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My daughters are 8 and 10 years old, so it was a big decision for us when deciding to give them smartphones. In today's society, kids are given smartphones to "play" with as toddlers. Is it really any wonder that they want their own when they are in elementary school?
Recently, there was a massive sexting scandal exposed involving at least 100 students at a Colorado high school but this is nothing new. In fact, it is quite common; but at least this latest scandal is drawing attention to the apps that are allowing tweens and teens to hide this content in plain sight on their smartphones from their parents.
The students involved were using "ghost apps" to store and trade nude photos of each other. What are ghost apps, you ask? Ghost apps disguise themselves as harmless applications, like calculators, but are actually secret photo vaults that can be accessed with passcodes. These things are like gateway drugs to promiscuity.
There is not just one, either. There are dozens of these kinds of apps; all you need to do is Google photo vault apps and you'll be presented with a list as long as your arm. Each one looks harmless, but if you know the passcode you might get a surprise — like your tween's stash of nude photos or videos of their fellow students. Some of the children involved in the Colorado incident were as young as 13.
Think of these apps of the modern day version of nudie magazines wrapped in brown paper bags. These apps have discreet icons and unless you know what you're looking for, you would never know what your kids are hiding on their phones.
My 10-year-old does have an iPhone as a safety measure when she stays after school for extracurricular activities or goes to birthday parties alone (because how embarrassing to bring your mom when you are "practically a teenager") plus, I like feature that lets me locate her on a map via GPS.
However, she cannot purchase any apps on the phone without our permission. We regulate who she can call and text, and vice versa. She has no social media accounts and doesn't even know that she has an email address we secured for her. She knows we check her phone whenever we want. It's rare that we do, but there's always the possibility. She knows that a phone is a privilege — and she also knows that above all else, she needs to respect herself and her body.
But no child is perfect, and peer pressure is a real thing. Since our kids are always going to be a step ahead of us in technology because they've grown up with it for their entire lives, I think it's best to keep an open conversation with your kids about all things and establish trust. But it never hurts to stay informed. We can't police our children all the time, but we can know what to look for.
Here are 4 of the popular photo vault ghost apps available:
Private Photo Vault- safe photo+ video with folder manager is the 28th most downloaded photo and video app in the App Store, with more than 1,500 user reviews. This app allows the user to easily organize albums by allowing you to transfer images and videos from iPhone's photo app to the new hidden album. It also has a decoy password option that allows users to enter two passwords one for the hidden album and one for the normal one.
KeepSafe is a free application that has an easy passcode system that lets you type in a four-digit pin to hide photos on your phone. Its private camera feature allows you to take pictures and hide them directly in the app.
SpyCalc is a ghost app lets you hide pictures on your iPhone behind an innocuous calculator. The app works like a calculator, but doubles as a secret safe, where you can type in a number combination to hide or unhide photos.
KYMS is another calculator app that hides photos and videos. All videos can be played directly into the app. It also doubles as document protection software. You can import PDF and text files to your app and keep them hidden behind a calculator. This one truly reminds me of some seedy vault where some less than reputable character keeps all of their blackmail material.
The bottom line is that maybe our tweens and teens don't know everything like they think they do, but they are pretty tech savvy and they know just enough to be above our heads and hide things there. So pay attention, keep the lines of communication open and be aware of apps like these that just might be hiding on your child's phone.
Before you look, take a deep breath. If you find one of these apps or a similar one, have a conversation about it with your child and explain why they're such a bad idea and how the Internet is forever (because I think kids forget about that). If that doesn't work, you can always take away the phone.
What would you do if you found ghost apps on your child's phone?