Houseparty

Houseparty video call app could put children at risk – How can you keep young people safe?

With the majority of school children across the country now learning from home, people are turning to new methods to remain in contact with their friends. One app in particular that has grown in popularity is Houseparty – a live streaming app that allows friends to video chat in a group.

This app is now so popular it has become the most downloaded app since isolation measures were introduced. However, it can also open the door for unwanted and unsolicited contact.

In partnership with National Online Safety, here we explain exactly how Houseparty works, what dangers it can pose, and what advice schools can give to parents to keep children safe.

What is Houseparty?

Houseparty is a free, live-streaming app that allows groups of up to eight users to video chat simultaneously. When a user opens the app, they are instantly connected to their friends who are on the app, or ‘in the house’. The user is then able to see who is chatting and can ‘drop in’ to the video chat, without invitation.

Users can have as many chats as they want and can move between these ‘rooms’ by swiping across the screen.

The app also allows users to send messages to other users, with a feature that allows participants of a group video to send each other secret texts.

What are the dangers?

While the app is a great way for school friends to stay in touch, the nature of the app can bring with it some inherent dangers. These include:

  • Stranger danger – Houseparty allows for friends of friends to join video chats without invitation. This means that young people can suddenly find themselves in a live video stream with a stranger. While the app does alert users to this ‘stranger danger’, they may not know when individuals enter their chat room, it also suggests this could be a reason for ‘party time’.
  • Explicit material – sexting and other explicit material are risks with Houseparty. In one particularly concerning case, two teenage girls were reportedly targeted by men exposing themselves through the app.
  • Sharing content without consent – Houseparty’s ‘facemail’ feature allows participants to record their screen and save this to their phone, meaning any content that a child may later regret could be widely shared online.
  • Cyberbullying – group chats can be used by bullies to make hurtful comments to others in the group. Additionally, exclusion from friendship groups within the platform can make young people feel isolated.
  • Oversharing personal information – children may not always understand the risks of giving out too much personal information during a live stream. Indeed, young people may be at risk of revealing information around where they live or where they go to school, without even realising, simply by their surroundings while they’re using the app.

What advice can schools give parents to keep their children safe?

There are a number of measures to help keep children safe while using the app. To help safeguard students during school closures, teachers and schools should encourage parents to:

  • Have conversations around safety – first and foremost, it’s important that both parents and children alike are aware of the potential dangers of Houseparty, so that young people can be safeguarded effectively. It may be useful for parents to have their child demonstrate the app to them, to see how they are using it.
  • Check who they’re communicating with – it’s important that parents are aware of who is on their child’s friend list and who they are communicating with. Parents should also remind children that they should not be communicating with people that they do not know personally and should ignore any requests from strangers.
  • Ensure children are using the ‘lock’ feature – Houseparty allows users to ‘lock’ their conversations to make them private, and prevent anyone else from joining the group. Parents should ensure children are aware of this feature, to prevent other users, and most importantly, strangers, from communicating with them.
  • Protecting privacy – parents should speak to their children about what constitutes ‘personal information’ to ensure they do not disclose anything to anyone during a live stream. Parents should advise them to remove any items such as school uniform, street name, posters, etc., that could potentially expose their location or personal information.
  • Be present – a study by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found that 96% of streams showed a child on their own, often in their bedroom or bathroom. If a child is going to conduct a live stream, parents should ask them if they could be present for it, to help them understand how their child is using the app.

For more information and advice, Smoothwall’s digital safety education and training partners, National Online Safety, have a full guide here.

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