When news of a massive illicit photo ring run by a high school football team in Canon City, Colo., broke this week, parents around the country were left scratching their heads.
How could a scandal involving at least 100 students and hundreds more nude photos go undetected for so long?
The answer: photo vaults.
Disguised to look and function like an innocent smartphone app, photo vaults — also known as “ghost apps” — allow people to conceal photos, video and information in plain view on their phone. They’ve been around since at least 2011, but have grown increasingly common as smartphones have gained popularity. The App Store and Google Play are littered with apps designed to help users hide their activity and camouflage sensitive information.
“If you look at your kid’s phone, everything looks normal, but one of the apps turns out to actually be some way to send messages to and from others that aren’t meant to be permanent,” George Welsh, the superintendent of Canon City school, told NBC affiliate KKTV.