App Watch: HouseParty

Home isolation has well and truly started and if you have kept your eye on the social media download charts you’ll know this app has exploded in popularity for both in adults and young people. Houseparty is currently sitting at #1 in the Social Networking category in the app store and there is no wonder. In a time were we face uncertainty (in isolation) where physically connecting with friends and family is no longer an option, we search for ways to connect with our friends and family.

What is Houseparty?
Houseparty is a private video chat app available on iOS, Android, and Mac OS. Houseparty allows users to group video chat, send text messages and leave Facemail (video messages). Houseparty allows users to simultaneously video chat with up to 8 others and within these video conferencing chat rooms you can launch and play fun virtual games. Like most social networking platforms today, the age restrictions on this application is 13 years old.

Keeping your kids safe on Houseparty
As we know, the digital landscape is constantly changing and with the current climate we are bound to see new apps and technologies landing on kids devices. So what can you do to ensure that your children are staying safe on Houseparty? Like always, it’s highly important you plan, protect and prevent. Plan – Do your research. Learn what this app can do and engage with your children through this discovery so that you can discuss both the fun features as well as start the discussions about how this app could be unsafe.

Prevent – We know the age limited for most social platforms is 13 and Houseparty is no different. If you feel that your child is ready to use this tool, it’s important to set up their profile with them. At each step, discuss all entry fields such as personal information it asks for and how you wish to set up your visibility (Private is obviously recommended). 

Protect – As you child engages with Houseparty be sure to have clear rules about where (in your home) they engage, who they connect with and be present when they use the tool. It’s also important to discuss regularly with your children about their experiences included how they feel during and after playing on this app.

Naturally through our research we have deep dived into Houseparty so that we can break down all the things you need to know:

Things you must know:
Like many social networking applications this app does include security filters such as private profiles and setting connection permissions, however private is not set to as the default. If the users doesn’t take the time to “lock” the room and choose Private Mode, others can pop into the video chat.  Users can initiate a chat or, if friends are already talking, invite others to join their conversation. For a more private chat, one can “lock” the room so others can’t join. When a person who is not a friend enters the chat, an alert is shown, giving users the chance to leave the conversation, or meet someone new. Houseparty also allows users to also share photos and text messages via the app.

Screen Shots:
During our investigation we made a concerning discovery in other users ability to screenshot a video chat and immediately share this more broadly. IF someone were to take a screenshot the group members are not notified that someone has taken a picture of the room. The person who took the screenshot/image is automatically provided a pop up asking ‘where they would like to share the picture’.The content young people are exposed to in the app depends on the friends they are talking to, so users must pay attention to who is in their chat rooms, as no admins monitor them. Because video is live, there’s always a risk of cyberbullying and capturing conversations and the live video itself through screenshot and screen recorded and shared outside the app. Therefore

it is important to have conversations with younger users and have them understand that while rooms might be locked they still don’t want to be sharing any personal information, images or demonstrate behaviours during the live video chats that could be captured/screenshot.How to take control and minimise risks? 
Through our work here at the Cyber Safety Project we see so many young people getting excited to use new apps that they rush the sign up and set up process to get started and connecting with their friends. ​Take your time when signing up, address the default settings and talk to your children about responsible and respect behaviours online.

All Apps will offer varying degrees of safety measures within the settings. It is the users responsibility to utilise these accordingly. It’s important to review every setting option carefully and make a considered decision before turning any of these ON or OFF. This should be completed before you begin using the application.

For Houseparty, during sign up there are a number of steps that you need to work through before an account is created and it is here you are able to take the most control. Be sure to know that you do NOT need to include you phone number or location, although the app will absolutely try to collect this.

Step 1 – Provide Email, Username, Date of Birth, Full Name

  • Considerations should be given here as to appropriate Usernames and the perosnal details that are being provided to Houseparty. Include a false day and month of birth, do not include a phone number and never allow Houseparty to access your location. The app can still be utilised without providing these detaisl.

Step 2 – Find Your Friend

  • Here is asks you to verify your phone number
    • In the top right-hand corner, there is a very faint grey ‘skip’ button that you can select without providing your mobile number
    • Within the Find Your Friends Section the user is prompted three times to connect House Party with their Contact List, Facebook and Snapchat

Step 3 – Permissions

  • This section suggests to users to ALLOW access to Camera and Mic, Turn ON Notifications and ENABLE Location Settings.
    • Carefully consideration should be considered here as the application is still functional without enabling Notifications and Location services, however the app does direct the user to do so.
    • It is a good idea to opt out of allowing location access and notifications

Step 4 – Change Default Settings

  • Select the Smiling Face Icon in the top left-hand corner, which will open Friends then select Setting cog icon, here you can switch on Private Mode.
  • Encourage children to have Locked conversations, and only with friends and relatives they know well

As the parent/career its critical that you understand the ins and outs of how Houseparty works before allowing your child to access the platform. Consider the risks and dangers associated to ensure you are equipped with the knowledge to then make an informed decision as to whether this application is appropriate for you child.

Join our upcoming webinar about ‘Keeping Kids Safe On Social Media’ where we will discuss ways to protect young people who love to connect and be social online.