There’s an app for everything today. There’s a phone app that will remind you where you parked your car, an app that tells you the best time to use the bathroom during a movie and even an app that will provide you with de-motivational pictures to help you procrastinate more.
However, we know in these fast-changing technological times, there are apps and digital tools that don’t so much make you shake your head in disbelief, but may, rather, inspire a little fear — especially in parents.
There’s no doubt younger generations are miles ahead of parents when it comes to digital literacy. While many rightly grumble about the lack of practical skills iPhone-obsessed younger generations possess, there’s no denying the youth of today are growing up immersed in a digital world.
These skills have led to a world where teens are better than ever at keeping secrets. In a 2012 study conducted by McAfee, it was found that more than 70 percent of teens have hidden online activity from their parents. Thirty-four percent of the respondents said they had done this using “hiding” apps, photos and videos.
It’s hard to fathom anything being hidden in a time where nearly everything is shared through social media. But many apps have been surfacing and growing in popularity that give users the ability to hide photos, text messages, videos and even other apps that might not meet with parental approval, and the process is surprisingly straightforward. Websites including WikiHow and Mashable have guides to the process and to the apps that help users hide online activity.
Some apps are quite clever. While helping to hide or protect certain content, the apps themselves manage to go unnoticed most of the time. One such popular app, Hide It Pro, disguises itself on phones as an “Audio Manager.” Even after opening the app, its true intention is still hidden. It shows up as a false app that helps to control the volume level of one’s phone. However, after holding the title bar down, it will ask for a password to unlock all of the user’s hidden content.
Another app, KYMS (Keep Your Media Safe), disguises itself as a working and pretty convincing calculator app. By entering your password, the app allows you to unlock your hidden content. It even has a feature to protect from nosy parents. After a password is entered incorrectly three times, the app will secretly take a picture of the person trying to gain access and log the GPS location of the phone at the time of the photo. This feature is a common one to many “hiding” apps.
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KYMS also has a “panic” feature. If the wrong person is walking into a room or coming within viewing distance of your phone, like a parent would, you can put your hand on the screen to immediately close the app and have it return to its calculator costume.
“Kyms looks like a working and stylish calculator App but it hides an inviolable vault in which to hide and encrypt all your multimedia and text files with military grade security,” says the Google Play description page for KYMS.
Hide It Pro and KYMS are only two examples of clever apps used to hide phone and online activity. Other apps like Vaulty and Private Photo Vault serve similar purposes. It can be hard to keep up because similar apps are created nearly every day.
It’s not hard to imagine what teens are using these apps to hide or even why parents are frantically taking to the Internet to better understand these “hiding” apps and how they work. Just last year, many parents were shocked by an exposed teen sexting scandal in Colorado.
A large number of high school, and even middle school, students were found to be using apps to hide hundreds of shared nude photos. Though none of the kids were charged, it still left a city and school system wondering how to best deal with the digital phenomenon.
Colorado should be a cautionary tale. Sexting is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what teens hide on their phones.
“Hiding” apps are frequently used to conceal other apps users don’t want found on their phones. These apps include Kik and Whisper. The former has been used by teens to share inappropriate pictures and messages. Many speculate it has been exploited by predators as well since there is no way of authenticating users. Whisper, on the other hand, has in fact been misused by at least one sexual predator.
The app allows users to make confessions and share feelings by superimposing text over pictures. However, the app doesn’t require registration and uses a GPS tracker to help you communicate with people near you. In February, a Seattle Times story detailed at least four recent crimes relating to rape or child pornography that involved using the Kik app.
Again, those apps are only the tip of the iceberg. With advances in technology and connectivity moving so fast everyday, it can become harder and harder for parents to keep up. Some services, like Net Nanny, offer ways to put locks and controls on a teen’s phone, while various sites like Teensafe.com try to keep up to date with information for parents. Still, the digital world and its potential consequences for teens can be overwhelming.
Andrea Eldridge, CEO and cofounder of Nerds on Call (callnerds.com), recommends taking a calm and open approach with teens. “Openly communicating about what sites you feel should be off-limits and what amount of privacy you’re comfortable extending to your child is imperative to setting expectations.”
Since advances in technology and potential dangers lurking behind digital walls are vast and growing everyday, vigilance and communication are key. Parents can never expect to be digital wizards mastering the apps and digital tools their kids use every day, but they can remain informed and try communicating offline with teens about the dangers online.