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

When put like that, it sounds crazy! But that’s exactly what we tell the caring adults who attend our Digital Culture of Kids presentation. 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 means hidden porn!

Hidden porn —boy opening a door

Ever since that date, there have been amazing parents just like you who are desperately trying to protect their precious children from this universal access.

In this blog post, we’ll shed light on some of the not-so-obvious ways that pornography seeps its way onto smartphones. We call it hidden porn. Plus, we’ll provide practical tools that any parent can implement today to ensure a more porn-proof internet experience.

But first we need to understand some of the many ways hidden porn can be accessed by any child.

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 us on this one. We 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 writing of this post, there were over 3 million apps in Google Play and 2 million in the Apple App Store. Both are mini search engines.

We’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.

Tip for parents: “No app store access until you get the driver’s license.” That’s the rule in our house. Until around age 16, I want to be involved heavily in all app store searching. This means turning off the App Store and Google Play, or at a minimum, using Family Sharing on iOS devices, per the instructions in the App Store blog post above.

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 hidden porn is just a click away. Here are three 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.
  • Imgur: Using GIFs, images and comments, Imgur is the content backbone of many other websites, including Reddit. And like any platform that allows users to upload their own content, it’s full of inappropriate media (including porn if you know how to find 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, Imgur, and other websites, without ever leaving the GIPHY app.

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: Go to the App Store app, select “Updates” in the lower right corner, then tap “Purchases” at the top, and this will show a complete inventory of every app that has been downloaded from the App Store with the Apple ID that the device is using.
  • For Android: Open the Google Play store app and tap the menu button (three lines). In the menu, tap “My Apps & Games” to see a list of apps currently installed on your device.

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. In our Digital Culture Presentation we use this slide to illustrate:

5 of 6 common apps have hidden porn

I can access a hidden Google search through five of these six apps (see above) on any iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). The only one that prevents me from accessing a hidden search is Pokémon Go! And here’s the kicker! —Even if you’ve enabled “Limit Adult Content” in the Restrictions on an iPhone, these hidden Google searches do not obey those parameters! It’s a completely unfiltered web experience.

Tip for parents: Recently, Covenant Eyes (affiliate link) released a new Accountability app for iOS devices, with cutting-edge technology that actually forces Google and Bing into safe search mode no matter where Google and Bing are accessed. It’s truly one-of-a kind when it comes to device-wide parental controls.

Instructions:

If you use Covenant Eyes, and you want to limit web searching to just Google and Bing, then you’ll want to utilize the “Never Allow” feature in Restrictions.

To do this on any iPhone: Settings – General – Restrictions – Website – Never Allow

On the “Never Allow” list, add the following search engines: Yandex.com, Baidu.com, Yahoo.com, Aol.com, Dogpile.com, DuckDuckGo.com, Ask.com, and ChaCha.com

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 Episode and Hooked Chat Stories 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 hidden porn. The reason for this is 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 three offenders are:

  • Snapchat: It’s well-documented that the Discover section of Snapchat contains content that is not appropriate for children, and yet there’s no way to turn it off. (This is where Snapchat makes its money.)
  • Instagram: With almost a billion monthly users, Instagram has a serious hidden porn problem. With six clicks that take less than four seconds, you can find hardcore, streaming pornography. Users call it Instaporn. With zero parental controls on the app parents can never know what their kids are searching for..
  • 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

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!

Chris McKenna is about to release Virtue in Media, a faith-based streaming curriculum. Find out more about it here and sign up here to get notified when it’s launched.

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

We are grateful to Chris Mckenna for sharing his extensive knowledge about tech solutions with us. It’s sobering to discover how easily kids have access to hidden porn through their Android and iOS devices. As always, we want to provide you with as many tools as possible to help keep your kids safe from the dangers of porn. That’s why we’ve also included our guide for parents, Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? Whether or not your child has a phone, this guide includes 10 questions EVERY parent should review!

Get your FREE guide by clicking on the image below:

Chris McKenna
Chris has a BA in Accountancy and Spanish from Western Michigan University. After careers in business advising, youth ministry, and church stewardship, Chris just recently became the Educational Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes. This comes on the heels of creating protectyoungeyes.com in 2015 as a resource to equip and educate parents and teens on the latest gadgets, apps, and give them tools for how to use the Internet well.
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