Is the Houseparty App Safe for Teens?

houseparty app rankingDoes something look out of place in the image on the right? It’s a partial listing of the top 10 free apps in the iTunes App Store today. In between Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon and Google Maps – all household names – is a surprising newcomer called Houseparty.

Houseparty is the brainchild of the folks who created live video broadcasting app Meerkat, and it looks like it’s a hit. Launched in August of last year, the idea behind Houseparty is that groups of up to 8 friends can simultaneously video chat with each other, like they’re at a party. We thought we’d take a look at whether the app is safe for teens to use, since based on the rankings we can assume that some of them are already using it. According to one estimate, nearly 2 million people used the app in the last month.

First of all, the age limit is 13 years old, but like so many other apps and social networks, they don’t ask a user’s age at signup so they aren’t even trying to exclude the kids. All you need is a smartphone to join and use the service.

Houseparty does collect a user’s name, email and phone number, so those pieces of information are “out there”, but there is no indication that this is more of a risk than with any other network.

Houseparty’s Privacy Policy states that they may collect user location information, which does seem like an unknowable risk to us. If they are using your location to somehow improve the service, it’s probably no big deal, but if they at any point they decide to broadcast user location to other users, that is not safe for teens. If they decide to suggest “friends” based on a user’s location, that could be a nightmare.

Houseparty appA number of types of content are not permitted. From the TOS:

You may NOT post content that:

  • Impersonates another person or entity in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others;

  • Violates the rights of a third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and publicity rights;

  • Promotes discrimination, hatred or harm against any individual or group;

  • Is a direct and specific threat of violence to others;

  • Is defamatory, obscene or pornographic;

  • Is furtherance of illegal activities; or

  • Is harassing, abusive, or constitutes spam.

It doesn’t look to us, based on that wording, that plain old nudity is prohibited, but if your teen is looking for a sexting app, this one is no more risky than others out there.

Houseparty has built some safeguards to help users avoid unwanted joiners, which can happen. According to an article at The Verge:

“A friend of a friend can enter your chat, and when they do, a banner warning “Stranger danger!” flashes on your screen. You can “wave” at other users to send them a push notification inviting them to join you — like a FaceTime call, sure, but a bit less thirsty. And you can lock your room for privacy.”

Other than the location tracking, we don’t see any real red flags here. We have reached out to the company for comment on the location thing, and will update this post for clarity if and when we hear back.

 

 

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