Virtual play dates are the new thing. Our kids are really struggling not seeing their friends so online chats have zoomed into our lives to fill that social gap.
Some of us have already used Zoom and Google Hangouts in the workplace. And many entrepreneurial class providers are even running online tuition via Zoom. But the new app on the block – Houseparty – is becoming the way to chat. But there is always a catch and some evil online stalker waiting in the shadows to swipe.
So the question is, is the app Houseparty safe for our kids?
We’ve been using Houseparty as a bit of a virtual babysitter. We set up a Houseparty playdate with my kids’ friends and then I switch on to work and switch off from my kids. There are lots of laughs and screams and excited chatter and the conversation can last for hours. But I have a niggling question: “Is Houseparty safe for my kids?”
What’s Houseparty all about?
Though the app first launched in 2016, Houseparty has seen user numbers skyrocket in the past three weeks. It was bought last June by Epic Games, the company behind the hit game Fortnite. It’s a more casual hangout than Zoom, with the emphasis on fun. There are a couple of games that partiers can play together – including, drawing and a charades-kind of game. Users can also privately message their friends and send ‘Facemails’ or video messages to their friends’ list.
When joining Houseparty, the app asks permission to connect with your contacts and social networks so it can add existing contacts to your friends’ list. When you open the app, you get a list of friends who are online as well as parties you can join.
Once the app has opened, a party room (unless locked) is open for anyone on their contact list to join. When a friend joins, friends of theirs can join too. The maximum number of users that can enter a room is eight.
The main security issue for me is that strangers can party bomb your room.
“Although the app is relatively secure as users can create ‘rooms’ and pick only specific names of the people to talk with, if a child doesn’t ‘lock’ their chat room and choose private settings, others can pop into the video chat,” warns Internet Matters.
“So it’s important to show and sit down with your child to switch privacy filters and other controls on when video chatting. This keeps video chats private and secure.”
Lock The Room
The Carly Ryan Foundation says that ‘locking your room’ prevents anyone from entering the users’ room, unless personally invited. For younger users, it is highly recommended they keep their rooms locked and only invite users they know personally.
To lock the call, click the padlock icon at the bottom of the screen.
Remind your child to lock every call they take part in, so users they don’t know can’t join.
Make their account private
Making a Houseparty account private means that every call you’re in will be locked.
To do this go to settings, and switch to Private Mode.
Block Out Weirdos
If your child receives any messages or someone they don’t know or they don’t want to speak with joins their ‘house’ they can report or block that person.
To do this, follow the instructions:
- Click the smiley face icon in the top left corner
- Click My Friends to access your contacts list
- Find the person you want to block or report
- Click the three dots near their name
- Click block/report
- Choose which option you want to do
To further protect your kids’ privacy, you should be aware of a couple of different settings: Ghosting, In The House and Unfriend.
In The House: When switched on, you receive a notification when this user is online
Ghosting: When switched on, this selected user will not receive notifications when you are online.
Unfriend: Remove user from contacts.
Possible Security Issues
There are a few security issues that parents need to be aware of and may need to monitor usage of the app for younger kids.
These issues include:
- private text & video messaging, which may pose a problem.
- There are no established privacy settings
- Stranger contact via mutual friends in a room, unless the room is locked.
- Hiding identity via the ‘disable camera’ feature.
How To Delete Your Houseparty App
If you’d rather your child not be using Houseparty, you can delete their account by doing the following:
- Click the smiley face in the top left corner
- On your Friends List click the red gear/settings buttons in the left corner
- Click Privacy – you should see a lock symbol next to it
- Tap delete account
- Click yes and then enter your password
So, the main outtake of this is that Houseparty is a relatively safe app for kids to use but there does need to be some casual parental supervision. For older kids, have a conversation around how they are going to stay safe within the Houseparty environment. For younger kids, it’s probably best you are in the same room while the conversation is taking place.
Do you and your kids use the Houseparty app? Do you think Houseparty is safe for your kids to use? Tell us in the comments below.