a parents’ guide to apps

Although child-friendly apps can make using the internet a more accessible and enjoyable experience, the thousands of apps available for different types of people mean it’s important to make sure children use appropriate ones.

This guide maps some of the most common apps available and highlights those that might create risky situations for children, such as unintentionally revealing personal information, stranger danger and generating large bills through in-app purchasing.

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Privacy

of apps send information about the device and user habits to a third party ¹

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Purchases

In 2013, 80 of the top 100 apps were ‘free’ but made all money through in-app purchasing ²

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Permission

of mums and dads let kids download apps without their permission ³

Some apps that allow children to create and maintain online relationships raise some important safety issues that it’s worth knowing about as a parent:

Chatting with strangers

Meeting and chatting with strangers online poses risks to young people who might be vulnerable to grooming and online (and offline) forms of sexual abuse.

Sending inappropriate content

With the physical barrier of a screen, some people feel more empowered to pressurise others into sending messages, often of a sexual or derogatory nature.

Sharing a location

Many apps share the user’s location. This can put children at risk from others who actively seek out children with the intention of meeting in the real world. Sharing a location can also raise concerns with identity theft and privacy.

Read more about Online Grooming, Privacy & Identity Theft, and Sexting here.

Where available, you’ll also find links to the relevant privacy pages or FAQs for these apps.

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BBM

The BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app allows you to share messages and images. It also allows you to make free calls anywhere around the world.

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Facebook Messenger

The Facebook Messenger app is a messenger app that connects with the Inbox in Facebook.

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Chat and Play

The app offers a virtual world that might be appealing to children due to its cartoon-like customisation. You can create your own avatar as well as customising your own chatroom.

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Skype

Skype allows you to make voice calls over an internet connection. It also has a chat function and allows the transmission of files from one person to another.

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WeChat

WeChat is a voice and text messaging app with location and Bluetooth functionalities. WeChat allows you to contact other people randomly if they’re in a similar location or using certain functions of the app at the same time.

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Whatsapp

Free-of-charge, real-time messaging. You can share images and videos, take part in ‘group chats’ and share locations. You can only message someone if you already know their telephone number.

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Telegram

Telegram is an app available on both mobile and desktops, allowing free and safe messages for the sender. The app encrypts messages and gives you the ability to destroy them if unwanted.

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Viber

You can make free calls, share images and texts free-of-charge anywhere. It’s based on knowing the other person’s phone number, so you can only message another person if you already know their telephone number.

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TeamSpeak

This is a voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) app that is used primarily in the world of online gaming between gamers playing multi-player games. There are no restrictions about who can chat to who.

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ooVoo

Free video, voice and messaging app, ooVoo has over 100 million registered users in 130 countries and the minimum age to sign-up for an account is 13. It allow you to send free text, video and photos to friends. See our “how to” guide to learn more abouy the app and set privacy settings.

Apps for meeting new people that might create risks

Many of these apps forge a link between children, teens, and adults in the virtual world. Whilst some of the apps don’t have age restrictions, those that do could be ignored by young people. Worryingly these apps might also bridge the gap between virtual and real world. In a recent Childline survey, as many as 33% of children had been asked to meet offline by someone they’ve met on a dating site.

In this section you’ll also find links to independent third-party articles and opinions about these apps and the risks they may pose.

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Chatroulette

The app version of Chatroulette has the same functionality as the desktop version, allowing video interactions between randomised strangers. The user has to log in and there is some (human and computerised) moderation/filtering for inappropriate content, but children may not know who they are talking to.

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Dattch

Dattch aims to make it easier for lesbians to avoid feeling isolated and meet each other away from bars and clubs. The app asks users to verify security by linking it to their Facebook page. Dattch state their network is not for under-18s, although it is possible to claim a false age and bypass age verification questions.

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Down

Previously called ‘Bang with Friends’, Down is an app that allows users to find which of their Facebook friends are local and available to meet up. Down openly acknowledges and promotes that their community use their app for sexual encounter, yet their policies don’t restrict use to over-18s.

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Grindr

Aimed at bisexual and gay men, this app uses location and photos to encourage ‘like-minded’ meetings between strangers. Grindr introduces users to ‘matches’ within the closest geo-radius. Grindr is intended for over-18s, and asks the user to verify their age when signing up, however teens could use it regardless.

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MeowChat

MeowChat’s distinctive look includes cartoon cats and allows users to send texts, images or audio clips. It encourages chatting with ‘like-minded’ strangers based on the user’s location at any time. MeowChat’s minimum sign up age is 13, yet chatrooms can contain bad language and invitations to private chats with strangers.

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MyLOL

MyLOL is a ‘teen dating app’ aimed at 13-20 year olds. The network is moderated and key word detection is in operation. Following recent criticism, an upper age limit came into effect, however it has been reported that those older members with accounts registered before the change still have active accounts.

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Tinder

Users are ‘selected’ by other users as someone they’d like to meet by swiping on their photo. As it’s location based, Tinder introduces users to ‘matches’ within the closest radius. Tinder’s minimum age is 13 as it uses Facebook’s signup age policy.

