Some apps should be nowhere near a kid’s phone. We couldn’t sort through all 3 million apps on the market, but we’ve found well over 100 apps worth looking for on your child’s phone. We also talked to IT security expert Pete Canavan to go beyond the usual suspects (looking at you, social media) when compiling our list of dangerous apps for kids.
Dangerous Apps for Kids
Some of the apps we mention, especially WhatsApp or YouTube, are very useful and safe if used in a smart way. We recommend using this list to complement your own research into internet safety, talking honestly with your kid about online dos and don’ts, and keeping a close eye on their online activities.
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1. Social media apps
The most popular social media apps among today’s kids are YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Here’s why some parents find them concerning:
- YouTube videos aren’t screened before publication, allowing kids to find plenty of inappropriate content.
- Snapchat content disappears after 24 hours. Some kids (and predators) take advantage of this by sharing explicit photos or videos.
- TikTok has very loose content guidelines, so kids may run into offensive or explicit content.
- Research shows Instagram use worsens body image and mental health issues among young girls.1
Social media platforms also open the door for cyberbullying from peers and online strangers alike.
Some companion apps, like the video editor Zoomerang, include a dangerous location-tracking feature.
Watch for these potentially dangerous social media apps too:
- Marco Polo
Read more in our guides:
Parental control apps like Bark help you monitor content across several platforms, manage screen time, filter inappropriate websites and set location alerts.
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Video: Is Snapchat safe for kids and teens?
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2. Live-streaming and video chat apps
Livestreaming apps and video chats are rife with problems for kids when unsupervised:
- The videos are live and unmonitored, which makes it super easy for people to say (or show, ew) whatever they want.
- Kids can use livestreams to access content you’ve blocked elsewhere (like video game footage or explicit music).
- Many two-way video chat apps connect strangers at random, which is also known as “chat roulette.”
- Some “chat roulette” apps are meant for dating or have sexual undertones.
Live.Me is especially concerning because it shares the broadcaster’s exact location with viewers and also allows users to pay others for photos.
Watch for these livestreaming apps too:
- Big Live
- BIGO Live
- Imo live
- OK Live
- Marco Polo
3. Chat apps
Some chat apps, especially WhatsApp, take the place of text messages when a friend or family member lives abroad. Similar chat apps include Messenger, Line, and Discord, as these emphasize “invite-only” conversations. Strangers might still find a way to chat with your kid on these apps, so they’re worth monitoring regardless.
Chat apps pose a serious problem for kids when their main purpose is to connect strangers. That’s exactly what many of these dangerous messaging apps do. Some also include video chat.
- BOSS Revolution
- Anonymous Chat Room
Video: Is Discord safe for kids?
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4. Multiplayer games with built-in chat
Some mobile games feature mature images or storylines, like the weed-dealing simulation game Drug Grand Mafia. Others, like Zepeto, don’t seem threatening until you realize that strangers can talk to your kid through in-game chat rooms. Some games even let players use voice chat. Beware of online predators on these potentially dangerous apps.
- Among Us
- Suspects: Mystery Mansion
- The Wolf
- Call of Duty
- Super Mecha Champions
- Tom and Jerry: The Chase
- Drug Grand Mafia
- Modern Combat
- Rules of Survival
- Slam Dunk
5. Dating apps
A teen’s misguided curiosity could lead them to one of these dating apps, and that’s a sign that you should have some serious conversations about safe sex.
Many of these apps aren’t meant for dating at all, but for casual hook-ups. Your teenager may not know why that's risky unless you tell them. You’ve got this.
Check out our internet safety guide for teens for other tips.
- Plenty of Fish
- Hot or Not
- Luxy Celebs
- Ashley Madison
- Geek Seek
- Adult Chat
- Hook Me Up
- Shake It
- Flirt Me
- Military Dating
- Ace Date
7. Interactive story or simulation apps
These are romance/erotica stories that let the reader choose what happens next. Because of the way the characters are usually drawn, younger kids might not realize what these stories are about until they’ve downloaded the app.
- Kiss Kiss
- Stories: Your Choice
- My Fantasy
- Dream Zone
- Hotel Hideaway
- Ikemen Vampire
- Choose Your Story
- The Arcana
8. Deepfake apps
According to IT security expert Pete Canavan, deepfake apps “allow you to make someone appear to look or say something they did not” by putting “anyone's face on any body in pictures and in videos.” Some deepfake apps like iFake also let users send prank messages.
