Anonymous & decoy apps

Using decoy apps to hide content on devices or anonymous apps to post things you wouldn’t share in real life can expose children to variety of online issues if misused. Learn more about what these are and get pracical tips to keep young people safe.

What’s on the page?

What are anonymous apps?

Anonymous apps allow users to share and interact with each other without revealing who they are. Unlike social media sites, many of these apps encourage users to stay anonymous and chat to each other or post questions and answers on a range of topics.

In recent years, there has been a growth in honesty or feedback apps that allow users to post images or ‘tell-all’ posts to get ‘honest’ feedback from strangers which at times can lead to bullying.

What are risks associated with Anonymous apps?

Anonymous apps can expose children to a range of online risks, including inappropriate content cyberbullying and sexting.

Under the cover of anonymity, people may feel less accountable for what they say and may share things that they would not on open social platforms.

See full guide on Anonymous Apps to learn more:

See our top tips guide to tackle social media concerns

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Use our digital resilience toolkits to help your child adopt good online habits and protec their digital wellbeing.

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Examples of popular anonymous apps

ASKfm

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 in the past and the organisation has since worked with anti-bullying charities to help create safety tools and policies to deal with this and other harmful content on it’s platform.

Key safety features:

  • Report/ block / Unfollow
  • Restrictions on searches of harmful content
  • Disable anonymous questions in privacy settings

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13
Risk: Exposure to inappropriate content and

Omegle

The omegle app is a Free online chat site that is used to talk to strangers through a webcam.
Like Chaftroulete, the app randomly pairs users with each other for anonymous one-to-one chats.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 13

Risks:  Exposure to sexual content and other types of inappropriate content

Sarahah

Sarahah is an established free social media app that allows you to receive comments from friends and strangers anonymously. The name means ‘honesty’ in Arabic and was initially designed for employees to share feedback with each other anonymously. Now that it is linked to Snapchat, many teens have taken to it and it now has millions of users.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17

Risks:  Cyberbullying, violence

SayAt.Me App

SayAt.Me is an Android only app that allows you to ask questions to others and get ‘honest feedback’. Like similar apps, it can expose children to cyberbullying as young people may use anonymity to harass others. Also, getting honest feedback can impact young people self-esteem if comments made are hurtful and cruel.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 16 (with parental consent)

Risks:  Cyberbullying

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.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17
Risks: Connecting with strangers, location sharing, cyberbullying, inappropriate content

Yolo App

Similar to apps like Kik and Sarahah, the Yolo app allows teens to ask ‘honest feedback’ in the form of anonymous replies to a question. The app is used within Snapchat where users can post anonymous questions and comments on a Snapchat story and also attached an image. Once you have linked the app to a Snapchat account, it prompts you to ‘get anonymous messages’ and create a question to prompt others to ‘Send me honest messages’.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17
Risks: Connecting with strangers, cyberbullying, inappropriate content

Monkey App

Like many anonymous apps, Tellonym allows you to ask and answer questions about users on the platfrom anonymously. The app can be linked to other social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat) to allow user to get incoming messages from friends and people they don’t know. Connecting Tellonym to other platform increases the risk that strangers could target children across platforms.

Safety on the Tellonym

  • Language filters to remove offensive language, spam or sexual harassment
  • Custom word filters to exclude specific topics
  • Adjust privacy settings
  • Report and block users

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17
Risks: inappropriate content, cyberbullying

Psst! Anonymous

Like many anonymous apps, Psst! Anonymous allows you to share secrets, daily experiences without sharing your identity.  You can vote, comment and private message others on the platform. This can exposed young people to incidents of cyberbullying as some use the anonimity to target others and say things they wouldn’t say in real life.

Also, like Snapchat, once a message has been opened it is deleted within 30 seconds however, you cannot screenshot conversation for later viewing which means if you are receiving inappropriate content, you are not able to collect evidence.

Cost: Free | Minimum age: 17
Risks: inappropriate content, cyberbullying

What are decoy apps?

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.

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.

What risks can decoy apps expose children to?

If misused, they can be used to exchange explicit content that can be harmful to children’s wellbeing. Also, as a parent it’s important to have transparency with your child about how they use their devices, these put a barrier to this which can make it harder to protect children from online risks.

If you do spot a decoy app your child’s phone it’s important to;

  • Talk about why they are using it for and discuss issues around online safety so they are aware of your concerns around using these apps.
  • Make sure they’re aware that nothing online is truly private so it’s important to think before you share.
  • Regularly do a mobile healthcheck to make sure you are aware of apps and platforms they use.
  • Don’t jump to conclusion, give them the benefit of the doubt as they could be using the app for sensible reasons like protecting something sensitive from a friend.
Article document

Expert advice article: Why kids choose decoy apps and why parents should care – by Toni Birdsong McAfee Family Safety Evangelist

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Examples of decoy apps

Secret Calculator app

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.

Cost: Freemium with in-app purchases | Minimum age: No minimum age
Risk: Sharing or recieving inappropriate content

Photo Album Vault

The Photo Album Vault appears as a typical lock screen and allows you to store photos in the cloud with unlimited storage. You can also take and store videos and photos in the app.

Cost: Free with in-app purchases | Minimum age: no minimum age

Risks:  Sharing or receiving inappropriate content

Stashword – Private Fingerprint Messenger

The Stashword app cannot be seen as it is an extension to messages only. It requires a PIN or fingerprint scan in order to open private messages. You can erase conversation easily and it can also be used to save and manage passwords.

Cost: 99p Minimum age: No minimum age
Risks: Sending or recieving inappropriate content

KeepSafe Photo Vault

The Keepsafe app allows you to store photos and videos behind a PIN, fingerprint touch ID and military-grade encryption. There is a free and paid version of the app based on extended features like  advanced security features, such as fake login PINs, break-in alerts and the ability to disquise the app as something else.

Cost: Free with in-app purchases| Minimum age: no minimum age
Risks: Sharing or receiving inappropriate images

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