentioned a change to the Accountability Report that clarifies DNS activity. Below is a screen shot of the new report module. Note that Mature and Highly Mature domain activity that shows in this module does not generate incidents.



(Edited)
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Daniel Butterworth

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My report shows that I visited ten highly mature sites all within the same minute. I checked through my phone's search history to see if anything registered there as me having visited these sites at any time, and nothing shows up. Yesterday, I was looking up information about car parts and information about a movie I was watching with my wife. I was also playing a word game (Word Blitz) quite a bit yesterday., and I had a number of job recruiting sites sending me emails. I can't figure out what would have caused this sudden flurry of highly mature activity all in one minute other than the scenario you mention here--an app is sending this stuff in the background. Which app? I don't have a clue. I kind of doubt it was my Bible app.
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David D'Arcy

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Me too.  If Covenant Eyes can't give us the names of the apps, since they are few, why not?  Do I have to delete all of my apps?  Many are very useful. Obviously, some are not.  Please post apps you suspect on a link and update them as you get them.
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Ashley Racca

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Hi- so this really has caused some issues with looking at my husbands reports. I get that it could be background stuff that he isn’t aware of, but it’s alarming to see “sss.xxx” pop up on his report (a porn site), but to have “no incidents” showing. Does this mean some of his apps have porn ads on them? He claims not, but I’m concerned and want to know if this is happening to anyone else?
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Lester Bauman

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I can feel for both you and your husband. I would urge both of you to be careful that this doesn't drive a wedge between you. That's one reason that I'm not sure it is a good idea for a wife to be her husband's accountability partner. If you could find a knowledgeable person you both trust to take this over for you, it might help. You husband wouldn't feel as if you're watching over his shoulder all the time, and you wouldn't feel that obligation to force a confession (which may or may not be real). Also remember that software will never be a perfect solution. Used in conjunction with good interpersonal relationships, it will certainly help. But it isn't a complete solution.
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Ashley Racca

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Yeah, well no matter what changes we make in accountability moving forward—I’ve already seen these links, so it has me unsettled. Have you experienced that—where background programs are actual porn sites, rather than just platforms that could be rated higher (e.g. Facebook, Steam, etc.)? I just want to know that this isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about, or if we need to be going through his apps to erase whatever is causing that crap to show up?
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Lester Bauman

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I just checked my personal reports. It had one item it, but I know that I was there. I feel that it is misrated somewhat, because it is a site that helps you to install Linux on your computer. I use Linux somewhat and I've used that site various times. It has nothing on it that would be questionable. I'm sure they list it because by installing Linux, you can bypass Covenant Eyes. I don't know if you saw their DNS level filtering that they are bringing out. That would do that and is why I use OpenDNS on my router. [DNS level filtering will filter Linux but doesn't support the same level of accountability reporting.] But to answer your question, no, I haven't had anything like this show up on my reports, at least not recently. But again, since I use my phone mostly through wifi, it is possible that OpenDNS is picking up what CE is letting through. I work in a home office, and don't use the internet a lot outside. 
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Lester Bauman

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I'd advise getting a third party involved, if you have serious questions. Let your husband suggest someone you both trust and who is knowledgeable in this area. If you are church-going people, maybe your pastor would know of someone like this, if neither of you do. I'm replying blind here. I don't know you or your husband. Ideally you should be discussing this with someone who knows both of you.
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Krystal Kemp

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These pop up on my whole family’s reports. I was able to confirm it is mostly background data for ads offered in free apps. My daughters and I have deleted all free apps that have ads and now just pay for what we really want. However, my husband isn’t quite on the same page as us. As a long haul truck driver he has a lot of downtime and isn’t quite willing to cut out apps and games he loves because of questionable advertising that he usually “doesn’t even notice.” I expressed my concern for the likelihood of “triggering”, but left the rest up to God. My husband has his own mind, will and emotions. He has the freedom to navigate his purity and relationship with God as is appropriate for him and in God’s timing.
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Paul Brush

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I have not been to these sites even though it claims I have. I have been frustrated with CE lately and I am considering dropping it altogether.
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Krystal Kemp

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Not only that, the screen accountability is very useless. It keeps capturing screens that aren’t obviously inappropriate, but deblurring them doesn’t make them clear enough to see what they are. Just adds suspicion where there doesn’t need to be.
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Samuel Weaver

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Krystal, when you go to the site and view a screen capture, it will tell you what URL was being accessed at the time. Essentially it matches the timestamp between the Screen Accountability report and the Internet Accountability report to show you where the screengrab came from. Should help a lot with the suspicion. 

Personally, this issue with CE's service is extremely frustrating and I can see how for families that are less tech savvy (I work in IT and my brother and accountability partner is a full-stack developer) it could cause MAJOR problems. The very software that is supposed to be enhancing trust and accountablity in a marriage is making false accusations, creating distrust, and driving a wedge between partners! My issue is that I get a TON of spam emails, the vast majority of which are caught by my spam filter and I never even see. Mail loads the images (I assume) in the background, causing hits to highly objectionable domains. I spent most of my day Monday talking with my three accountability partners and my brother explaining what a DNS hit was and how I didn't really betray my wife. Highly, highly frustrating. 

