How are Kids Hiding their Online Activity? More Ways Than You Can Count
By Jamie Siggard
This is part two in a two-part series. To see part two click here.
Gone are the days when parents could check their child’s internet browsing history to see all the websites they’ve been to. While that’s still a worthwhile practice, it’s only a small piece of the pie. Kids are on to their parents and have found new ways to hide their internet activity. At the beginning of this article, you’ll find potential ways kids hide their internet activity, be sure to read to the bottom though, you’ll find ways to counteract these attempts. With that being said, first and foremost, be sure to have open, candid, yet compassionate conversations with your child in regards to technology! Seek to understand them and be on their team.
Private Browsing, Privacy Mode, and Incognito Mode are privacy features that disable browsing history and the *web cache. This allows a person to browse the Web without storing local data that could be retrieved later.
Google Chrome – Incognito Mode
Internet Explorer – InPrivate
Safari – Private Browsing
Firefox – Private Browsing
You may wonder if these modes are truly private. Nope. True privacy on the internet is hard to achieve. These privacy modes don’t hide browsing history from employers, your internet service provider, and the websites visited– however, that doesn’t give you, as the parent, access to this browsing history.
So, what’s a way around this?
“The Onion Router” (TOR), is comparable to a VPN. However, one of the key differences is that there is not just one “middle man”. The data goes through layers of encryption and decryption, which makes the data and location inaccessible to anyone and nearly impossible to track.
TOR browsers can be downloaded on computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Similar to a VPN, proxy sites are one way of hiding the activity from sites you visit. The history and ISP records will show the innocent proxy site rather than, hypothetically, www.pornography&terriblethings.com. There are lots of proxy sites, paid and unpaid, and they are incredibly easy to access.
Here are a few proxy sites to be mindful of should they come up on your kids’ internet history or through your monitoring software:
*Keep in mind there are TONS of proxy sites….some words to watch for in *URLs on your internet history or monitoring software are: proxy, hide secret, or anything else seemingly suspicious
Proxy sites can hide activity for a time and help kids get around parental blocks, however, they’re generally not reliable or even safe.
Internet access is everywhere! When your kids are out and about, they have many opportunities to either use other devices or connect to a wifi network. Starbucks and McDonalds, are among a variety of public places, which have little to NO blocks or controls on their wifi, which allows kids to access anything! Libraries and schools also offer wifi, perhaps with some restrictions, but needless to say, the control is not in your hands.
That’s not all, if they think you are monitoring their activity, they can access a neighbor’s wifi and fly under the radar even at home. Wireless routers are capable of beaming signal a few hundred feet, which depending on the proximity of your neighbors home, could give your child reliable wifi within your own walls. Even if your neighbor’s wifi network is locked, it’s easy for your child to spend some time at their house and ask for the password which will then allow them continuous access. Some networks are not secured by a password which makes access even easier.
Fake Educational Sites
There are sites that sound fun and educational but perhaps deserve a closer look. For example, if your child asks you if they can spend some time doing math online, be aware of the sites they’re using. While coolmathgames.com or physicsgames.net aren’t inherently bad, these platforms are about entertainment and have very little educational value. The names of gaming sites may put on a facade which will help kids hide their internet activity from you. Arcade and other mindless games that these sites offer don’t deserve the attention we sometimes permit our children to give to them.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
For those tech-savvy kids out there (which is most kids!), they may have beat the system and installed a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is a service that allows you to access the web safely and privately by routing your connection through a server which hides your online actions from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Essentially, the ISP data is gibberish if obtained.
A common reason kids use a VPN is to get around parental controls. VPN’s are used for other reasons such as to guard privacy or connect to a work-related server. If you have any suspicions your child may be using a VPN it is essential to inquire (with love and understanding) and remove it from their devices.
Snapchat or Other Messaging Services
There are various means of activity for hiding messages. Some kids will intentionally delete messages upon arrival and others use self-destructing message apps. Below are a few common self-destructing apps:
Snapchat isn’t inherently good or bad, but you should be aware of the potential dangers. Snapchat is an incredibly popular app for exchanging self-destructing photos with short captions – videos can be exchanged as well. Because of the self-destructing feature, Snapchat is popular for *sexting.
“For those interested in maximum privacy, Telegram offers Secret Chats. Secret Chat messages can be programmed to self-destruct automatically from both participating devices. This way you can send all types of disappearing content – messages, photos, videos, and even files. Secret Chats use end-to-end encryption to ensure that a message can only be read by its intended recipient” (Telegram LLC).
Wickr is one of the free Self Destructing Message Apps for iPhones. It enables you to send text, picture, audio and video which will delete the messages after a short delay.
*There are TONS of self-destructing apps, far more than we can list, however, here’s a few more to be aware of:
Secret for iMessage
Secret Picture Apps or Photo Vaults
There are secret picture apps and hidden photo vaults. Pictures and information are hidden in these apps only accessible by password. These apps may be disguised as a calculator or something else rather innocent. Seems fishy, huh? If kids are wanting to hide their activity, this is a brilliant way because most parents would be completely unassuming about what appears to be just a calculator. And those that may stand out a bit more as photo vaults, as mentioned, are password protected, so even if you were to come across it, you wouldn’t have access without the password.
