I suppose my blameless use of technology explains why when I discovered that iOS 7 for iPhone includes a feature to hid apps I was initially a bit taken aback and inclined to dismiss this as just another example of the development of new features just for the sake of it. “What kind of users want to hide the apps on their phone anyway?” I wondered.
But of course, whether it’s not wanting anyone to see that you are on Tinder, are counting calories or are sharing a joke with a friend we all like a little privacy. But do you really want your children able to conceal the apps and images they have on their smart devices from you?
Of course, people who share a device with colleagues or family members have always found ways to hid content from other users. It’s always been possible to save an incriminating document or photo with an innocent sounding file name; to place the dodgy stuff in a folder labelled ‘Homework 2014’. The Hidden folders option has been a feature of the Windows OS forever. I’ve used all of the above at some point to hide Christmas present lists from children, a romantic weekend surprise from my husband and a draft letter of resignation from a soon to be ex-boss.
And young people – they often have things that they wish to keep private or secret. There are parents who routinely ask their kids to turn over their phones for inspection. And there are times when school staff feel the need to investigate how a pupil has been using their device; suspected online bullying or the sharing of inappropriate photographs. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there are ways to hid content on Smartphone and tablets.
At the most basic level content can be hidden in plain sight on a smart device in much the same ways as it can be hidden on a more traditional Windows or Mac-based laptop or PC. It's easy enough to rename an app folder on an i-device – simply hold a finger down on any app on the home screen for a few seconds until the apps begin to wobble. Double tap the app folder, type in a new name. Or an app or an app folder can be hidden by moving it to the far right ‘home’ screen, maybe on a home screen on its own. It will take a little more effort to find the app, so it is less likely to be stumbled upon by accident.
A slightly more secure way to do this in iOS7 involves placing the apps you wish to hide in a folder, placing that folder inside another folder and dropping the folder of apps on to the ‘dock’. The apps effectively ‘disappear’ from the home screen. They can only be found by searching via Spotlight. Or you could just make use of the built it ‘hide app’ feature available on Android devices and Apple’s iOS 8. And of course, there are now apps to hide apps.
Apps such as Applelocker (IOS and Android) are free on the App and Google Play stores. Simply install the app, place the app you wish to hide in a folder and set a password. And there are lots of apps that enable a user to hide photographs and videos. Private Vault Photo imports photos into an album which is then hidden behind a PIN lock. If anyone tries to open the app without the correct password, the phone’s camera takes a picture and stores the GPS location. You can also set a decoy password which opens a different set of pictures.
Gallery Lock goes a bit further with ‘stealth’ mode so that the app doesn’t even appear on the phone. It can only be accessed by typing and asterisk, followed by a password and pressing ‘call’. Other photo hiding apps disguise themselves as a ‘Utilities’ folder or as a calculator app.
So where does all this leave us? On the one hand, it’s great that we can set up our smart devices in such a way that when we lend a nosey friend or colleague our phone they can’t see our more private images or catch a glimpse of our secret lives as train spotters, obsessive calorie counters or Playboy readers. But on the other hand, next time you feel the need to have a quick look at the apps or photos on your teenage daughter’s iPad don’t assume just because you can’t see anything to be concerned about that there’s nothing about which you should be concerned!