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‘Ghost’ apps allow teens to secretly store nude photos on cellphones

Faith & Family

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CANON CITY, Colo. — Apps that claim to protect users against hackers and support online privacy are also making it easier for teens to send and store nude photos.

Vault or “ghost” apps show up on a smartphone as a normal app such as a calculator, but enter a password and you’ll unlock a vault of secret photos and videos that only the user can access. These apps are easy to download and simple to use, and when placed in the wrong, they can be extremely dangerous, according to experts.

“Ghost apps, hidden apps, they’re everywhere and kids know about them,” investigator Mike Harris told NBC Nightly News.

Take, for example, the recent scandal at Canon City High School in Colorado. Just last week, authorities uncovered a secret “sexting ring” involving more than 100 teenagers trading nude photos of themselves, according to the New York Times.

Students used ghost apps to store and share more than 300 to 400 naked images on their cellphones, the Times reports. Members of the school’s football team were the alleged ringleaders, according to the district superintendent, and the scandal even involved eighth graders from the middle school.

“I hope no other school has it at the level we have it,” principal Bret Meuli told the Times. “But I fear we aren’t the only ones.”

Vault apps aren’t new — they’ve been around for several years and there are plenty to choose from, both free and available for purchase. An app called Private Photo Vault is currently the 24th most popular free photo and video app on iTunes, according to CBS News.

Another free app — Secret Calculator Folder Free — has 800 user reviews. Other vault apps to look for: Calculator% and Photo Vault & Video Lock Safe, Newsweek reports.

Other ghost apps are a little more difficult to spot, and that’s where parents need to be alert, experts say.

Hide It Pro is an app available for both Android and IPhones that allows users to hide media while disguising itself as an “audio manager” that appears to just control the phone’s volume. If you press and hold the app, however, a lock screen appears — masking a trove of messages, photos, videos and apps, according to TeenSafe.com.

Vaulty is another app to watch for. Available just for Android phones, Vaulty allows users to create a password-protected vault where photos and videos can be secretly stored. If someone attempts to crack the “vault” without the correct password, the app takes a photo of the user.

“Teenagers and children are always going to be more tech savvy than parents no matter what the generation,” CNET editor Dan Ackerman told CBS.

So what should you be looking for as a parent seeking to protect your child? For starters, do your research. Educate yourself on what apps to look for, and don’t be afraid to check your child’s phone periodically.

Additionally, if you’re on a family plan, sign up for alerts that will be sent to your home each time your child downloads a new app.

“The best way to educate your children on the Internet is to educate yourself,” Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge told Newsweek.

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