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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
What's it about?
THREEMA is a paid secure messaging app that uses end-to-end encryption to ensure secure text and voice calls. Entering personal information is optional, and users are identified by a randomly generated Threema ID, a public key, and a nickname. Users can also opt to scan QR codes to verify message senders' identities and ad PINs to individual conversations. Secure voice calls can be made with the app, and users can customize the look of the interface with profile photos and wallpapers. The Threema service can be used on PCs (provided the user's PC and mobile device use the same server), and advanced users can substitute their own server for the Threema server. Messages can contain files, photos, and videos, and users can create Agree/Disagree messages and polls with multiple-choice answers. Group chat can accommodate up to 100 members. Messages are deleted the moment they're delivered, and chat sessions can be deleted from users' phones when sessions are done. Users can also revoke Threema IDs and delete all Threema data from their mobile device at any time. The app's interface can be customized by adding a profile picture and wallpaper image (selected from the photos on users' mobile devices), and icons next to users' IDs indicate their level of security verification.
Is it any good?
This app covers all the bases in terms of protecting personal information and guarding against hackers, but all of that privacy can make it hard to see what your kids are doing. Threema's first good move is creating randomly generated IDs for each registered user. Adding personal information (phone number, email, profile picture) is entirely optional here; if you want, you can be 100% identified by your Threema ID, your public key (QR code), and the nickname of your choice. This is great, because there's nothing for Threema to pass along to third parties. Your friends can find you by any of these forms of ID, and you can ensure your messages really come from you by using the free Threema QR code plug-in (a separate download) to scan your key. You can even protect your conversations by assigning PINs to chat sessions.
Of course, as good as this level of security might be, it could be worrisome for parents, since tech-savvy kids and teens could use the app to easily hide their activities from parents and other authority figures. Users can permanently delete chat sessions, and content is deleted from the servers upon delivery, so the developer can't even provide information to law enforcement. In addition to that, kids can send files, photos, and videos that can be deleted with chat sessions, make encrypted phone calls, and use the app to send their locations via text. Because of all this, Threema's security features are a double-edged sword: On one hand, its sensible, ad-free (and spyware-free) interface makes it a breeze to use, and it's comforting to know hackers aren't listening in every time you send a text or make a call. On the other, knowing your kids could use the app to hide what they're up to is highly unsettling. In the end, it's a great way to protect kids and teens, but whether you let them use it depends on how openly your family communicates.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the benefits of secure messaging. What's encryption? Why does it matter if your messages are encrypted? Why is personal data valuable?
Think about online identity theft. How can you be sure your emails and chats come from people you know? What is phishing, and how can you avoid it?
Discuss when secure messaging is appropriate and when it's not. What do parents need to know? What are your rules around the line between privacy and safety?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.