Kids can easily use these to bully one another, and there are also serious concerns about data collection and privacy among deepfake apps.
Canavan notes that “as the technology gets better, it will be harder to tell fake photos and videos from real ones, and that presents a massive problem.”
Popular deepfake apps include the following:
9. Mining apps
“Mining apps use your phone's CPU to mine bitcoins or other digital currency,” Canavan explains. “Some you may have put on your phone on purpose, but others may be lurking insidiously on your kid's phone using it without their/your knowledge.”
Known fake crypto-mining apps include the following:
- Bitcoin 2021
- Bitcoin (BTC)
- Crypto Holic
- MineBit Pro
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Daily Bitcoin Rewards
10. Secret storage apps
Secret storage apps allow the user to keep photos and other files in a password-protected location. The app icon often looks like a calculator or another inconspicuous app. Your child might use a secret storage app to hide inappropriate photos sent by or to a sexual predator.
- Best Secret Folder
- Secret Photo Vault
- Calculator Secret Folder
- Secure Private Calculator
11. Anonymous apps
An anonymous app lets users ask questions or share info, usually with strangers, without having to create an account or share identifiable info. Pete Canavan, IT security expert, warns of a “huge opportunity for people to bully others or spread disinformation.”
How to protect your child from dangerous apps
Not every smartphone app is terrible for kids. They can be educational, connect kids with extended family, or offer a fun way to relax.
To make sure your child has access only to apps you approve of, we recommend three steps:
- Evaluate your kid’s current phone apps.
- Set up Ask to Buy (iPhones) or Purchase Approvals (Android).
- Install a parental control app for app management, content filters, message monitoring, and much more.
Remember to explain what you’re doing and why. Without this guidance, your kids won’t know how to use apps safely once they’ve left the nest.
Important things to know about smartphone apps
- Apps can be renamed. If your kid knows they’ve downloaded an inappropriate app, they might try to hide it by renaming it and changing the icon through the Shortcuts app on an iPhone. Once that’s done, they can remove the original icon from the home screen. The same thing can be done on an Android phone.
- Apps can be hidden. Apps don’t have to show up on the home screen. Your kid can cover their tracks by setting up a harmless-looking shortcut, using the App Library, or re-downloading the app on the App Store.
Now that you know the workarounds, here’s how to spot apps your kid has tried to hide:
- Open every app. You’ll know right away if your child has hidden an app behind a shortcut.
- Rely on the App Library. On iOS 14 or later, swipe all the way to the right until a search bar and a series of folders appears on the screen. In the search bar, type the original name of the app. It’ll show up here even if it’s no longer on the home screen.
- Look up apps in the App Store. Anything your kid has previously downloaded will show a cloud symbol instead of the word “GET.”
Child predators use any app that allows strangers to message each other, including social media, livestream, text and video chat apps, multiplayer games, dating apps, and anonymous apps.
No, TikTok is not safe for kids. According to IT security expert Pete Canavan, “basically any video can be put on TikTok—good or bad, clean or explicit. This presents a huge problem for parents of young children, but really for any age under 18.”
To learn more see our TikTok safety guide.
Chat rooms expose kids to strangers, some of whom may be sexual predators. There’s no way to know if someone is lying about who they are, and some may try to lure kids into an in-person meetup by pretending to be another kid. That can have disastrous consequences like kidnapping and sex trafficking.
Strangers may expose your child to ideas and images that you don’t approve of. And since you’re not able to monitor the chat room messages, you won’t know what kind of conversations to have with your kid.
A chat app or room is also dangerous from a malware standpoint. Your child may accidentally download malicious software by clicking a link in a chat room.
A few social media apps geared toward kids have 24/7 moderation and content filters, making them a much safer online playground. We especially like Grom Social because it has a Mama Bear app that allows parents to supervise their children’s activities.
Other social media apps for kids include PopJam, PlayKids Talk, and GoBubble.
Related articles on SafeWise
- James Vincent, The Verge, “Instagram Internal Research: ‘We Make Body Image Issues Worse for One in Three Teen Girls,” September 15, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2021.
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