The Online Safety Toolkit: Understanding Hidden and Vault Apps

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:
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:

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.

How Much Privacy? How Much Monitoring?

How Much Privacy? How Much Monitoring?

Many parents and caregivers worry about risks online, have heard the true stories of what can go wrong, and still don’t quite know how to get a footing in the dizzying world of apps, clouds, online games, devices, routers, browsers, and so on.

When the details are daunting, we look for simpler solutions, such as not allowing devices, taking them overnight, shutting off web routers, inspecting phones regularly, etc. These are all effective methods for reducing risk, but they may also be too broad of a solution for some families, or for specific (older) children within the same family.

A Family Discussion:

Taking time as a family to identify what level of safety practices and online monitoring you want to put in place helps to make the process more manageable and effective. If you include kids in this discussion, you get the benefits of learning more about what they value from their time online and giving them a window into your logic in setting up limitations. This is especially valuable for kids who are used to having digital free reign and are now having safety settings placed on them for the first time.

A Range of Settings:

Think through the spectrum of control and monitoring options to decide where you want to land. Some examples of how this might vary even within 1 family.

8 year-old child:

  • Has a dedicated tablet with age-appropriate parental tools in place.
  • Only allowed to use at home and in shared spaces.
  • No passcode or passcode known by parents.
  • Optional 3rd party apps for detailed monitoring (i.e. inappropriate language across all apps).

12 year-old child:

  • Has a phone with age-appropriate parental tools in place.
  • Allowed to use device outside and in private, but not overnight.
  • Allowed to have a passcode, but must open and share phone when asked.
  • Optional 3rd party apps for detailed monitoring.

17 year-old child:

  • Has a phone with age-appropriate parental tools in place.
  • Allowed to keep device at all times (optional settings for limitations on usage, location tracking).
  • Allowed to lock the device with private passcode.
  • Broad level monitoring (i.e. viewing what apps are installed, overall usage, etc.).

The best solutions to reducing online risks are those that are tailored to the specific situation, family, and child. Understanding the spectrum of tools and options can be more effective (and less of a battle!) than trying to implement blanket solutions. Turning online safety and wellbeing into ongoing discussions with your family is one of the best things you can do. Our free PDF resources can be helpful in planning and implementing your family’s approach:

Social Media in My Life – Interactive Chart
Deciding What Apps to Allow – 7-Step Guide
Keeping Up With Apps and Parental Tools

Plugged In: NoFiltr

NoFiltr Video: Can You Trust Someone You’ve Met Online?

Discussing sex, abuse, and safety with kids can be hard and intimidating. NoFiltr videos offer candid, light-hearted, and important discussions about online safety. Check out this Father & Son Edition: