Hidden Porn: Apps with Dangerous Doors to the Internet

by Dec 14, 2017Tech Solutions

September 29, 2020

This a guest post written by Chris McKenna of Protect Young Eyes. It was originally published on December 14, 2017 and updated on September 29, 2020. 

Did you know that parental controls fight against the very purpose of the internet?

When put like that, it sounds crazy! But when the very first website went live on August 6, 1991, its stated purpose was: “to give universal access to a large universe of documents.” And that includes porn!

Since that date, amazing parents just like you have been desperately trying to protect their precious children from this universal access.

We’re shedding light on some of the less obvious ways that pornography seeps its way onto smartphones. We call it hidden porn. 

Plus, we’re providing practical tools that any parent can implement today to ensure a more porn-proof internet experience.

Doorways to hidden porn on every smartphone

1. The App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android)

Depending on your definition of pornography, you may disagree with me on this one. I haven’t actually uncovered hardcore pornography or even nudity in either app store. But there are plenty of suggestive apps that provide information and screenshots you wouldn’t want your kids to see. Plus the app stores contain technical solutions for evading parental controls, like VPNs.

As of the writing of this post, there were over 3 million apps in Google Play and 2 million in the Apple App StoreBoth are mini search engines.

I’ve written extensively about these app store risks and how to turn off both the App Store and Google Play in our blog post: 3 Reasons to Turn Off (Disable)The App Store.

2. Red flag apps (that aren’t social media)

Most apps don’t advertise that they’re full of porn, but underneath the surface you’ll discover that hidden porn is just a click away. 

Here are a couple of non-social-media-apps that parents might overlook:

  • Reddit: Marketing itself as “the front page of the Internet,” Reddit is a popular app and website that aggregates similar web-based content into communities (subreddits) for faster access. It’s a treasure-trove of information on any topic you can imagine. And it’s simple to create an account, lie about your age, indicate, “I am over 18 and willing to view adult content,” and then login to the app and search for porn —lots of it.
  • GIPHY: We haven’t found any pornographic GIFs, but each GIF includes a link to the website where the animated image is hosted, which allows easy in-app access to Reddit  and other websites.

Tip for parents: 

Regularly check the app inventory (see instructions below) on your child’s phone. This also helps discover apps that might have been intentionally hidden on the device.

Instructions:

  • For iPhone: To see a complete inventory of every app that has been downloaded from the App Store with the Apple ID that the device is using:
    • Go to the App Store app
    • Select “Updates” in the lower right corner
    • Tap “Purchases” at the top
  • For Android: To see a list of apps currently installed on your device:
    • Open the Google Play store app
    • Tap the menu button (three lines)
    • Tap “My Apps & Games” 
“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

3. Hidden Google searches

Most apps, no matter who created them, have a hidden doorway to Google and other search engines that parents aren’t aware of. These “hidden browsers” are everywhere. 

And here’s the kicker – you can have every browser turned off on the iPhone, including removing Safari and these “in-app” browsers are still accessible. 

Tips for parents: 

For iOS devices, you’ll want to activate “Limit Adult Websites” in Screen Time. Instructions for doing this on a child’s iOS device: 

  • Settings > Screen Time > turn on “Content & Privacy Restrictions” at the top > Content Restrictions > Web Content > Limit Adult Websites. 

This will ensure that a SafeSearch is enforced in major search engines (Google, Bing) no matter where they’re accessed. 

Covenant Eyes (affiliate link) can also force a Google and Bing SafeSearch anywhere on the device when using their Screen Accountability service. 

4. Story apps (Episode, Hooked Chat Stories) directed at kids

We’ve heard stories from parents that pop-up ads for apps like Episode and Hooked Chat Stories are showing up on popular, animated kids gaming apps.

If you look at the App Store or Google Play, you would see that story apps like these are rated “12+” and “Teen,” respectively. 

If you read our app profiles about both of these apps, you would discover they include images like the ones you see below: hooking up in closets, pregnancy tests, and making out. These feel more like “17+” apps.

Episode app leads to hidden porn?

Tips for parents:

  • Don’t click! Teach kids to never click on pop-up ads.
  • Turn off the App Store, per the instructions above.
  • Incorporate the 7-day Rule: We teach parents that before they give kids access to any app, parents need to use the app for 7 straight days. Why 7 days? Because, pop-up ads often change over time. Content might get progressively more edgy. We invite parents to explore every corner of every app their kids want to use (no matter what Disney Princess is on the app). At the end of seven days ask yourself, “Based on everything I just experienced, is my son or daughter ready for this app?”

5. Social media apps

All social media eventually winds down a path toward edgy content. That’s because in order for an app to feel truly social, then it has to allow people to upload their own content

When an app is small, it’s easy to control the quality of the content. But, as an app grows, it must rely on its users to flag or report inappropriate content. 

