Houseparty: App Safety Guide for Parents

By on 11-18-2020

What parents need to know about Houseparty to keep their kids and teens safe on one of the latest, must-have video chat apps. 

Ratings

Apple: 12+

Android: Parental Guidance

Common Sense: 14+

Qustodio: 13+ when privacy mode is on and location is off

Houseparty, the video-chatting app founded in 2016, and acquired by Epic (the company behind Fortnite) in 2019, went from being virtually unknown just one year ago to going mainstream with over 50 million sign ups. Used primarily by people under 24 years old to just hangout with friends and play games, it’s time for parents to put this ‘Coronavirus lockdown hit’ on their radar.  

To help make your digital parenting decisions easier, and to help keep your kids safe online, we’ve put together this safety guide to the Houseparty app. 

Qustodio’s Safety Guide to Houseparty

What is the Houseparty app?

Available on Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android device, Houseparty is a free video-chatting app described as being “sort of like group FaceTime” with in-app purchase options. Houseparty differs from video conference apps like Zoom in that it offers built in games, including “Chips and Guac”, “Quick Draw” and “Trivia” that you can play with up to 8 people at once who are ‘in the house’. Houseparty also lets users chat one-on-one, schedule ‘house parties’, have impromptu parties, or drop in on parties that have been left open. Spoiler. Yes, we’re going to suggest you have your child lock ‘rooms’ to avoid strangers walking in on them. Like most other video-chatting apps, Houseparty allows your child to share their screen, mute themself, turn off their camera and record videos of their house parties.

Why do teens love Houseparty?

  • In today’s social landscape in which touch-ups and ‘perfect’ lives abound online, Houseparty is more authentic. And, there are no likes or shares. Teens turn it on while they are doing their homework even if they aren’t talking. It’s a lot like studying together at the library which is kind of ironic for a party app! 
  • On a similar note, teens love the spontaneity of the Houseparty app. There is no need to plan in advance or send invitations.  The app notifies them when their friends go into the app and shows who is talking to whom. So as long as there are not already 8 people in the conversation and they are friends with someone already in the conversation, and the room is not locked, they can jump in. 
  • Teens also like that the Houseparty app is not Facebook, or owned by Facebook. They see Facebook as something for their parents. This Wall Street Journal video where a couple of young users explain Houseparty to their parents demonstrates this generational divide well
  • Houseparty has also positioned itself as more socially-responsible than the Facebook group, promising not to monetize through data and advertising. (They make money through in-app purchases)

Is Houseparty safe for kids?

Houseparty doesn’t have loads of features, making it a bit easier for parents to wrap their heads around and check up on privacy settings, but the app is weak on native parental controls and monitoring features. As house parties are limited to 8 people, there isn’t serious risk of your child being exposed to strangers but it could happen if rooms aren’t locked. Houseparty is live streaming which is a concern for two reasons: if your child hasn’t blocked personal information like name and location they put themselves at risk of identity theft: and, their conduct can be captured in a screenshot that can be reposted elsewhere. Even the most harmless party shot could come back to haunt them in future years.

How can I make Houseparty safer for my child or teen?

  1. Turn on private mode to lock every ‘room.’
  2. Turn your location to off. It should already be off by default in the permissions section, but double-check.
  3. Use a fake name and birthday. Houseparty requires a birthday during setup. Providing a fake birthday and fake name (or nickname) helps protect your child’s identity from data theft.
  4. Opt-out of emails, texts or notifications about Houseparty offers.
  5. Warn your child about online predators. Sexual predators and data thieves are increasingly finding victims on social platform chats. They tend to strike up conversations designed to build up trust through pity or self-loathing. They may eventually ask for nude photos or ask for private information. Make sure your child knows it is not their fault if this happens to them and that they should report it immediately to their parents. Parents should then screen capture any evidence and notify both Houseparty and their local police.  
  6. Block Houseparty for children under 13. How old should your child be to have Houseparty? There is really no reason a child under 13 should be using this app. A parental control or parental monitoring app like Qustodio makes it really easy to consistently block the apps across devices. If you decide to allow your child to use Houseparty, make sure to always be there with them to supervise their activity.
  7. Know which friends your child is connected to on Houseparty. And take it a step further by knowing who their friends are connected to. 
  8. Block or unfriend users who make your child feel uncomfortable. We recommend blocking the app entirely if your child has been bullied or approached by an online predator. Teach them to come to you immediately and to never be ashamed or embarrassed by anything that happens online. 
  9. Private is never private. Make sure your child knows that their activity can be screenshotted and saved. Children often think Houseparty is private to just their friends and say things or share inappropriate images that can be used against them in the future.

Qustodio’s final advice on Houseparty

While we like that Houseparty doesn’t have the social pressure of many other social apps, it isn’t appropriate for children under 13. And teens should only be allowed to use it when privacy mode is on and location is off. Teach your child to lock rooms and ensure that they understand that what they do and say can be screen captured, that private is never 100% private on the internet. Make sure they know how to respond to inappropriate behavior. Help them build digital resilience. Block the app if their use of Houseparty ever gets out of control. 

Qustodio’s Smart Parenting Tips newsletter is designed to help you stay informed as a parent and raise your children in the digital age with a bit more confidence. No scaremongering. Nothing trendy. Just the best advice from real experts.

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