Not so innocent ghost apps; What every parent needs to know

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) - Ghost apps, or media vault apps, are gaining popularity but could cause problems for kids. The apps sometimes look inconspicuous and ordinary, like a calculator app, but when you put in a passcode it reveals a secret vault that lets people hide videos and pictures.

"Unless you watch what they're doing 24/7, they can get into a lot of trouble," said mom of three Paula Treece. She regularly checks her kids' phones and tries to stay informed when it comes to social media.

Treece said she first heard of ghost apps a year ago and was shocked, "It's just a sneaky way to hide things from whomever."

News Channel 11 did some research and found a lot of ghost apps look and operate like calculators, but we also found one called MediaVault, which portrays itself as a  Tic-Tac-toe game.

There were also several apps that had lock and key or folder images and w

ere described as media or photo vaults.

According to app analytics company, App Annie, Secret Calculator Pro averaged as the 26th most downloaded photo and video app in the U.S. over the last month.

Detective Matthew Price with the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office has seen ghost apps during the course of investigations in the digital forensics lab. "A lot of times, [it's] just images; sexually explicit images or videos."

He said not only is it illegal for kids to send sexually explicit photos but said it can be a dangerous slippery-slope once those photos are out there. "It starts out as a girlfriend-boyfriend thing and boyfriend gets mad and gives it to 10 of his football buddies and those 10 buddies give it to 10 other buddies," Detective Price said.

There are a number of ways parents can check for media vault apps. First, look for extra symbols or words in the app title that may not belong.

If you can delete a utilities app, it could be a ghost app; utility apps that come installed on the phone, like the calculator app, cannot be deleted. Also, read the app description in the App Store or on Google Play.

Treece uses a setting that lets her approve every app on her kids' phones, "When they want something it comes back to my phone and I say yes or no."

She also said communication and participation are keys to keeping her kids safe online.

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