The top four offenders are:

  • Snapchat: It’s well-documented that porn performers use the swipe-up feature in Snapchat where they include links to their explicit content on other pages like Only Fans and Fan Centro. Sadly, there’s no way to turn it off. 
  • Instagram: With over a billion monthly users, Instagram has a serious hidden porn problem, lurking behind some popular hashtags. With few parental controls on the app parents often aren’t aware of what their kids are searching for.
  • TikTok: The app known for its videos of silly dances is plagued with hypersexualized lyrics and dancing as well as other content inappropriate for kids and teens. TikTok: The Sound of an App Stealing Your Kid’s Life Away addresses many of the issues surrounding TikTok. 
  • Pinterest: Just below the surface of the recipes and crafts are entire boards of pornographic content. Again, without any parental controls, parents have no idea if kids are browsing for the not-so-hidden porn.

Related: Is Instagram Safe for Kids? What Parents Need to Know

Tips for parents:

  • Avoid the pressure: Your middle school student doesn’t require social media. We know this isn’t a popular stance. But due to the risky content, we advise parents to wait until high school to give their kids access to both Snapchat and Instagram.
  • Talk open and often: If your children have these apps, speak openly and often to your children about what they are experiencing. Have they seen porn on Instagram? Ask them!
  • Make an individual assessment: Is your child ready for social media? That’s your decision, but often age isn’t the only consideration. We provide a complete explanation of how to make an individual assessment in our blog post: What’s the Right Age to Give my Kid Social Media.

Intentional parents CAN stop access to hidden porn

Parents often lament about how difficult it is to raise responsible kids in the digital age. Yet it is parents who usually give their kids access to smartphones and tablets? Yes, it’s hard to be a parent today, but imagine how difficult it is growing up with inappropriate content and hidden porn from every angle.

Parents can protect their kids by using the tips above. And they can also teach kids to carry an internal filter with them by having persistent and consistent talks about every click!

Thank you to our guest author, Chris McKenna. Chris is the Founder & CEO of Protect Young Eyes.  He’s a man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, podcasts, and most recently on Capitol Hill for his research. His US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 2019 was the catalyst for draft legislation that could radically change online child protection laws. The PYE team has performed over 1,000 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits. In response to COVID-19 and the elimination of most live talks, PYE is launching The Protect App as a fresh way for parents to learn complex digital topics in just 5 minutes a day! Other loves include running, spreadsheets, and candy. 

There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!

Free bonus gift!

Chris McKenna
Chris McKenna, Founder, CEO of Protect Young Eyes: A man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, podcasts, and most recently on Capitol Hill for his research. His US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 2019 was the catalyst for draft legislation that could radically change online child protection laws. The PYE team has performed over 1,000 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits. In response to COVID-19 and the elimination of most live talks, PYE is launching The Protect App as a fresh way for parents to learn complex digital topics in just 5 minutes a day! Other loves include running, spreadsheets, and candy.

Parent Alert! Porn Spam on Your Kid’s Google Drive?! 3 Things You Need to Know Now

Do your kids have a Chromebook or a Google account for school or personal use? If so, they also have access to Google Drive. And that means your kids may have a direct and unfiltered path for predators to send them sexually explicit material.  Unfortunately, there is...

3 Ways Bark Protects Your Child from Porn

Today’s post comes from our friends over at Bark. While no tech solution is foolproof and we emhasize the importance of helping your child install an INTERNAL filter, we’re also big fans of using the amazing tech tools available to help protect your family from...

Chromebook Safety 101: 5 Easy Tips for a Better School Year

Millions of kids have been issued devices for school this year whether they’re learning at home, in-person or a combination of the two. Chromebooks are often the device of choice  because they’re an economical option.  With increased access to the internet...

Best Phones for Kids: Parents Give Honest Reviews on Gabb Wireless

Note: This article was originally published 2/20/2020 and updated on 6/11/2020. Last fall Gabb Wireless launched a new phone designed especially for preteens. It generated a lot of attention from parents seeking the best phones for their kids. Tech sites called it the...

Don’t Let Devices Ruin Your Holiday! 12 Tech Tips for Parents

The Christmas Tech Safety Countdown is On!  In just a few weeks, the kids are going to toss their backpacks and school books aside for a well-earned break. This also means that they will be looking for things to do! Some of those things will inevitably involve tech....

#1 Amazon Best Seller

A read-aloud book that’s comfortable for parents and empowering for kids.

Learn More →

Get the Book

#1 Amazon Best Seller

A read-aloud book that’s comfortable for parents and empowering for kids

Grab your FREE Guide!

We'll give you 10 questions to help you decide if your child is ready for a smartphone.

Your FREE Guide Is On The Way!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This