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What is the Houseparty app?

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What parents need to know

Being stuck at home isn’t stopping many people from socialising online.

Websites and apps that enable friends and family to stay in touch have come into their own during the coronavirus lockdown with a new trend in ‘virtual parties’ springing up in recent weeks.

One of the most popular social networking apps that has become a worldwide phenomenon in the past month is Houseparty. Downloads for the video conferencing app have rocketed from an average of 130,000 a week in February to more than two million a week during March.

But is it safe? And what do you need to know as a parent if your child is using Houseparty to connect with friends?

On 31 March concerns were raised that the Houseparty app had been hacked, giving fraudsters access to users’ Netflix and eBay accounts, but were subsequently proved to be false, leading the app’s developer to offer $1m reward for proof of who had started the “commercial smear campaign”.

So, what is Houseparty? How does it work, what does it offer ands what do you need to know?

This information from Internet Matters, UK's leading online safety organization, should give you all the information you need to keep your family safe.

What is Houseparty?

Houseparty is a video-focused social network app whose creators have recently joined the Epic family – creators of Fortnite.

The app can bring together people to create social interaction with up to eight friends (and friends of friends) at the same time, via live video and texts allowing only users to add people they already know via Facebook or their device’s contacts list.

Creating an account with Houseparty is simple, all is needed is a username and you can also add your phone number to give the app access to your contact list. This automatically allows you access to anyone on your list but entering your phone number is optional. Users can also manually enter the Houseparty username of anyone they wish to chat with.

Chat requests are sent out to friends via notifications through the app or through text messages. As soon as a friend responds, the video chat is ready to begin. The real-time accessibility of this app allows friends to enjoy each other’s company as though they were all in the same room.

Why is Houseparty so popular?

First released in 2016, the app became an overnight sensation and is still growing with over 20 million users. With its easy accessibility and fun, casual, atmosphere, Houseparty seems like the perfect way for anyone, especially teens, to connect with their friends.

Is the Houseparty app safe for young people and children?

The app has an age rating of 12+, however, it is easy for kids younger than 12 to enter any age when signing up. Research shows that 60 per cent of Houseparty users are between the ages of 16 and 24.

Although it appears Houseparty’s advertising only features young people in their 20s, the app is popular among children under 18.

Some of the language and images Houseparty uses may be impressionable to very young children, particularly those that are vulnerable. So, it’s important to monitor what your child is using the app for and who they are communicating with.

What are some concerns raised about the app?

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.

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.

Common Sense Media note: because there’s no screening and the video is live, there’s always the possibility of inappropriate content for kids. The biggest risks are communicating with people children don’t know well, sexting, pictures and screenshots getting shared around, and spending too much time in virtual hangouts.

Parents should also note that users can send links to their profiles on the app via a text message to anybody.

What are Houseparty’s safety and privacy features?

Since Houseparty is a video chat app, it can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors, for example, making it a concern for parents. Houseparty has created a few security features making it harder for sexual predators to use the app:

  • House Rules – under the ‘House Rules’ section in the app, Houseparty has a list of “rules” that it states are not meant to be broken. In reality, these are features that the app offers to help provide a better user experience and more security
  • Room lock – users can also lock the ‘room’ using a lock button on the bottom left side of the app’s home page. This prevents anyone from joining the room, including preventing other users from joining the room per invite from anyone else
  • “Stranger Danger” – Houseparty advertises a feature called “Stranger Danger”, which alerts users when individuals they may not know, enter their room. It warns against strangers, but also suggests strangers might be a reason for “party time!”
  • Location sharing – is an option to add other users who are nearby using a location-based “Near Me” option. This location-based searching can be turned off

Advice for parents

  • Make sure they ‘lock’ their chat room
  • Advise your teen to use a password different to others they are currently using
  • Discuss with your teen the dangers of adding people they don’t know or accepting requests from people they don’t know
  • Always check with your teen about who they are chatting with and what types of conversations are taking place
  • Set up parental controls on their devices to control the level of security
  • Talk to your child about building up their digital resilience and critical thinking – as another way to highlight the need to help them cope with whatever the online world throws at them

For more online safety advice visit https://www.internetmatters.org/

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