Are LiveIn and Locket Widget safe for children and teens?

Placeholder while loading article actions

After downloading photo-sharing app Locket Widget, 23-year-old Amalu Susan Santhosh and her high school cousins ​​all but gave up on their group text.

Locket lets them view each other’s photos right on their iPhone home screens without opening an app or typing a message.

“We may be too busy to text each other, but we wanted something where we could share everyday moments,” said the Durham, NC-based student. Another bonus: She never receives friend requests from strangers demanding nudes like she does on Snapchat, Santhosh added.

As Snapchat and Instagram draw criticism for safety and mental health concerns, some young people are opting for another way to stay in touch. The LiveIn and Locket photo “widgets” grab attention for their hassle-free photo sharing – just take a photo and it appears in a small window on your friend’s home screen. LiveIn was the No. 1 free social networking app in Apple’s App Store on Sunday. The original hit app in this category, Locket Widget – which started as a way for a boyfriend-girlfriend pair to stay in touch before going viral on TikTok and soaring to the top of the app charts in January – hovered at No. 8.

LiveIn combines the low-stakes feel of a friends-only messaging app like Snapchat with an overall feed similar to Instagram’s explore tab, while Locket limits each user’s friends to 10 people and has no no public stream. We reviewed these apps and found privacy issues, as well as some security risks that parents should be aware of.

Teen sexually exploited on Snapchat takes on US tech

Are LiveIn and Locket private?

LiveIn and Locket are designed for sharing “moments” or photos, with individual friends or small groups. But LiveIn also comes with drawing and typing options, as well as a global feed and comment feature, which add a social networking element. If teens share photos on the global feed, anyone can see them and send them friend requests. Sharing with friends or followers only is safer, but there are currently no settings for parents to limit this sharing. Teens can also scroll through LiveIn’s global feed at any time.

I saw a few sexually suggestive posts when I scrolled through, but nothing explicit. I have also seen posts that appear to be from people under the age of 12. A LiveIn spokesperson said the app is “going to great lengths” to moderate the stream.

“We have senior-friendly community guidelines in place, and users can report photos they think violate the community guidelines. Most importantly, we have a moderation team working 24/7 to review every photo sent to the public to minimize any risk of inappropriate content,” a spokesperson said in an email.

LiveIn users can search through usernames and send friend requests to people they don’t know. Discuss with your teen how to respond to requests from strangers.

Co-founder Johnny Lin of privacy app Lockdown said he observed data from LiveIn flowing to third parties, including Facebook and Google. Locket shares data with third parties, including Google and Snap, according to Lin’s analysis. Neither LiveIn nor Locket disclose in their privacy policies that they share data with outside companies, which could be a violation of the California Consumer Privacy Act if the apps have more than 50,000 users in the state.

After The Washington Post presented Lin’s findings to LiveIn, it repeated its claim that it was not sharing data. Locket did not respond to requests for comment.

Nor has LiveIn disclosed in its Apple App Store “nutritional privacy label” that it collects “user content” in the form of photos. An Apple spokesperson said LiveIn violated Apple’s guidelines, but declined to elaborate. Apple’s spokesperson said Apple is working with developers on their compliance, and LiveIn’s App Store listing now says it collects user content and can track people.

App privacy policies do not appear to have been updated. On Sunday, the two applications were online on the Apple App Store.

When you share on LiveIn, parent company and its affiliates obtain a “worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, cache, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish , analyze, transmit, and distribute such content” in accordance with its terms of use. Similarly, Locket’s parent company and its affiliates may “copy, display, download, perform, distribute, store, modify, and otherwise use your user content relating to the operation of the service in any form, medium or technology now known or later developed. .” Other social platforms’ terms of service use similar language.

Both apps ask for access to your contacts and camera, although on LiveIn I was able to invite friends without syncing my contacts. Contact sharing has a history of privacy issues, and many apps aren’t sure what they’re doing with your address book.

LiveIn and Locket are listed for ages 12 and up on the Apple App Store. But this does not necessarily mean that they are suitable for middle school students and young teenagers, said Chris McKenna, founder of digital security organization Protect Young Eyes. He recommends waiting until high school — middle school is hard enough without giving kids access to a constant stream of images from other people’s lives, he said.

McKenna recommends that before allowing children to download a new app, parents use it themselves for seven full days to get a feel for any security issues.

“Read the privacy policy. Use it for seven consecutive days as they would, then ask yourself, “Is my son or daughter, with their maturity, ready?” Because parents and guardians know their child best,” he said.

Should parents be worried?

Like any app where teens share photos, LiveIn and Locket come with risks.

The potential for cyberbullying is perhaps the biggest, said Titania Jordan, marketing director for parental control app Bark. Since photos are automatically displayed on the home screen widget, children may be surprised by images they don’t want to see or embarrassed by images that appear while someone is watching. over their shoulder. Receiving unsolicited nude images is already a huge problem for teens, Jordan said, and this method of photo sharing could appeal to pranksters, bullies and abusers.

The medallion only allows 10 friends at a time. Anyone who lived through the Myspace era remembers the hurt feelings that arise when apps push us to rank our friends.

Overall, parents should pay as much attention to photo widgets as social media apps, Jordan noted, because wherever teens spend time online, predators will go too.

For teens, navigating Instagram’s mental health pitfalls is part of everyday life

How to configure widgets

Despite the privacy concerns, if you still want to download LiveIn or Locket on an iPhone, hold your finger down somewhere on the home screen until your apps and folders start shaking. Next, tap the plus sign in the upper left corner. Search or scroll to find the app logo and name, then select “add widget”.

On an Android phone, long press an empty space on the home screen, then select “widgets”. Scroll through your options until you see the app logo and name, then hold down the widget and drag it to an empty spot.

Lance B. Holton