Potentially Malicious Apps Your Kids May Use | McAfee Blog (2024)

It’s a question I getseveral times a yearfromanxious parents, either viaa direct message,anemail or even in line atthe grocery store. It goessomething like this:What’s the one thing you wish you’d donebetter whenmonitoring your kids’ technology?”

Both of my kids are now young adults, and together, we surviveda handful ofdigitalmishaps.So,Itend to havea fewanswersready.I’ll go intoone of those answers in this post, andhere it is:I’dphysicallypick up their phonemoreoftenandaskquestionsabout the apps Ididn’trecognize.

And here’s why.

There are the apps on your child’s phone that are familiar.They are the easy ones.We know what color they are, what their graphic avatarslook like — the little ghoston the yellow background, thelittlebird, thecamera on the bright purple and orange background. We may have gone through the app together or even use one or two of the apps ourselves.There’s Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Kik, and Instagram, among others.There arethe mainstay photo apps (VSCO, Facetune, PicsArt) and games(The Sims, Fortnite, Minecraft).Wemay not likeallthe apps, butwe’velikelytalked about the risks and feel comfortablewith how yourkids use them.With generalrecognition, it’s easy to have a false sense of securityabout what apps our kids areusing.

Then,there arethe appson your child’s phone you know nothing about— and there are plenty.Rather than dismissyour concernbecause you don’tunderstandthe app or because you may not have the energy tostart anargument,next time, think about pausingtotakea closer look. If you have concerns, address themsooner rather than later.

Questionsto considerwhen analyzing an appor online community:

  • What’s the goal of this app? Why was it created?
  • What kind of communitydoes this app attract?
  • Whatis the agerequirement?
  • Are anonymous accounts allowed?
  • What privacy settingsdoes it have?
  • Cankidsrun up charges on this app?
  • Does the app require locationinformationto use it?
  • What red flagsare people talking about(google it)?
  • What do the app reviews say?What do non-profit advocacy groups such asCommon Sense Mediasay about this app?

Potentially Risky Apps, Community Forums

Here are just a fewof thenon-mainstreamapps thatkids use thatmay not beon your radar butmay needa second look. Note:Every apphas the potential to be misused. The apps mentioned here are also usedevery dayfor connection, entertainment, and harmless fun. Here arejust a few this author hashadexperience with,and otherscommonlydocumented in the media.

Quick Tip:It’s possible a childmight buryanappinside afolderor behind other apps on their home screens, making it harder to find.Bygoing into settings in either iOS (Settings > General > iPhone Storage) or Android (Google Play Store > Apps >All), you can usually get a quick view of all the apps that exist on aphone.

  • Privacy, SafetyGaps

Almost every app has privacy gaps if settingsand monitoring areneglected. However, apps such asLive.Me, Game Pigeon, andZoomerang(among many others)may have loopholeswhen it comes toageverification, location tracking, andgaps inpersonaldata security. These gaps can give potentialpredators access to kids and increases opportunities for cyberbullying.

Safe Family Tip: Sit down with your kids, go through any unfamiliar apps, anduseparental controlsto monitorall family deviceactivity.

  • Secrecy

If a child wants to keep activity or content secret from a parent, theywill likely find a way.Some of theappskids use to hide games, photos, or texts areencryption apps (apps that scramble contentto outside sources) such asWhatsApp,Proton VPN,ProtonMail,Telegram, andSignal. Other secrecy apps are called vault apps(apps that can be disguised, hidden, orlocked), such as Calculator, Vault,HideItPro, App Locker,andPoof.

Safe Family Tip: If you find one of these apps on your child’s phone, stay calm. Kids want privacy, which is normal.However,if thecontent you seeisrisky,remind your child that no content is100% private, even if it’s in a vault app. In addition, commit to the ongoing dialogue that strengthens trust and together, considers settingsafety expectations for devices, which mayincludeparental controls.

  • Geotagging

Some apps, especially dating-typeapps, require users to allow geotaggingtoconnectyou with people in your area. Yubo, which is an app like Tinder, is one your kids may be using that requires location to use it.Live.Meis another geotagging app.

Safe Family Tip: Go over thereasonslocation apps(and dating apps)are dangerous with your child. Sharingtheirlocationandmeeting In Real Life (IRL)has become the norm to many kids. Remind themof the risks of this kind of behavior and together, put new boundaries in place.

  • ExtremistIdeas

The web is full of sketchy, darkpockets kids can stumble into.They can hear abouta community forum or appfrom a friendand be wowedsimply because it’s differentand edgy.While there are plenty of harmless conversations taking place on these apps, spaces suchas Discord, Reddit, and Twitch have reportedly housedcommunities’extreme ideologiesthat target vulnerable kids.

SafeFamilyTip:Be aware of behavior changes.Talk with your kids about thewide rangeof idealsand agendaspromotedonline, how tothink criticallyabout conversationsand content,and most importantly,how to spot these communities.

  • Anonymous Profiles

Anonymity online is problematic for a plethora ofreasons.Apps such as Yolo, Tumblr, andTellonym,Omegle,YikYak, Whisper, LMK,MeetMe, are just a few of those apps to look for. Many of these apps are chat apps used to eventually meet up with newfriends in real life (IRL).However, when apps allow anonymous accounts, it’salmost impossible to trace inappropriate content, threats, or bullying incidents.

Safe Family Tip: Kids get excitedabout making friends andhavingnew experiences— somuchso,theycan ignore potentialconsequences. Discuss issues that may arise(catfishing, sextortion, scams, bullying)when people hide behind anonymous names and profiles. If needed,give real examples from the newswhere these apps havebeen connected to tragic outcomes.

  • InflammatoryContent

Severalapps and online communitieshave been connected to violence,hate content,intolerance, and fanaticism. A few of these sites include 4Chan, 8Chan,AnyChan,Gab,SaidIt.Net, and 8Kun, among many others.

Safe Family Tip: Note any behavior changes in yourchild.Talk oftenaboutdigital literacyand being a responsible publisher (and consumer) of media online.

Stayingin step with yourchild’slatest and greatest appaffinityisn’teasy, andevery parent makesmistakes in howtheyapproach the task.However, kids of all ages (no matter how tech-savvy theyare) need boundaries, expectations, andconsistentand honestdialoguewhen it comes todigital habits andstaying safeonline.Ifyou don’t know where to start (or start over),one first step is to start today and commit tostayingaware of the digital risks out there. In addition, make time to have regular, openconversationswith your child about their favorite apps — the ones you know about and the ones youmay not.

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