Should Secret Text Messaging Apps be Banned?
(Guest post) Secret messaging apps allow smartphone users to send and receive messages from specific people without those messages coming up in the normal app. This capability can be used for both nefarious and dangerous purposes. For example, it can allow someone to carry on an adulterous relationship without leaving obvious evidence for a spouse to find. Kids can use them, too, and find them to be good for avoiding classroom bans on texting. Even more worrying, children can use these apps to contact people who their parents don't approve of - including predators.
These facts may lead to the idea that apps of this sort should be banned. After all, if they can be used for such bad things, what's the point of keeping them? The answer is that the same technology can allow for secret emergency communications, such as calls to 911, by those who are in danger. The ability to sneak a message out during a kidnapping, hostage situation, or robbery can save a life.
How to Mitigate the Dangers of Secret Messaging Apps
Parents will need to know what to look for in order to reduce the dangers associated with these secret messaging apps. This allows them to keep their kids safe without being total killjoys. After all, most kids won't really be harmed if they dash off a few texts from the back of a classroom - and, as mentioned before, the same ability can be important in emergencies. Therefore, your goal should mainly be to ensure that the friends your kids are "e-whispering" to are truly their friends and not nefarious adults.
How to Spot a Secret Messaging App
The first step is to know what to look for. To stay secret, a messaging app can't use an icon that blatantly says that it's for messaging. Instead, it will use a stealth icon that seems to be for something totally unrelated. One app, for example, is plainly marked "Baseball." It even shows a baseball diamond as its icon. Other apps have similar decoy names and images to fool casual onlookers, so users can just pick the one that makes the most sense for them. One app even has no icon at all.
Once a secret messaging app's icon is tapped, its secret still is not revealed. Instead, it'll ask for a passcode. If the wrong code is given, it will deliver an innocuous message refusing entry.
If you see an app on your child's phone that behaves like this, it's time to be suspicious.
Maintaining Safety Without Overdoing It
What - if anything - should be done about these apps depends on several factors. One is the age of the user. Younger children are more likely to be taken in by online predators thanks to their inexperience, so it makes sense that they should have more supervision. They'll also be much more likely to go along with basic responses like checking their phones, demanding their passwords for these apps, or in extreme situations, demanding that the apps be uninstalled.
Teenagers, on the other hand, are developing into adults and will also have developed a sense of privacy and boundaries. This makes it so that heavy-handed demands for passwords are very likely to lead only to more-sophisticated resistance to what they perceive as overly-controlling, nosy behavior. Therefore, different tactics should be used with older teens.
The Next Step
As with many issues surrounding the behavior of a growing person, talking and explaining your concerns is a good course of action. Be sure to stay calm and avoid exaggerations - teenagers do not believe hyped-up tales of danger.
Once the child understands the reasons behind your concerns, she or he is more likely to give up the password so you can ensure his or her safety. Once you have the code, you can monitor the child's messaging without taking away the quite useful ability to send a text without the whole world finding out that it was done.