It started as an alternative to standard text messaging. Eight years later, WhatsApp is among the most popular messaging apps.
The app boasts more than 1 billion users in 180 countries, offering a combination of text messaging with the ability to send everything from photos and videos to documents. There are other cool perks, too, such as the ability to make video and voice calls.
But as with any app where you are sharing information, there are pitfalls to consider if you're a concerned parent with kids who use WhatsApp. Let's break it down:
What is WhatsApp?
It's a messaging app named after the phrase "what's up." It's a faster, easier take on text messaging, allowing users to quickly share photos, videos, even documents. It blends some elements of video apps like FaceTime, such as the ability to make a video or voice call.
Setup is pretty simple. Users just confirm their phone number and they can start using it. The app leverages your phone contacts, so you add friends, family and other people as you would any contact on your device. Messages are encrypted end to end, which means only the sender and recipient can see them.
How popular is it?
It's consistently among the top 25 overall apps on both Apple's App Store and Google Play over the past year, according to data from analytics firm App Annie. As of publishing, WhatsApp is the third most popular social networking app on Apple's store, behind Facebook Messenger and Facebook. (By the way, Facebook also owns WhatsApp).
Why is it so popular?
One key benefit is the ability to make voice or video calls using data instead of talk or text minutes. On many plans, text and talk is unlimited so it's not a big deal. But for those with minute or texting restrictions, WhatsApp can help you save a little money.
It's also easy to set up and use. If you're comfortable text messaging, then WhatsApp shouldn't be a problem. There are also cool features like broadcast, where you can send a message to a group of people, but they can only respond to the sender.
Should I worry about my kids using it?
As with text messaging, the real concern is over what your kids share. Is it fun conversation with friends, or something inappropriate for their age? Of course, text messaging means kids might use acronyms to hide what they're really talking about. There's also the option for users to send photos and video, as with text messaging, opening the door for more inappropriate conduct.
One big plus for WhatsApp: it's tied to your cell phone number. With most social apps, there's a discovery element where you can seek out random users. Unless your kid is freely handing out their phone number, it's tough to just find someone at random.
How can I protect them?
The obvious one is talking to kids about who has access to their phone number. Make sure they're aware of any boundaries set on who can call or text them.
Also, talk to your kids about what they share with friends. Discuss what you consider appropriate information to share with friends.
WhatsApp also features privacy settings to let users decide whether to show information like their profile photo, bio, status or the last time they were on WhatsApp. Options are Everyone, My Contacts or Nobody.