Houseparty has become one of the most widely used apps since lockdown. With the majority of the population indoors, social networks like Zoom and Houseparty have become popular as people search for entertaining ways to come together. Get an overview of Houseparty and our tips to keep yourself, and others, safe while using it.

WHAT IS HOUSEPARTY?

Houseparty is a free social network owned by Epic Games (the creators of Fortnite). It is available on iOS, AndroidmacOS and Google Chrome and enables group video chatting through mobile and desktop apps. People get a notification when their friends are online and available to chat, and they can use Houseparty to host quiz nights, concerts, family reunions and birthday parties.

After it’s been downloaded, the app requires users to create an account using their full name, email address and date of birth. Once signed up, people can invite their friends to video chat within ‘rooms’ – there’s a maximum of eight people at a time though.

Houseparty is easy to use and focused on fun rather than formal interactions. People can come and go from rooms just like a real house party, and people can play games like Trivia, Heads Up and Quick Draw.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ONLINE SAFETY CHALLENGES?

While there’s lots of fun to be had, Houseparty can present some potential risks that people should be aware of. We’ve listed a few below.

  1. Like with other video chats, screens can be recorded by others within the chat meaning your images and videos of your chat could be captured and potentially shared.
  2. According to Houseparty’s Terms of Service, your data is automatically collected. Users must opt out of sharing this information and if you do opt out some of your data (considered non-personal) will still be retained.
  3. Unlike most video chat platforms, you don’t have to be invited to join a room. If you see your friends are active in a room, you can join without an invitation or warning – or they could call you. If this happens, you might end up in a room with friends and other people you don’t know.
  4. You might be exposed to inappropriate content, but this will largely depend on who you are communicating with and the types of pictures, screenshots and videos being shared.
  5. Housepary relies on contacts stored on your device, so all someone may need to find you is your phone number.
  6. Houseparty asks for access to your location. If someone near you downloaded Houseparty, you can invite them if both of you open the Nearby screen.

HOW CAN YOU MAKE HOUSEPARTY SAFER?

  1. Keep your details private: While Houseparty requires you to share some personal details to join, you can limit the amount of information you share by creating a username.
  2. Explore the technology: Before diving into your first Houseparty, get to know  it by familiarising yourself with the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
  3. Lock your rooms: Houseparty allows people to lock rooms by tapping on the padlock icon in the chatroom. In your settings there is also an option to automatically lock all rooms you enter. Locking rooms allows you to stop anyone else from joining your chat uninvited, giving you more control over who you are talking to.
  4. Explore your settings: By tapping on the cog icon above your friends list, you can access and change your settings such as your location and notification settings to suit your preferences. And if you don’t want to chat, but want to see who’s around, you can do this by pressing the app’s icon on your phone a little longer than usual and hitting the “Sneak Into the House” option.
  5. Be alert: Keep an eye out on who is entering your party rooms and make sure you’re comfortable with others hearing and seeing what you are sharing on the video call. If you’re talking to someone you don’t trust, leave the room.
  6. Manage your screen time: Because Houseparty sends you instant notifications every time one of your friends comes online it can be easy to spend more time on the app than you’d like. You can control this by hitting the smiley-face icon on the upper left of the main screen. That will give you the option to turn off notifications completely or to mute them for individual friends. Netsafe can help support you with tips on how to effectively manage your time online.
  7. Use a different password: There have been concerns that Houseparty was hacked, but this hasn’t been confirmed. It’s a good idea to use a different password combination for your accounts, otherwise it makes it easy for hackers to access all of your accounts if they have your email address. Check out our advice on how to choose a good password.

ADVICE FOR PARENTS

While Houseparty states that users must be 13 years and older to use the app, there is currently no age verification system. There are also concerns that Houseparty can make young people feel excluded or bullied and they might have unwanted contact with people they don’t know.

As with any online safety issue, we know that having regular and open conversations with your children about what they are doing helps mitigate potential harm. It’s important to set boundaries with your kids if they do use it – lock rooms, outline your expectations about the games and and what they can and cannot do. Encourage your child to share with you if they have upsetting experiences and make sure they’re aware that any harassment, inappropriate language, bullying or hacking can be reported.

Our Online Safety Parent Toolkit is a great place to get parents and whānau talking about online safety. It outlines some of the main challenges young people face online and provides tips and advice on how to help your child.

If you have any other Houseparty tips or experiences to share, let us know using the #stayconnectedstaysafe on social media or email us.

CONTACT NETSAFE

If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111. If you want help or expert incident advice, you can contact us. Our service is free, non-judgemental and available seven days a week.

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