If CE could figure out a way to show what domains are accessing these sites, that would go a long way to solving this problem. Plus, make it clearer in the email reports that "the following websites were NOT necessarily accessed by your partner."

Anyway, all that to say, best of luck with you and your husband. Try to remember that his willingness to have Screen Acountability and CE in general is a good sign, and then use the website to pull browsing reports if you need to. 
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Joshua Webster

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Is it possible to get a running list of the applications? I have HM content showing up in my reports at times that would be impossible and at speeds far faster than I could consume.
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Beth Stokes

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I agree! Having the list would be helpful as I'm clueless on which apps would be running in the background that would generate this kind of activity. Maybe those apps have settings that can be configured to stop or at least cut down on that activity.
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Jonathan Sabet

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My probation officer uses this and so this could threaten me with jail time if it isn't fixed. I believe pop-up adds are contributing. My phone automatically. Closes them, but that doesn't mean their traffic doesn't show up.
(Edited)
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Beth Stokes

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Jonathan, I would definitely print out this article, making sure that the link is available as well, so that you can provide it to your PO. This activity shows up in a different section of the report, so it's easy to identify. But it's still nerve-wracking I'm sure when it has the potential to cause you legal trouble.
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Jamms992

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Im having the same problem with websights showing up on my report that i have never visited. Its causing me issues with my probation officer as well. I sent him an email including the link to this forum post.
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Lester Bauman

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Android has a setting called "Always sleeping Apps". Apps listed in this setting aren't allowed to run in the background. Also there is a setting called "Data Saver" which might help. I don't like the idea of Android accessing a server in the background because that can cost you data as well as triggering a report by CE. 
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Patrick Smith, Official Rep

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Great idea, Lester! We hadn't thought of the "Always Sleeping" setting as a means of combating this! 
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Beth Stokes

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Does anyone know if Apple iOS had something similar?
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Michael Quinn

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If anybody responds to your question can you let me know quinnsmichael08@gmail.com
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Beth Stokes

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Sure
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Patrick Smith, Official Rep

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There are a few elements in the discussion here, Beth. To which were you referring specifically when you asked about iOS? 

We have seen some background app activity generating HM entries on iOS reports. We are aware of HM activity being generated on iOS even when the screen is off (although at a notably lower frequency than on Android). Off-hand, I don't think that iOS has a setting that addresses this--at least not without creating other complexities for Covenant Eyes on iOS.
(Edited)
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Beth Stokes

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I am referring to a way to stop the background activity like the Android setting Lester referred to. Thanks for clarifying.
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Stan Rowe

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Beth,
I would think with iOS, if you turn off the “background app refresh” under settings > general, then that should stop the apps from running in the background.
If that’s not true, I would like to know.
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Allison Grizzell

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So are these websites things they are actually viewing?
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Naomia Albert

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Supposedly not....
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Patrick Smith, Alum

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Hi, Allison (and Naomia). 
Without knowing anything about your specific circumstance, I can't be of much help. If you're able to call Customer Service (989.720.8000), they should be able to give you some direction on how to get more clarity. The Customer Service Representative with whom you speak on the phone won't be able to generate and look at your Report, but they can often help you zero in on the questions to ask the person you're holding accountable. They can also aid you in asking a Report question of our Reports Team. 
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jessica

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So the issue ive noticed is more about secondary content within the browser or things being HM when they really shouldn’t be. For example today I got an email with two links from sites that are rated HM but they got nowhere when you try and access the website. The last one was yahoo sports(my husband plays fantasy football) that was flagged HM. You guys may have nothing to do with the rating of websites idk but thats been the biggest problem weve had. I get emails requesting a review pretty regularly but it hasn’t been an actual problem in months. With IOS I havn’t noticed any reporting at all from apps just websites through the browser.
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Syd, Official Rep

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Update 11/05/2018:

We’re excited to tell you about two great changes to our Android service.

First, we’re making your online life safer by blocking known porn sites by default. We’re doing this by setting Android devices to use CleanBrowsing—a set of filtered DNS servers. This support article gives more information. https://www.covenanteyes.com/support-articles/set-android-app-locking/

Second, we’ve moved the DNS settings into our app lock menu. This means that your Partner can help lock your DNS settings down for you. Also, if you would prefer to use a DNS service other than CleanBrowsing, you or your Partner can change it in the app lock menu.

This is technical stuff, so if you’re not sure what DNS is or how to use it, please read our support article.

If you have automatic updates turned on, you already have these features. Otherwise, check the Google Play store and download today.
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Holger Fleischer

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In the report I see a lot of different domain entries, up to 500 in 15 minutes in that sections, where the items for review occurs and which are unknown by my son. Seems to be background activity from the app itself, not from my son as user

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Robert Rake

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I get friend requests from people i do not know on facebook. They are spam in disguise. When i clicked to see you it was, surprise! There was x rated content. Watch out for that. Also, i have friends who have inappropriate stuff that i stumble on at times.
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Ed Lecuyer

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My reports claim I visit: utahfamilytherapy.com and/or utahfamilytherapist.com. I do not ever frequent those sites, and have no other Internet activity when they are claimed to be accessed. I suspect that it is a background process. It possibly could be coming from a podcast app I use (Podcast Republic) - but I don't know for sure.

