Vault apps or locker apps appeared on my radar during the Canon City High School sexting scandal. At this high school, school officials discovered teens were sharing and trading inappropriate pictures of themselves. They were able to keep these pictures hidden away on their phones by using vault apps.
Since then, I keep hearing about these apps. Other schools have reported students using vault or locker apps to hide inappropriate content. Parents have shared with me that they found one of these apps on their teen’s phone.
Parents should be aware of these apps. They also need to realize trying to keep them off a teen’s phone is difficult. Instead of relying solely on phone checks or blocking apps, parents need to have an ongoing conversation about sexting and sharing of inappropriate content.
How a Vault App Works
These apps are an electronic vault. Once a teen downloads the app, they can store secret content inside it. Depending on the app, this content can include messages, pictures, videos, contacts and even other apps. Only the person who has the passcode can unlock it and see inside.
Most of the apps have safeguards to keep content away from prying eyes. Some apps have two passcodes: one opens the real, secret content and the other opens safe, decoy content. Other apps have a secret door. Some pretend to be an innocuous app like a calculator or an audio manager. Again, a secret code is required to see behind the innocent looking calculator app and access the hidden content.
How to Spot a Vault App
Search the app store for “vault” or “locker” apps and parents will find many ways to hide content. Most of these apps are rated E for everyone, which makes them difficult to block. There are few clues parents should look for:
- Multiple versions of the same app such as several calculator apps.
- New app downloads, which parents can check on the app with a quick google search.
Time for the Sexting Talk
If you find a vault app, do not panic. Before rushing in to the sexting talk, ask them about why they are using this app. They may be concerned about a friend who uses their phone. They may also have a boyfriend/girlfriend who goes through their phone. In which case, parents may want to talk about healthy digital boundaries in relationships.
If a teen is hiding inappropriate photos on their phone, it is time for the talk. Do not assume they know about consequences of sexting because of the one off internet safety assembly in middle school. Internet safety and sexting needs to be an ongoing conversation.
If you need help talking about sexting, I have script for talking with kids about sexting. I wrote this with Amy Lang from Birds +Bees + Kids. Amy is an excellent resource for how to have tough conversations regarding sexuality with your teens. At this age, sexting carries legal and emotional consequences. It is important that parents talk to their child about their values and concerns regarding sending and sharing a sext.