What Parents Need to Know about Encrypted Apps

June 2, 2020

When reading the word ‘encryption,’ you might connect it to security more than safety. But increasingly this technology is being utilized by apps and services that families frequently use. Whether you have young children and are looking to regulate their technology use to age-appropriate apps, or teenagers with whom you set tech boundaries together, understanding the apps your children use is essential to good digital parenting.

Encryption, for the purposes of this blog, is a type of digital security that makes it incredibly difficult for third parties to hack into an app. Encryption is most useful for apps that handle sensitive, personal information that you would want to protect in the physical world as well. Apps that are encrypted often are used for things like online banking or for storing personal health information. But there is another category of encrypted apps that are popular - ones used for communication purposes. And it is likely that your whole family already interacts with these apps.

Encrypted messaging apps allow users to send messages that are extremely hard to intercept and read. The only person who can read what you type is the person you send the message to. This level of security ensures that users can have private conversations, and protects them and their data from bad actors. Law enforcement and even the app owners themselves do not have the ability to intercept and read users’ messages since encryption is such a powerful protection. Examples of communication apps that use “end to end encryption” include WhatsApp, iMessage*, and Signal. These apps are very popular and heavily used for communication with friends and family, to create plans, and stay in touch.

If you decide to let your children use encrypted apps you should know that the messages that they send are protected and private and will not be able to be accessed by the company, or by law enforcement. It’s important that you know this in order to have an informed conversation with your children about the technology they are using.

Ultimately, the apps that your children use, how they use them, and whether or not they are encrypted are up to you as a family to decide. Researching the security measures that each app provides is an excellent place to start and most apps will post their security and privacy policies online. By curating your child’s apps, they will in turn create the foundation for a rewarding online experience. But don’t forget to have check-in conversations with them about their use of technology and to review their favorite apps periodically.

To learn more about encryption and to help guide your conversation, visit:

*iMessages are end-to-end encrypted when they are between two Apple devices (such as iPhone to iPhone) and the messages appear blue, not green, like a regular SMS or text message.

Written by

Andrew Zack

Andrew Zack is the Policy Manager for the Family Online Safety Institute, supporting policy and research work relating to online safety issues, laws, and regulations. He works with federal and state legislatures, relevant federal agencies, and industry leaders to develop and advance policies that promote safe and positive online experience for families.
Andrew joins FOSI after five years in Senator Ed Markey's office, where he worked primarily on education, child welfare, and disability policies. Andrew studied Government and Psychology at the College of William and Mary.