Here are some apps and photo vaults that kids may be using to hide information and pictures.
Private Photo Vault
Best Secret Folder
Keepsafe Photo Vault
Secret Photo Album
Hidden Folder – Built-in to phone
Close or Minimize Browser When Parents Are Near
This one goes without explaining, but is important to remember as it is the easiest and most commonly used method of hiding one’s internet activity. Can you sense discomfort or secrecy when you are around your kids and their devices? With this one, as well as all other ways we’ve listed, don’t jump to immediate conclusions. Be respectful and kind to your children, but proceed with alertness, follow your gut, and don’t be afraid to do some investigating.
Bypass Through Other Means
Interestingly enough, kids can hide internet activity by using Google Translate, Google Docs, and Google Drive. I won’t dive into these but the point is, there are so many ways kids can hide their activity. If they’re determined, they’ll find a way!!!
What Should You Do?
Talk about it!
The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough. Have open, candid, and compassionate conversations with your child in regards to technology. Seek to understand them and be on their team. Talk to them about the harmful effects of pornography and what to do if they see pornography. Discuss the importance of time limits and rules when using the internet and technology. If you are concerned about their online behavior, talk to them about it. These conversations about technology should be ongoing, not just “one and done”.
Consider investing money into monitoring software. There are many softwares to choose from with varying features, but the main gist is that activity from the connected devices is monitored by the admin (in this case, you, as the parent) to help safeguard and protect users.
“The pcTattletale Activity Recorder is designed to monitor Computers, Smartphones & Tablets.
Once installed, pcTattletale records every click, tap, and keystroke. Captured Recordings can be viewed, remotely, from Anywhere, at Anytime, from Any Device.”
“Log into your risk-free account and select any device (Android, iPhone, PC, Mac or Chromebook) to monitor discretely from your secure online account. All products install easily in 5 minutes or less, are discrete and thus tamper-proof, and all recorded data is sent to a secure web-based account which allows you to monitor remotely from any device at your convenience.
View all Recorded Data or leverage our Alert Log, which highlights only items identified as Risky Behavior. Either way, Webwatcher helps you become a responsible digital parent by protecting your kids against all online and offline dangers.”
“We encourage positive parent-child interactions and help establish trust and peace of mind in an ever-mobile, ever-social, ever-changing world.
McAfee Safe Family is a comprehensive parental control app that enables you to monitor your kids’ phone activities and protects your children from exposure to inappropriate digital content. It sets up a child lock that blocks inappropriate apps, monitors your kids’ cell phones, locates their position with a GPS map using the phone tracker feature and limits their screen time.”
“The KidGuard Phone Monitoring service is a cell phone tracking software provided to parents to “spy” on their kids text messages, monitor GPS location, track phone logs, chats, allowing the parent to stay on top of issues such as cyberbullying, online predators, teen depression, and other risks to their children arising from the internet.”
“Covenant Eyes’ revolutionary new Screen Accountability™ service monitors what you do on your computers, phones, and tablets, whether you’re using a web browser or on an app or even offline completely. We take periodic screenshots and analyze them for explicit content. These highly blurred screenshots are sent in a report, as well as a sampling of other screenshots. That way you can have a conversation about what your kids actually saw on their devices.”
Set Parental Controls
On Apple devices, Parental Controls, also known as Restrictions, allows you to set what your kids can and can’t access on their phones and tablets. With Parental Controls, you can lock out Safari, Camera, FaceTime, Siri, AirDrop, iTunes, Podcasts, or App Stores (including in-app purchases), as well as content by age rating, and the ability to make changes to accounts and other app settings. Basically, these controls allow you to block anything you deem as inappropriate for your child based on their age and needs.
If your not an Apple family, Google Play often used with Androids has similar parental control options. Be aware and utilize the parental controls on Netflix, Youtube, and other services your kids use, as well.
Extra Info: If you restrict Safari, be sure to restrict “Installing Apps” as well. It is easy for children to simply just download another internet browser if Safari is restricted. This applies to many other restrictions as well such as FaceTime, Podcasts, and Camera.
Random Phone Checks
At unpredictable times, ask your kids to turn in their electronic devices to you immediately for a random phone check. They may hesitate and tell you they will give it to you in a few minutes, but require that it be immediate so they don’t have time to delete or hide anything. Spend some time checking their apps, messages, and phone logs. Check to see if a VPN is running. Check for any evidence of TOR. Keep an open dialogue with your children and let them know that you do this to keep them safe.
Stay on your kids’ team. Engage in conversation frequently and help them understand the importance of using technology responsibly. Check out Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good to help facilitate more conversations about technology and its effects.
Or check our latest book, Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age. Full of lively, timely discussions about changing technology, social media, using tech for good, and so much more!
ISP: Internet Service Provider
Sexting: sending (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone
URL: the address of an internet page
Web cache: A web cache (or HTTP cache) is an information technology for the temporary storage (caching) of web documents, such as HTML pages and images, to reduce server lag.
Jamie recently graduated with her degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University – Idaho. She currently lives in the greater Seattle area and works as a nanny. Seeking adventure, truth, and strong relationships are her recipe for happiness, and she hopes to help others find similar joy through her writing.