Teens Use Hidden Apps to Conceal Data
Anyone with a smartphone wants control over who sees the content on it, and for teens, that desire for privacy and autonomy is especially strong. However, the lengths some teens go to in order to protect their phone's data from parents can actually put them in danger and expose them in ways they never anticipated.
Hiding in Plain Sight
You've probably heard of apps such as Snapchat that erase data within a certain timeframe of receiving or sending it. Messages and photos disappear without a trace within minutes of being created. However, there's another type of app that doesn't remove data, but merely hides it. These so-called hidden apps are designed to mask the data that's stored on the phone. You can only see what's in them if you know they're there and how to access them.
Like a secret door that leads to a hidden passageway, hidden apps are apps that look innocuous but are actually used to hide pictures and messages that teens do not want their parents to see. While virtually any app can be hidden, photo vault apps that contain pictures and videos are the most commonly used apps for this purpose — and they're not as safe as the teens using them may think.
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Most teens today interact through the apps on their phones, exchanging messages and pictures constantly. Although there is undoubtedly a certain thrill in outwitting parents and teachers, using these apps to hide sensitive data does not necessarily keep the information secret — or safe. While the apps themselves are not inherently dangerous, they can absolutely put the teens who use them at risk.
Once a photo or video leaves their device, the user has no control over where it ultimately ends up. That doesn't just leave teens open to online bullying and humiliation. It can also make them vulnerable to dangerous adult predators. Sadly, the news is full of stories about how a private photo or video that was meant for only one other person or a handful of trusted friends was widely shared without the subject's consent. The damage is real.
Stopping Trouble Before It Starts
There are as many ways to conceal data on a smartphone as there are apps to do it. Spy Calc, for example, looks and acts like a calculator but can unlock hidden photos and video if a certain combination of numbers and symbols is entered. An app like Hide It Pro can be used to actually conceal other apps. The bottom line is that if a teen really wants to keep certain information a secret from the adults in their lives, they'll find a way. So what is a parent supposed to do?
For starters, you can set parental controls and restrictions on how your teens use their phones upfront. That will give you some oversight on what goes on their phones (and what doesn't). But the best way to protect them from themselves may be to talk to them about it. By acknowledging that you know these apps exist, you can open the door to an honest conversation about the dangers of storing personal information and pictures on their phone. Apart from their own safety, remind them that they're putting others at risk (and possibly committing a crime) by sharing compromising images of their peers.
FAST FACT: According to Pew Research, 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online "almost constantly."
How to Find Hidden Apps on Your Teen's Phone
By their very nature, hidden apps are difficult to spot. If you're worried that your child may be using one, follow these tips to determine if any are installed on their phone:
- Check folder names. Teens often rename folders on their devices to hide the contents they're storing and throw any would-be "snoopers" off the scent. If something doesn't look quite right, it probably isn't.
- Check for duplicate applications. If you see two very similar-looking applications on your child's phone, like two calculators, chances are good that one of them might have an entirely different function.
- Search the app store. From your child's phone, open the app store (Google Play for Android or Apple's AppStore for iPhone) and search for "hidden apps." If any of the results have the word OPEN beside them instead of GET, the app is already installed on the phone.
The desire for privacy and independence from adults is almost a rite of passage for teens. Today's young people are finding 21st century ways to circumvent parental supervision and oversight, sometimes to their detriment. By staying vigilant and informed as a parent, you can help them stay safe in this digital age.