'Vault' apps hide what kids don't want you to see

'Vault' apps hide what kids don't want you to see
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Cellphones are a large part of most people's lives. The same goes for children.

Another large thing in children's lives is keeping secrets from their parents. Now, new technology is making that easier than ever before.

"My oldest is on his phone all the time," Sugar Manchanda said. "Even when he's playing a game, he'll pause it [just long] enough to send his girlfriend a text."

But it's what Manchanda and other parents don't know that could be a bigger problem: vault or ghost apps.

The apps are used to hide pictures, texts, and videos children don't want their parents to see.

You can find the vault apps in the App Store or Google Play Store--just search "hidden apps."

Some of the results will look like typical apps already on your phone (like a calculator or a camera), but once the proper password is entered it unlocks the app and reveals the hidden data.

"It's shocking. It's definitely shocking," Manchanda said.

While many parents are in the dark, vault apps are becoming more mainstream.

A 17-year-old from Virginia could face child porn charges. Investigators said he used a vault app to send and receive nude pictures of at least eight under age female students.

In November 2015, more than 100 students at a Colorado school district were caught trading nude and explicit photos using a vault app.

"First of all its illegal. If you're under the age of 18, it's considered child pornography…whether you take it of yourself, or you have it of another person under the age of 18," Mikki Morris, Missouri police detective, said. "If you receive that and keep it on your phone, now you are in possession of child pornography."

So what can parents do?

Experts said they should check out any and all new apps children are using. Especially check those that have access to the phone's camera.

Look for redundant apps (like two calculators).

Use parental controls to limit and control what children download.

Most importantly, always communicate with your children.

"We have lots of talks on sexting and pictures and things he should not be doing, and what is appropriate," Manchanda said.

"They're juveniles, so they don't have the rights an adult has to privacy," Morris said. "So spy on your kids. It's your responsibility."

Families with iPhones can also set up the "Ask to Buy" feature. It lets you approve every app downloaded to phones in your network.

Android users have some similar features available too. Check them out here and here.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5 and KSDK. All rights reserved.