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VoiceCandy

The app allows users to record a short voice clip and other users decide whether they want to chat before they’re able to see a photo. If users don’t find the person attractive once they see their picture, they have 5 seconds to change their mind. The minimum age for signup is 13.

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Whisper

Whisper is an anonymous messaging app where users are encouraged to share stories they wouldn’t want to put their name to. Whisper includes a category whereby users can search for ‘Meet Up’ – in this category there can sexual images and messages. Whisper is rated 17+ in the app store, but many teens could use it regardless.

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Yik Yak

Yik Yak is an anonymous messaging app that allows its users to send text and photos to others without using their name. Users can choose to engage with the feeds of others within a certain radius of themselves. Yik Yak is aimed at 18 year olds, but teens could click past the age verification and use it anyway.

Apps to help young people overcome chatting problems

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Send This Instead

The Send This Instead app has been developed to help children combat sexting from peers. The app gives a range of optional images with humorous messages so that children can send these as a response to sexting, putting them back in control.

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Zipit

Made by ChildLine, Zipit aims to help teenagers deal with difficult sexting and flirting situations. The app offers humorous comebacks, advice, and aims to help teenagers stay in control of flirting when chatting.

Social networks allow young people to maintain social relationships with school friends, distant friends or online friends they’ve never met. This section looks at the world of social networking apps and some of the risks they may pose for children. For more information about social networks and how to set up important privacy settings, see our page on Social Networking.

Parents should be aware of some issues with social networking apps:

Sharing information

Many apps work on the basis of identity or phone number information. In many cases apps don’t always let you know that this information is being used, meaning children could be sharing personal information. As well as on the social networks themselves, privacy and security settings are available on most devices. You can find out more at our Privacy & Identity Theft page.

Cyberbullying

Smartphones allow people to take photos and share them instantly on their social networks or post information about someone online in seconds. Sometimes this can mean young people are even more vulnerable to episodes of cyberbullying.

Read more about Online Reputation and Cyberbullying here.

Where available, you’ll also find links to relevancy privacy pages, parent guides or safety tips for these apps.

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Emojicate

An emoji only social network. You can chat 1-on-1 or post public status messages using the apps custom emoji keyboard. Cost: Free | Minimum age: unrated  | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Facebook

The Facebook app allows you to share personal information, status updates, pictures, videos and chat with a network. The GPS feature is worth understanding – ‘Nearby Friends’ allows you to see your friends’ current locations on a map.  See Childnet’s Facebook guide to learn how to set privacy settings. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13  | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Google+

Google+ is a social networking site that lets you exchange files and information, chat and webcam with friends. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13  | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Instagram

A photo-sharing app which allows you to edit photos and videos, upload them and share them to other social networking sites. Photos and videos can be sent directly to friends. See our “how to” guide to learn more about the app and how to set privacy controls. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13  | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Keek

A ‘Keek’ is a short video accompanied by a small amount of text. You can respond to keeks with another keek – known as a ‘Keekback’. The interactions can occur in a public or private view. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 18 (13 – with parental permission) | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Kik

Kik is a messenger app with a built-in browser. It allows users to talk, browse and share any website with friends without leaving the app. Unlike some messaging apps, Kik doesn’t use telephone numbers, only user names. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 18 (13 – with parental permission) | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Kuddle

Kuddle is a photo editing and sharing app that combines social media with ‘netiquette’ and educational information about online behaviour and risks. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 9+ | Available on: iOS

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Pheed

Pheed is marketed towards creatives, teens, and ‘rebellious types’, as a way to share text, photo, and video across social networks. Pheed offers a pay-per-view functionality, meaning users can pay to watch music videos.  Cost: Free | Minimum age: 16+ | Available on: iOS

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Pinterest

Pinterest is a app you can use to collate visual ideas, great for educational and creative projects. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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PopJam

This app aims to build a digital community where children can share art, stories, games, photos and contests that they’ve created with other like-minded children. Children can follow friends, other PopJam accounts, and their favourite band, artist or authors. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Timehop

Timehop is an app that allows you to see the events on social media from a specified point in the past. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 18 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Twitter

The Twitter app works in a similar way to the desktop version of Twitter, except that when you tweet you can also post the location of where you’re tweeting from. The Safety Centre for parents can help with any questions or concerns. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Vine

A mobile app that lets you create and upload short looping video clips no longer than seven seconds long. See our “how to” guide to learn more about the app and how to set privacy controls. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Vine Kids

Adapted for younger children, kids can watch age-appropriate videos – swiping left or right to see a new vine. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 4+ | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Periscope

This is a live video streaming app that lets you watch or broadcast live video through a open social network to anywhere in the world. Watchers can comment on videos as they are broadcast. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17+ | Available on: iOS & Google Play


Social networking apps that might create risky situations for children

These apps have gained a reputation for being potentially dangerous for children because of the types of technology they use and the types of communities that have gradually formed around them.

In this section you’ll also find links to relevant safety pages or independent third-party articles and opinions with further information about specific apps and the risks they may pose.

