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Scary apps help kids hide photos they don’t want Mom to see

If you aren’t one of those parents who regularly checks out which apps your child downloads on his or her phone, you might want to become one. Oh, and here’s a pro tip: beware of multiple calculators!

When we parents keep tabs on our kids’ cellphones, it helps rein in some of the fear and uncertainty that churns our stomachs when we hear about cyberbullying, widely disseminated sexts and online cruelty. Sure, there’s a fine line between respecting your child’s privacy and keeping them safe. But whether you’re pro-snoop or anti, we all agree that it’s irresponsible to turn a blind eye to our children’s activities: the lines of communication must stay open.

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Of course, it’s a tale as old as time; some kids will always balk at the thought of being snooped on, and they will always find ways to do exactly the opposite of what you tell them to.

Enter the hidden photo app for cell phones, often innocuously dressed up as a calculator app. These apps allow you to hide streams of photos — among other things — behind a functioning calculator, so that the casual, slightly less technologically-savvy snooper won’t see any naughty pics. Given some teens’ propensity to take pictures of their junk (or to use shared photos of other teens’ junk to bully them), you can see why this might be of concern to parents.

For the iPhone, this takes the form of an app called Calculator% (wow so slick guys!) and is available for free in the app store. It looks a lot like the calculator, and functions as one when you open it, except for the fact that when you hit the decimal button, your four-digit passcode, and the decimal button again, you’ll have access to photo storage that you might not otherwise want in your phone’s regular photo stream.

If you upgrade the app, you’ll have access to unlimited storage, a search function and the ability to turn the calculator app into a functional camera, so that the user can take pics on the sly. Ick.

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The android app on Google Play, Smart Hide Calculator, is similar, except that it allows you to hide photos instead of viewing them privately, as well as apps, SMS messages, videos, documents and other extensions.

There are plenty of similar apps on the market for both platforms as well, and while some are pretty straightforward in their presentation, like Vaulty or Keep Safe Private Photo Vault, some are sneaky about it, masquerading as a game or, most commonly, a calculator.

The takeaway here, besides “beware of multiple calculator apps on your child’s phone”? Know what your kids are up to. Talk to them about what apps they are using. You don’t have to read every text message and demand full disclosure of their every private thought, but you do have the right to set boundaries concerning the types of applications and media that you do or do not want your kids using or consuming. If your child upgrades an app like this, it costs money, so unless they have the family data plan linked up to their own bank account (ha!), then it isn’t too hard to sleuth out.

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Prevention is the best cure, of course, so it’s important to remember to have conversations about using technology smartly and safely, and to keep having them until your children’s eyes roll out of their heads and across the floor. Or until it sinks in, whichever comes first.

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