I am a PC software developer, so I have familiarity with submitting bug reports and installing/using beta software. Please contact me directly if you (at CE) have anything specific you would like me to try/test.
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Ron Pedersen

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This week's report claims I visited a whole bunch of sites via You Tube. Must be background cause I don't recognize them and I haven't seen anything highly mature for a considerable time .
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Richard Mackerras

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Hi, I just installed RealVNC On a number of computers. VNC.com now comes up as a Mature site. VNC is a great tool. It is a little like RDP but with quite different characteristics. It is not a problem in itself.
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Jonathan Angel

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My Report Information shows something explicit supposedly happening on Grabien.com, but that website is just a News/TV Transcript service and has no explicit content that I'm aware of. It just lets you know see exact news/tv show transcripts, related to politics. It sends me push notifications and I click on them frequently to read what was said on CNN or some other news show.
(Edited)
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Barry Graham

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Our report showed zero incidents but showed my daughter's phone as looking at a site, that she didn't look at. I wish I had seen this conversation first before I asked my wife to ask her about it.
(Edited)
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Lester Bauman

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I have found it useful to use the filtering and the accountability together. I set the accountability one level looser than the filtering. I did this because I found that sometimes you would click on a link that triggers an accountability report and raises questions, even though you had no idea what it was (I do a lot of internet research in my work). If you utilize the filtering and set it one notch tighter than the accountability, the filtering will stop you without triggering an alert. That helps especially if your wife is your accountability partner and she isn't particularly knowledgeable about these things. I will add that I have ended up several times turning off CE on my work computer because it slowed down my browser so much. CE customer service recommended that I turn off filtering in that case. No software is perfect. But I do hope that they get the issue of background access solved because this has the potential of driving a lot of wedges between husbands and wives. Plus it also can give a devious person one more excuse to "justify" a bad report. 
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Marc Kelliher

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Is there a list yet of which Apps are known to cause this?  I read through a lot (albeit not all) of this thread and didn't see anything.  
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Gary Snead

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I had been using Flipboard for news, but it is full of ads and apparently pushes content that is not requested or seen.  top10bestdatingsites.com came up on report from CE but doesn't show in my browser history. I never used dating sites, except POF when widowed, before meeting my current wife, so I have no habit or desire or interest or recollection of even trying to see such a site. CE report makes it IMPOSSIBLE for me to prove I didn't actually seek it out or see it. I have had to disable Flipboard. I hope this helps someone.

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Glen Moore

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these are not mature sites... please remove from the list... 
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John Schutzman

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We have Covenant Eyes on my son's tablet. I noticed activity at like 2:00AM-ish. All activity was preceeded with DNS:// entries, which to me indicates it is a DNS lookup. I also noticed that when the Tablet was turned off - None of these entries existed.  Sometimes there would be 40+ in a night.

The kicker was when I physically locked his Tablet up in my room and STILL there was 'activity' in the middle of the night.   So luckily I knew it wasn't him. 

It was also less egregious activity like Twitch, Reddit. Office365.  I think the offending app is BrawlStars game - but not sure. 

If I copy 'n' paste the URL after the DNS:// entry -- the webpage is never browsable by a human being, so there isn't an actual HTTP website responding at that URL.

I even tried to Blacklist the entire Twitch or Reddit domain on his Profile using the Covenant Eyes | My Account management console. -- STILL had entries listed on the report as mature or highly mature. 


Even though I now understand that it is background data sent by apps on his tablet -- It is still somewhat time consuming for my wife and I to review the reports, because we never want to miss something and find out months later that my son has been viewing something he shouldn't. 

I don't fault Covenant Eyes -- This just underscores how difficult it is to monitor and police this sorta thing when Covenant Eyes doesn't create all the content on the internet OR develop all the apps in the app store - but they have to somehow control and block it. AND STILL somehow allow legitimate access. So I feel for CE and they do a great job.  And I appreciate them acknowledging a shortcoming.  Users will complain if they block legit sites and apps, but also cry when they allow something thru that they shouldn't. 
They are in the unfortunate middle ground of being "darned if they do, darned if they don't" 
(Edited)
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My son's congregation promotes the K9 filter by BlueCoat. It has a category for "unviewable sites" that you can allow or disallow. So apparently, it is possible to sort these sites out somehow. Unfortunately K9 was bought out by Norton, and will be disabled as of the end of June. 
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Roger Yoder

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I don't understand why things such as looking up the Sherwin Williams paint sold at Lowe's or looking for a specific landscape business are flagged as MT. Then there are things that show up that were never accessed which I assume are those things that are background access which are really never accessed or looked at. These kinds of reporting are kind of annoying and raise suspicions of activity that never really took place.