Should I be worried about my kids using WhatsApp?

Messaging apps are part of our everyday lives. Whether using WhatsApp to chat with loved ones or Facebook Messenger to organise meetups, it’s astonishing how often we turn to these services to keep in touch every single day.

But recently, concerns have arisen over the use of encrypted messaging apps – especially when used by children. Security services have warned that ‘encryption’ – i.e. the thing that keeps your messages safe from prying eyes – could also be making it harder for police to spot illegal activity, such as child abuse.

In this article we’ll explore the case for and against encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, and whether you, as a parent, should worry about their use.

Why are messages encrypted?

There are a number of reasons that messaging apps chose to encrypt correspondence – but the primary one is for privacy. When Facebook decided in March last year that end-to-end encryption would become the default across all its messaging platforms – which includes WhatsApp – it was essentially in response to the rise of consumer fears about being snooped on online.

These changes let users hide the content of their messages at a time when more and more people worry that their online data and conversations are being monitored by outside forces.

So, what are the downsides?

As we said at the top of the article, this sort of encryption can be double-edged. While it does keep the content of messages hidden, it can also obscure the work of crime enforcement agencies trying to crack down on online bullying and child grooming, for example.

The UK Children’s Commissioner recently launched a new report looking at how children use online messaging apps and found that 60% of eight year olds and 90% of 12 year olds used some sort of service. Worryingly, a third of children surveyed for the report said they had received a message that had made them uncomfortable.

These findings are being used as the basis to instruct big tech firms – like Facebook – that they have a ‘duty of care’ to protect children using these apps. The commissioner is advocating for this sort of encryption not to be applied to all children’s accounts.

Should I be worried about my child using WhatsApp in the meantime?

As with anything, it’s important to exercise caution whenever children use the internet or internet-connected services. The most popular of these apps, like WhatsApp, do have privacy settings that can be customised to increase protection.

On WhatsApp, you can tweak these privacy options by:

  • Clicking the three vertical dots in the top right-hand corner of the chat screen
  • Clicking Settings
  • Hitting Account
  • And then press Privacy
  • From here you can change who views your child’s status and turn off read receipts.

Also ,WhatsApp allows users to block unknown users when they send a message and report spam. It’s important to help your child to understand how to use these to make sure they aren’t speaking to people they don’t know.

Want to find out more about protecting your children online? Check out our links below: