Detecting “Ghost” (Hidden) Apps On A Phone

This morning on the Today Show, there was a story called “How teens are hiding photos, more with ‘ghost apps’ — and what to do about it.” This is a growing topic within the online safety community due to ability of children to hide apps from their parents. After the article was posted, it was interesting to read the many different comments. They were everything from “take your kids phone away” to “its not the devices, its the parents”. At Online Kid Cop, our aim is not to evaluate parental skills, only to educate parents about the dangers and teach basic prevention tips.

Before we get into the specifics of ghost apps, lets first discuss what they are. Ghost apps are ones that are either hidden from the main screen of a device or is disguised as a useful app with hidden features. One of the more recent ones to hit the iPhone market is Calculator%. While appearing to be a calculator, it is actually a photo storage app that hides pictures from the normal camera roll along with allowing the user to take pictures within the app. To an unsuspecting parent, monitoring their child’s device, it would appear as just an innocent calculator. Here are two ways to help prevent Ghost Apps from appearing on your child’s iPhone.

The first prevention method is to enable restrictions that prevents your child from loading any new apps without your permission. Be enabling this feature, your child must have you “unlock the app store for them”. We cover this in our segment on User Controls.

The second way to detect if your child has loaded ghost apps on their iPhone is to look at the Privacy section under the settings module. For example, Calculator% needs access to the camera to be able to take pictures. Due to this, you can look under the camera section in privacy to see what apps have permission to use it. If the apps don’t look familiar or a use can be shown, they are most likely ghost apps. Please keep in mind that many legitimate apps require/ask permission for access to contacts, location, camera, etc for their basic function. An example is Weather apps. While it might look concerning that they need access to the phones location, it is actually useful when trying to find out local weather. We have included a picture below of the steps needed to look at what apps are requiring access to what parts of the phone below. For Android users, please search YouTube for similar videos/suggestions.