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Houseparty - What Parents Need to Know

Cyber Safety Cop Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Houseparty, and how does it work?

Houseparty is a new group video chat app available on both apple and android devices.

You can add friends based on the phone numbers you have stored in your contacts or search for their usernames. Once you open the app, you can join "rooms" (the apps' name for chats) with other friends who are currently in the app.

Chats are limited to eight participants per room, but you can have as many rooms as you want (you can navigate between simultaneous chats by swiping across the screen.)

The app has apparently already amassed a sizable user base, primarily among teenagers. In many ways, the app is tailored to these younger users: emoji are sprinkled liberally throughout the app and the app's interface, which launches directly in the camera, feels remarkably similar to Snapchat.

Its creators say it encourages users to have frequent, candid conversations with their friends and family. The question for parents is: Is this new social media app safe for my child?

 

Safety and privacy concerns

When a user is in a Houseparty group chat, a connection from one of the in-chat members can choose to join the group, even though they are not connected or known to the other users. Houseparty does however give you the option to lock your conversations. When the conversation has been locked, everyone is notified that the user has locked the conversation and if someone should try to join, they are blocked from doing that. So, if your kids are going to be using the Houseparty app, we encourage you to get them into the habit of locking the conversation. If someone within the conversation unlocks the chat, then everyone is notified that the conversation has been unlocked.

One major issue with this, and other similar apps, is unless the parent is sitting on their kid’s shoulder, they will not know what is happening or being said on the video chat. The video chat is not recorded and cannot be reviewed later by the parent making accountability for children using this app very difficult.

The app store rates Houseparty 4+. This is a very low age rating for this type of social media application. My recommended minimum age for Houseparty is 13 years-old.

Before I would allow my teen to use this app, I would discuss the following issues:

1) I would insist that any video chats be done in a common area of the house where the parent can freely watch and listen to what is going on. Violation of this rule would result in the removal of this app from their device.

2) All conversations on Houseparty must be locked. Your child should have a standing rule that if the conversation is unlocked they must leave the chat and they are never allowed to chat with someone they don’t know.

3) Talk to your child about the lack of privacy on social media, and specifically on this app. A Houseparty user has no control what another user does, which could include taking screenshots of the group chat and/or video recording the chat. Saying something inappropriate, even in jest, can have horrible consequences.

4) Have a discussion with your child about what they would do if someone on the chat said something mean, rude, hurtful, or a threat. Have a game plan in place, which must include telling their parent happened, to deal with these inevitable situations.

5) Make sure that the other children’s parents know that their child is having a video chat with your child. Share this article with them. Our children are safer if all parents are on the same page with regards to their child’s online safety.

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