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.

 

 

If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

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Infographic: Pros and Cons of Children’s Media Device Usage

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The Pros and Cons of Children’s Media Device Usage – Brought To You By California Cryobank

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Kids, Teens and Too Much Screen Time

If you’re looking for someone to tell you that it’s a good idea to limit kids’ screen time, you’ll have no problem finding one, or many. In fact, we tell parents all the time that moderation and balance are important when helping plan and manage their children’s digital activity. Steve Jobs famously declared that he didn’t allow his kids to use tablets like the iPad, preferring that they grow up in the analog world.

too-much-screen-time

Is there a credible voice out there for the opposite view? We may have found one.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a high profile and outspoken entrepreneur, author, public speaker and tech investor (@garyvee on Twitter). He wrote a post on Medium this week titled Our Kids Aren’t Using Too Much Tech. They’re Not Using Enough, in which he says that he refuses to put a limit on his children’s screen time. Let’s take a look at where we agree and disagree:

“Children are growing up with technology. We are moving into a futuristic world. I think it’s great, of course. I definitely get a kick out of seeing Xander try to swipe everything. With the changing world, I want to make sure my kids are part of these cultural shifts. I want them to understand the technology they are going to be faced with daily. I especially want them to be up to date with tech since a lot will depend on it: schools, jobs, and even basic interaction with people.”

We somewhat agree – Actually, we agree with all of the points above. We don’t agree however, that making sure your child is aware of and takes advantage of the available technology means that time limits and boundaries are a bad idea. Parents can allow enough time for technology and still put limits in place.

“I know what some of you already saying. You’re saying, “What about getting outdoors? What about physical activities?” Listen. I’m never going to be that dad that says “Get outside and play!”… if your kid really wants to go outside and play football, she will go outside and play football. Technology hasn’t removed that option from her life.”

Again, we agree to a point – The existence of technology is not mutually exclusive from the idea of going outside to play. Reality does come into play, though. As a suburban dad of kids aged 7 – 16, and a house full of technology, I know that the digital siren song is very seducing, and one you are online it is often easier to stay online than to stop and do something else. Online, there are seemingly endless things to do.

In summary, far be it for us to tell Gary V. or anyone else how to parent their kids, but we are going to stick to our longstanding recommendation – that’s it is a good idea for parents to put time limits on kids’ screen time in order to make sure that school and extracurricular demands are being met, and other interests are being developed. Nor do we think that a complete laissez faire attitude can never work. I myself have access to all the technology that I need and I still make time to get outside and play golf, walk the dog and play with the kids. No doubt some children and teens can manage a similar, or better balance.

Some parents might want to take the hands-off route, but we prefer some limits, that can certainly be relaxed as a child’s age and digital maturity progresses.

Have a different thought? Please let us know in the comments.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Cell Phones, Social Media and the Death of School Dances

I think some of the pundits have this one wrong.

teen-cell-phoneAn article in Business Insider this week, detailing how school dances are going the way of the dodo bird, perhaps because teens may be losing their ability to socialize, is getting a lot of buzz and it’s the kind of issue where everyone has an opinion. We do too.

The Business Insider article was actually fairly balanced, and focused on the question of why school dances are dying out. It was not an immediate indictment of kids’ socialization skills or a demonization of current technology. Case and point, quoting one current high school student:

“Kids don’t need to go to a dance to interact with each other when they can sit in their bed with their laptop and phone and text them,” she said. “It’s basically like being with that person.”

That didn’t stop dozens of outlets from taking the issue to the most sound bite-worthy level, declaring the death of traditional communication by our youths, and painting it as some sort of weakness. This is where the criticism might be off the mark.

For example, Deborah Carr, Rutgers University sociology professor weighed in with the following when interviewed by radio station NJ 101.5:

“[Dances] involve asking someone to dance or go out on a date, which means face-to-face communication and physical touch,” she said. “And if young people are accustomed only to communicating in this very kind of impersonal way [via technology], they may find all these new layers of closeness to be kind of intimidating and frightening.”

Face to face interaction, for certain people, has always been intimidating and frightening. Having to do it in an arbitrary setting at a time determined by school officials may not be the most conducive to real, quality interaction. Just because we’ve always done it that way, doesn’t make it how it should be done. A couple more thoughts from a parent of two teens:

Where your parents aren’t – There is always an element of teens wanting to be places and do things totally separate from their parents. Even at a school dance, there are teachers and chaperones, making everything a little forced. We understand, though, that unsupervised electronic communication is not without risks.

More choice – I would rather see my kids connecting with a friend or group carefully chosen that the whole school, at an appointed hour. Back in the day, if the only way you could talk to Suzie was to go to the school dance, you had to be there, or risk missing out. No such barriers exist these days. Communicating with whom and when you want, via the medium you choose, seems to be more natural, and works seamlessly given the availability of smartphones and social media.

Awkwardness removed – Yes, awkwardness will always be an issue with teens exploring the dating world. If initiating a conversation via social media is less awkward than approaching a mysterious potential love interest at a school dance, that’s a good thing.

As parents, we should like the fact that kids doing what they want  – if it’s legal and harmless and leads to positive personal development. Don’t be dismayed by the electronic element – it only goes so far. At some point, kids are going to meet face to face. Let’s let it happen, not make it happen.

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