Yes, it’s me again. Recently I wrote about the dangers of kids using smartphones. The truth is, if you let them have a smartphone, you’re opening them up to a host of dangers. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to protect them unless you sit next to them while they’re using it.
This morning is yet another example. This time from a friendly, fun-looking app called Hotel Hideaway. It has, like a lot of apps of this type, a chat feature so that you can meet and make new friends in a virtual reality world.
The game itself seems fairly clean and stylish. You can install it and then be transported into a hotel near a beach. The aim of the game appears is to be the most popular person in the hotel. Popularity and a big social media presence are things that will appeal to kids, and it seems to be getting some rave reviews too. All good so far.
You’ll need to make friends and influence people to succeed, setting trends and wearing stylish outfits and costumes. You can dance and walk around, finding new tricks and gifts. It all looks like a safe and innocent environment from the promotional image below..
However, it has a much darker element. The developers, Sulake Corporation, have seemingly done nothing to protect users.
The app is rated in Google Play as a 16 but, as with 18-rated console games, a lot of parents would wave this game through because…
1 – It looks friendly and fun
2 – The “everyone at school has it” argument
3 – It’s “only” a 16-rated game, not 18.
The peer-pressure element is usually why you’ll find 7,8,9 or 10-year-old children playing 18-rated shoot-em-ups on PS4’s and XBox consoles.
But, as you’ll see above, there’s a heavy chat element to this. There’s a brief mention of “bad language” in the Google Play rating, and this appears to be due to fact that the developers have done absolutely nothing to block bad language. When you login there’s no prompts asking for your age, no account setup, no checks whatsoever. It just lets you in and you’re open to thousands of people talking to you. This is an app that has been downloaded over half a million times on Android alone.
But hey, it’s not just kids that chat, because this video recently appeared on Facebook showing the risks of this app. It’s from a guy called Simon Rankin, and he does go into detail about some of the comments that have been made in a private chat to his daughter. Some discretion is advised here, but it shows just what can be seen by your kids all too easily..
This is terrible. Utterly terrible. This is a playground for peodophiles.
Now, because that video was from Facebook (and I never trust what’s on Facebook), I thought I’d do my own test, so I downloaded the app.
When you first start it the app will ask for camera and photo access – this is really concerning straight away.
Then it’ll ask for your name – I entered “Milly” and, within seconds, I was being subjected to this…
These were literally the first screens I looked at. They came up immediately. This is the sort of chatter your children will see straight from the word go.
As friends connect, you can open up private chats. Again, no checks. Sure, there’s one message saying that Hideaway “Doesn’t support hate speech and overly sexual language in public chat” and the developers have added “Please note that Hotel Hideaway is for ages 17+” on the app description, but sexual language still appears and the private chats seem to have no restrictions at all.
It’s yet another app which is totally open to abuse.
This is just one app of many. There’s more out there and, if you have no age restriction settings on your child’s phone and no password pop-up for installing apps, they can install this right now. No content filter, no firewall will protect you from this. You have to be aware what your child is installing. You have to discuss the dangers of smartphones and be open with them. Age restrictions, even if you are strict, don’t always work.
This app will easily allow people to talk to your child. They can groom your child, they can talk sexually to your child. They can do what they want.
Be wary. Be careful. Protect your kids.
And remember. It’s not just this app. There’s many, many more like this.