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Ask.fm

The Ask.fm app is an extension of the desktop site, where users can ask and answer questions, either with their name or anonymously. Ask.fm’s reputation as platform for cyberbullying was highlighted recently when a change of ownership promised to stamp out this type of activity. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Foursquare

A location-based social networking site for smartphones that enables users to find out where their friends are and publicly post their locations. If users regularly update their locations it’s possible to map habits and patterns, which can be dangerous for childrenCost: Free | Minimum age: 18 (13 – with parental permission) | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Tumblr

The app version of Tumblr allows users to post, share, and read other users text and image content. Although Tumblr have blocked blogs related to eating disorders, self-harm and suicide, between 2-4% of Tumblr’s content is pornographic. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Snapchat

A photo-sharing app where users can send photos or videos to their friends. These will display on screen for up to ten seconds before being deleted, although it is possible to screenshot messages and use other apps to capture the content. Snapchat could be used for messages of a sexual nature or also mean messages. Learn how to set privacy settings with our “how to” guideCost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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Secret

As an anonymous app, users are encouraged to share secrets divided into categories. Posts can be liked and commented on, but the user generated comments on posts are unregulated. The anonymity can encourage users to feel unreserved and post harsh comments, and it has been reported that anti-bullying measures taken by Secret has been ineffective. Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13 | Available on: iOS & Google Play

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KeepChat

This app links into SnapChat to save videos and images that are supposedly meant to be temporary. The default setting lets the other use know their image has been saved. But as this is an open-source app, anyone can change this setting with the right know-how.

Parents should know about some important issues linked to decoy, gaming, and music apps:

Explicit content

Although most apps now go through a process of classification and are rated based the type of content they contain, all apps are available to download by anyone who has a password to the app store.

This may expose children to explicit content, sometimes without their parents knowing. Some of this content can be illegal or simply inappropriate for children as it’s meant for adults.

Spending money

Apps can cost money to buy from the app store – and some of them can be very expensive.

Some of the ‘free’ apps make their money in different ways, by encouraging you to spend money when using the app. This can mean that bills quickly build up without you even realising it. Read more about in-app purchasing.

Hiding content

Some apps have been created with the specific purpose of allowing the user to hide content within them. These decoy apps can protect personal information from strangers but also allow people to hide content they don’t want anyone else to see.

Read more about Inappropriate Content and Online Pornography here.

Some examples of decoy apps

In order to throw off the unknowing eye, decoy app icons often look like a regular camera icon, music app, photo app or a calculator. These apps are great for securing sensitive information from strangers, but they also make it difficult for parents to monitor what information children are accessing and holding on their devices.

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Poof

Poof hides other apps instantaneously. All that’s needed is to open the app and to select which apps should be hidden and Poof will make those other apps disappear. Poof is no longer available, but it is still available for those that downloaded it before it was removed from the app store.

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Secret Calculator

Appearing as a calculator icon, the only giveaway that this may actually be a decoy app is if you see more than one calculator icon on your child’s device. Private information, videos and photographs can be hidden in this app.

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Secret Chamber

The icon appears as a sunflower sitting within a picture frame and is labelled ‘SC’. As a decoy app SC creates a secure, private zone for images and videos that is accessible without a passcode.

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Secret Piano

This decoy app looks like piano keys but it actually conceals passwords, notes, photographs, videos, contacts, messages, audio, downloads, to-do lists and the locations of contacts.

In-app purchasing allows the user to buy ‘virtual extras’ and is common with games advertised as ‘free to download’. With varying degrees of pressure, virtual ‘currency’ is often required to progress in an online game. As a parent, you can restrict in-app purchasing by changing the settings on your child’s device.

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Angry Birds

The Angry Birds app is a popular paid-for gaming app. It is one of the widest played apps in the world, which has meant that fraudulent apps have been created to scam users into paying more money for fake replicas as updates and ‘new’ games are released.

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Despicable Me: Minion Rush

This free game offers purchases of Gru Tokens to open access to race courses and offer costume changes. Timed offers encourage you to spend your tokens in a set time.

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My Little Pony

The My Little Pony app is free to download and play, however players can be encouraged to ‘enrich’ their playing experience by purchasing game items through in-app purchases.

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Candy Crush Saga

A popular game for all ages that’s free to download and allows you to compete with friends for the highest score. Extra lives, moves and boosters can be purchased.

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Spotify

Spotify lets users share their music playlists with their social media friends. Users can also search for other unknown users based on music type and playlist name. You can upgrade to a premium account through in-app purchasing.

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iTunes

Once setup, iTunes needs a password to buy and rent music and video. You can restrict and disable purchases through Apple devices as well as turning off iTunes completely. Video and music trailers are easily available to listen to and watch even when the content is rated ‘Explicit’.

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Beats Music

Beats offers a music service for users based on their listening habits. The full service requires a subscription, available through in-app purchasing.

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Shazam

Shazam will recognise music you’re listening to which you can then buy through iTunes. You can also view lyrics, create playlists, watch music videos through YouTube and share your discoveries on social media.

  1. D. Holloway, L. Green and S. Livingstone, EU Kids Online network, Zero to Eight: Young children and their internet use, August 2013.
  2. Nielsen Book, Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, September 2013.
  3. Internet Matters OnePoll survey of parents of 5-11 year olds.