What is a Vault App?

Parents, beware. Does your child have one of these apps on their phone?

Close up of vaulted door
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A vault app, also known as a ghost photo, decoy, or photo vault app, among other names, is a tool people can use to hide pictures, videos, and sometimes calls and texts. Most commonly, a vault app looks like a calculator, but entering a secret code unlocks a trove of often salacious photos and videos. Vault apps are popular with adolescents who use them to hide activity, such as sexting, from their parents. They're also useful for preventing a nosy friend from peeking into your photo roll and seeing something you want to keep private. 

Some vault apps can also take photos and videos surreptitiously with the screen off and no shutter sound. And finally, some apps even sound an alarm or take a picture with the front-facing camera if someone tries to break into the vault. 

If you're a parent, you should know whether your child is using one of these apps to send or receive sexts or to take photos or videos of others without them knowing. Sharing nude photos with others means you no longer have control over them, and they could wind up floating around the Internet, causing embarrassment or even affecting future university or job prospects. At worst, sharing nude photos with minors can get your kids in serious legal trouble, despite being minors themselves. 

Here's how to find out if your child has downloaded and used a vault app. Keep in mind, there could be an innocent reason for it, such as privacy concerns, but it's worth having the conversation.

Examples of Vault Apps

Vault or ghost photo apps disguise themselves as another type of app, frequently as a calculator, the idea being that snoopers will swipe past a mundane app like that.

Tip: Check if your kid's smartphone has more than one calculator app. There are countless options: Smart Hide Calculator, Calculator Vault – Gallery Lock, Calculator - Vault for Photo —you get the idea.

Calendars are another favorite disguise, and there are more subtle app names such as Secret Safe Lock Vault Manager, AppLock or KeepSafe. All of these require a passcode to access the contents of the vault. Some vault apps can hide who a person is calling or texting, such as Private SMS & Call and CoverMe. (Also marketed for wannabe cheaters to cover their tracks.)

How to Find Vault Apps on iPhones

Start by searching the App Store for keywords such as vault, decoy, ghost photo, and secret or hidden folders to understand what's out there. If your child has downloaded an app, it will say Open next to it; otherwise, it will say Get. You can also see which apps they've downloaded by going to the App Store and tapping Updates > Purchased. Look up the app descriptions to get more details about any that look suspicious or are duplicates of other apps (calculators, calendars, etc.).

Another way to smoke out a vault app is by going to Settings > Privacy > Camera, where you can see which apps have used the camera.

How to Find Vault Apps on Androids

On Android, search the Google Play store using the keywords we've mentioned throughout this post (vault, ghost photo, decoy, and the like). If your child has downloaded an app, it will say Open or Update next to it. If not, it will say Install or a price, if it's not free. 

Consider Implementing Parental Controls

Of course, prevention being the best medicine, the best way to keep these apps off their phones is to use parental controls, where available. Your family plan may have an option to require kids to request permission to download an app; check with your carrier for details.

Apple has a feature called Ask to Buy, in which the designated family organizer approves app downloads for children. Android has parental controls that you can set on smartphones and tablets to block app downloads based on their rating (E for Everyone through 18+).

These controls are not a panacea, but along with frank conversations, will go a long way to keeping your kids safe.