The concern with hidden and vault apps is the inappropriate content that is likely in them, usually nudes or other explicit content and videos.
*Originally published December 16, 2016.
What are Hidden Apps?
Hidden apps are apps that look innocuous, like a calculator, but are actually used to hide pictures and messages that teens do not want their parents to see. Usually, a password must be entered to get into a hidden area of the app. And then there are even ‘vault’ apps which are used to hide the hidden apps. Vault apps require authentication to open and if the wrong password is used some of the vault apps will take a picture of the person trying to get in. These types of hidden apps have been used to store nude photos which are then sometimes used to blackmail the original sender of the photo.
Red Flags Your Teen Has a Hidden App
Some of the warning signs that your teen may have a hidden app on their phone or device are:
- Hiding the screen or turning off a device when you enter a room or get near the device
- Refusing to hand over passwords or let you look through their phones
- Having redundancy apps. Check to see if there are two calculator apps on their phones.
What Apps or Folders Should I Look For?
Below are several of the currently prevailing hidden apps and vault apps. However, often these apps are available for download for a short period of time and then are taken off the market. This is done on purpose to make them even harder to discover, so we share some tips on keeping up-to-date on hidden apps, vault apps, and hidden folders.
- Calculator%: This app looks like a calculator, but if a user puts in a passcode instead of a calculation at the top of the screen it opens up and is actually a folder where teens can hide pictures they don’t want their parents to see.
- Calculator+: Also an app that looks like a calculator but is used to store pictures, videos, and protect albums.
- CoverMe: Looks like any other messaging app, it also hides personal contacts, messages, call logs, notes, photos and videos with a password. Users can access their account from other devices and wipe messages.
- Best Secret Folder: An app that has a very innocent icon that looks like a portal to games, and activates an alarm if someone tries to get into it without the correct password.
- Audio Manager/Hide-it-Pro: This app looks like an audio manager of other apps on your phone, but when you press and hold the Audio Manager app, a lock screen is revealed. Once the password is entered users can hide messages, photos, videos, and other apps.
- Vaulty: Vaulty is a photo and video storing app that also allows users to edit the photos as well. This app includes a feature which takes a picture of anyone who tries to access the app and enters the incorrect password. Users with subscriptions to Vault have their photos and videos backed up online.
- Secret Photo Album Vault: Photos are encrypted and to access the app you will need the pin code or fingerprint. Plus there is a built-in camera that lets user take pictures secretly. You can also store videos in this vault app.
Hidden Folders on Phones
- iOS: iOS devices have a Hidden folder where the user can hide any photo from their main folders. The hidden folder is not password protected, so you can go and view what types of photos your teen may be hiding there. Simply go into the camera app, click on “All Photos,” and then click on the “Albums” icon on the bottom right hand of the screen. Scroll through the albums and look for “Hidden.”
- Android: Users can hide files simply by renaming them with a period in front of the folder name. Check out this link on AppTricker for more information on how teens may be setting up hidden folders. However, there is a way to see all of these hidden folders. Go to the “My Files” folder on their phone and open it. Click on the storage folder you want to check, either “Device Storage” or “SD card.” Once that is open, click on the “More” link at the top right hand corner. A prompt will appear and you can check to show hidden files. Be aware this will show you all hidden folders, even the ones that other apps download on the phone like Facebook. Not all hidden folders are hiding inappropriate images or messages.
- Renamed Folders: Some times teens will also create a folder on their device and name it something like “Cat Photos” or after one of their hobbies, where they will hide photos and messages, thinking no one is likely to check a folder with a name like “Cat Photos.”
How do I Keep My Kids from Using Hidden and Vault Apps?
Since the very nature of these type of vault and hidden apps is to appear one day and be gone the next, it can seem a challenging task to stay on top of the newest version. However, there are some controls you can put in place to help guide your teens as they navigate the app world. The first step is to use Bark as a monitoring program, we will alert you to risky apps that are already downloaded on your teens phone or ones that get downloaded in the future. For iOS users, under the Apple Family Sharing Plan the organizer (parent) can turn on the Ask to Buy for the kids and teens in the family. That way when a teen goes to purchase or download a free app you can review and approve or decline it.
Android users can also set up parental controls in Google’s Play Store. Create a pin, use one your kids do not know about, and put in filters for apps, games, and movies by choosing the maturity level of content you want to allow. You can also require a password for authentication for purchases in the Settings options for Google play. In order to change the authentication settings your teen would need your Google password, so make sure it’s one they do not know and is not used for other family services, like Netflix. Additionally, you can set up a family payment method where you can turn on purchase approval settings for family members.
Search for Hidden Apps on Their Phone
If you haven’t already set up parental controls on your kids’ devices, you may want to see if they have any of these hidden apps already on their phones first. One way to check this is to go into their Google Play or Apple Store and do a couple of searches, like “hidden apps” or “vault apps” or even “private photos.” Once you run the search you can see if any of those apps are installed, open the app if you want to discover the kinds of things that are hidden in order to have a conversation about them later, and then delete the app.
How Do I Talk to My Kids About Vault Apps?
The concern with hidden and vault apps is the inappropriate content that is likely in them, usually nudes or other explicit content. Discuss with your teens why these apps are not ollowed as part of your family’s technology rules, but also the possible criminal liabilities for having underage sexually explicit photos and messages on their phones. If you can remain calm and understanding when having these discussions, they will be more likely to come to you when they have a question about technology and not just rely on the dubious advice of their peers.
Thankfully there are resources that can help you talk to your child about sexting and how to handle discussing the potential outcomes from risky behavior when using technology. Sign up for Bark, which helps keep your child safe online by providing alerts to potential issues like sexting. This can help you support your children in a positive way as they explore the digital world.
It’s important to discuss with your teens how these kinds of apps are not allowed because of the consequences for their lives. Teens may know how technology works, but they do not always understand the ramifications of their actions.