PHILADELPHIA- (WTXF) Iain Page on what parents need to know about "ghost apps"
Apps. They're everywhere, and do everything. And they say a lot about a person. You tend to download what you like: Hobbies, games, shopping. But how well do you know your kids? You can learn a lot by looking at their apps. There are some apps they don't want you to see. They're called ghost apps.
Ghost apps are disguised as normal apps like a calculator. But when you enter a passcode you get to a vault where pictures and videos can be stored and shared. There's also a lot of secret camera apps that will take pictures without making a sound. Even secretly, when the user looks like they're actually browsing the Internet.
"It is scary, very much, because parents don't know what's going on."
A lot of parents have never heard of ghost apps but kids know all about them.
"They're definitely using them. A lot of these apps are in the Top 10 of most downloaded in the app stores."
Stephanie Humphrey is a tech life expert with a Masters degree in telecommunications from UPenn. She speaks to parents and young people about the dangers of social media. She says there are thousands of hidden apps out there.
Just on a search for hidden apps I got 8,226 results. I searched "hidden photo vault" and I got 3,126 results.
The recent Colorado sexting scandal involving at least 100 high school kids helped shine a light on ghost apps hidden in plain sight. What's even more alarming is some of these apps have a decoy password designed to fool the parent. So you think you're seeing what they're hiding but not really.
There are decoy passwords that actually show a different set of photos or videos than what your child may actually be sharing with other kids that also have the app. But when you put in the real passcode you get to the vault where the pictures (sexy) can be shared or posted to Facebook or Instagram.
Parents have to keep up with technology. Teens are online daily. Being connected is a way of life for them so it's up to parents to stay on top of what's on their kids' phone.
I think the way young people are plugged into technology today they're going to find those tools that they need to do the things that their parents don't want them to do. So be proactive on iPhones. You can screen apps before your kids download them with a feature called "ask to buy."
"You can put a passcode on iPhones that will restrict app downloads so they can't download anything without entering the passcode and you will know. On Android phones enable controls in the app store so kids can only download apps for a certain maturity level or download an app like "app lock."
If you think the apps are already on your kid's phone, dig a little deeper.
"You can check the privacy setting on the phone to see what apps are using the camera function. A calculator doesn't need a camera."
The bottom line: Have a conversation with your kids.
"I'll ask my son about it when he comes home after I look at his phone."