Calling all parents. Teens are using ghost apps to hide nude photos they may be sharing with their friends. WVEC 13 News Now covered this trending topic recently for ABC and tapped Sera-Brynn’s Jevon Taylor to help better educate the community – namely parents and guardians of teenagers – about these apps.
Read the interview below or watch the complete segment here.
David Alan: Parents, if you think you have a good handle on your child’s cell phone activity, listen to this.
Janet Roach: There may be some explicit photos, videos or even text messages that you can’t even see tucked away in ghost apps. Our Jemie Lee is here to show us how they work.
Jemie Lee: Yea, these apps are so tricky because a lot of them are disguised as calculators. Here’s what a couple of them look like in the app store. It looks like a regular calculator when you open it and even works like one. But as soon as you type in a secret passcode, it unlocks like a secret vault and takes you straight to those nude photos.
Video: “Let me take a selfie.”
Lee: Sneaky teens, sexting right under parents noses. Using secret apps like this one, to hide racy photos and share them with their friends.
Mother: It’s just crazy that kids are doing that and storing nude photos of other students.
Lee: They’re called ghost apps or hidden vault apps.
Jevon Taylor: It takes a photo out of their gallery for the phone and hides it within the app itself and that app is PIN password protected.
Lee: Popular ones include KeepSafe, Vault and KYMS. Some of them, disguised as a calculator, something most parents would never suspect.
Mother: No. I wouldn’t have a clue. I would not have a clue to have looked for that at all.
Lee: We checked the iPhone app store to see what we could find and several hidden vault apps popped up. Cybersecurity Consultant, Jevon Taylor, says these apps can also hide videos, documents and even browser history.
Taylor: Those, not just hide apps and disguise the app itself, but they can actually send picture messages safely. They can send a photo to another device and have it only visible on that device for a certain amount of time and then it will self-destruct.
Mother: I just know with technology and stuff that it’s only going to get worse every day and I can only imagine by the time he’s a teenager what’s going to come out.
Lee: Teens may think they’re sneaking behind their parents back, but they can’t sneak behind the law.
Detective Tim Northern: It’s illegal. A lot of them don’t think it’s illegal, they think it’s innocent. They think it’s fun. They don’t realize the complications of it.
Lee: If you’re caught with nude pictures of anyone under the age of 18 and you send those photos to someone else, you could be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.
Detective Northern: Absolutely that’s child porn. And that’s something that no only local and state gets involved but federal government agencies get involved as well. It’s a federal offense also.
Lee: Just take it from an on-going investigation at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Court documents reveal a 17-year-old student could be facing serious child porn charges for allegedly using a ghost app to send and receive nude photos of at least eight underage female students.
Detective Northern: Not only do they become victims because that’s what people fail to realize. If I send it out to 25 people, that’s 25 juveniles that are victims and they also become what? Suspects as well because they are in possession of child porn.
Lee: New apps are coming out everyday. But there are ways parents can stay on top of it.
Taylor: Set parental controls on the Google Play and app store.
Lee: That’s done through settings. You can control the content levels for any apps, music and books. Or, look into Apple’s Family Share feature.
Taylor: If a child wants to download an app, a notification will be sent to the parent and the parent will have a pop-up on their screen showing what application it is and they can approve it or deny it at that time. And then that way, it gives the parents time to do a little research and ask the child their reason for downloading that app.
Lee: You can also download third party software like Teen Safe which monitors call logs, text messages and all downloaded apps. But most importantly, just talk to your kids. Have an open conversation about the consequences of sexting.
Mother: They just really have to check the kids’ stuff and see what they are watching and viewing and who they’re hanging around because everyone has an influence on them.
Lee: Now in the investigation at Ocean Lakes High School, the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office says that no one has been charged in that case yet, and the school district is not commenting as it is an ongoing active police investigation but a spokesperson told us that the distribution of inappropriate photos and materials on school property would be a violation of the Code of Student Conduct.