The Online Safety Toolkit:
Understanding Hidden and Vault Apps
There are two basic ways of hiding activity on mobile devices: using built-in features to hide apps, or using 3rd party “vault apps” that assist in hiding specific content. If you are concerned that your kid(s) might be using their device unsafely, knowing how to look for these is especially valuable.
As always, one of the best things you can do is an initial setup of a parental tools and age settings, as that will reduce access to unsafe digital environments in the first place. For steps to set up device, app, game, and streaming settings, check out our Guide.
Hidden apps are normal mobile applications downloaded to devices and then removed from the standard menus and home screens so they don’t easily come up. Some of the apps kids might hide are:
- Dating apps – If age settings are in place, this is less likely, but as we recently shared, app store age limits do not work well.
- Explicit apps – related to pornography or adult chatting.
- Streaming apps – This can range from gaming related (Twitch) to overtly sexual video streaming apps.
- Games – Any game a kid wants to play and knows they aren’t supposed to is a prime candidate for hiding.
- To experiment – Some kids may not be using these apps unsafely, but just want to use the hiding options for fun and to feel sneaky.
- To hide vault apps – Vault apps exist to hide explicit media, and kids may then also hide the direct access to the vault app.
Vault apps are applications downloaded to mobile devices and designed for the sole purpose of hiding other content. Kids who are creating or exchanging explicit content will often hide those images within a vault app so that they don’t appear in the standard media library on the device.
Things to know about vault apps:
- They often have a misleading icon. Calculator icons are most popular, but there are dozens of these apps. Apps that use the word or imagery of a lock should be suspect.
- Some vault apps are available for download to any age user.
- Some have decoy passwords/folders. This means kids can make it look like they’ve unlocked the app, but they are still keeping their real content hidden.
For a step-by-step guide to finding hidden apps on Android devices, click here.
For a step-by-step guide on finding hidden apps in iOS devices, click here.