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February 8, 2023

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What is the JusTalk app and is it safe for young people?

Schools and safeguarding professionals are reporting that children and young people are receiving harmful and inappropriate messages on the JusTalk app. After an investigation by our Online Safety Experts, we have created this comprehensive guide to JusTalk that outlines what the app is, whether the JusTalk app is safe and our top tips on how to mitigate the risks it poses to children and young people.

What is JusTalk?

JusTalk is a free social networking platform that hosts video, voice and group calling messaging features, similar to popular messaging platform WhatsApp.

Although WhatsApp is also a free messaging service, there are several reasons why young people may turn to JusTalk instead.

As well as the different age ratings (WhatsApp is for 16+), the app itself is more interactive, with games and ‘doodling’ and features that could be considered more appealing to young people. It also has a social element that young people may feel other apps like WhatsApp are lacking. We also know that apps and platforms trend on and off with young people. JusTalk could just happen to be the hot app of the moment!

Features of JusTalk

  • Text one-to-one or in a group of up to 200 members.
  • Make calls one-to-one or in a group of up to 50 members.
  • Users can ‘doodle’ on faces and play games together during calls.
  • Images, voices and videos can be shared.
  • Users can share their location.
  • In-app purchases of premium services.
  • Premium features include the ability to record and store calls within the app.

JusTalk comes in two different versions: one for children aged under 13-years-old (called JusTalk Kids) and one for people aged 13+ (called JusTalk). In this guide to JusTalk, we will be focusing on the risks to young people using the 13+ version of the app.

This version of the app is rated for four- to 13-year-olds. Users of this app can’t accept ‘adds’ from other accounts or receive calls from them. However, if they know the username of someone using the app, they can mututally add each other through the ‘name card’ feature.

JusTalk Kids is designed with a simpler interface than the 13+ version.

Adding ‘friends’ by their JusTalk ID

On the JusTalk app, users add friends by their ‘JusTalk I.D.’ . Like a username, people must know this in order to find someone on the app. There is no other way to find ‘friends’ or interact with someone on the app, outside of group calls and messaging.

Although this may sound like a safer way of doing things, during research our Online Safety Experts found that users are sharing their I.D. on other sites and platforms, like Reddit, in order to gain new friends. Unlike many other platforms, the risks associated with JusTalk mainly occur after a ‘friend’ is added (including with someone they might know ‘in real life).

What are the potential risks of JusTalk?

Alongside the JusTalk I.D., JusTalk app generates URL and QR codes for profiles. While designed to make it easier for users to find each other on the app, it also brings risk. Young people may not understand the risks associated with sharing their profile details across other platforms and websites online.

As mentioned above, young people posting their JusTalk I.D. on other sites means that they are publicly sharing their profile details to strangers. Sites like Reddit are designed to be anonymous so young people will have no control over who can view their JusTalk I.D. and add them. Combined with the parts of JusTalk that can be used to build rapport (like the games), this increases the risk of groomers using the site to target young people.

As with any app that revolves around sharing images and videos, there is always a risk. Even when an image or video isn’t overly inappropriate and doesn’t contain self-generated child sexual abuse material, there could still be risks contained that a young person doesn’t see.

Information can be gleaned from an otherwise-innocent looking photo: a school blazer on show tells others where to find them five days a week; hockey sticks, paintbrushes or
Fortnite posters gives groomers conversational starters; and a letter on the desk in the background tells where home is.

Images and videos could also be recorded without the subject being aware.

This could leave a young person vulnerable to having their content shared elsewhere without their permission. It may also leave them open to becoming a victim of grooming; images and other footage being used to blackmail and exploit.

As the app allows chats for up to 50 participants, there is a risk that a young person could share their location with someone they don’t really know – because the user in the chat group is a friend of a friend, they might feel like a ‘safe’ person.

A young person might also feel pressured or coerced into sharing their location with someone they don’t know. Location sharing is often used within abusive relationships, as a way for the abuser to assert control over the victim. This could be as part of an unhealthy dynamic with someone they know ‘in real life’ or with a stranger they’ve met online.

Our Online Safety Experts found that the JusTalk age verification system is poor. While it asks for a date of birth, this can easily be manipulated by entering a wrong date. This opens up the potential for children to access the 13+ version of JusTalk and be exposed to age-inappropriate content and interactions with strangers.  
The JusTalk app says that all personal information, including calling and messaging data, is end-to-end encrypted. However, according to tech publication TechCrunch, millions of users’ messages, location details and call logs were publicly viewable for several months.

End-to-end encryption is a security method designed to ensure that data, like messages, can only be read by the sender and intended recipient(s). It prevents third parties from being able to access that data.

In 2022, it was discovered that JusTalk allegedly left one of their logging databases designed to track bugs in the app, on a cloud server without any password protection. The messages were reportedly not encrypted.

The database has since been shut down and it is unclear whether JusTalk has responded to the accusations.

Very few apps or platforms exist without fault in their system at some point or another. And, given the worrying report about JusTalk’s possible leak of users’ location and messages, it seems the JusTalk app might be no exception.

For example, our Online Safety Experts found that a test adult account could easily add and interact with the account of a supposed 13-year-old by using their usernames.

As the app allows for such large numbers of participants in chats and calls, there is a risk of ‘ganging up’ against one or a smaller group of people. This form of bullying can sometimes occur as a result of the perpetrators feeling less personally responsible when there are others taking part, too.

Bullying and harassment is always difficult for any young person to deal with, but it can be particularly difficult when targeted by many. If the victim has used an app like JusTalk as a main social outlet, they may feel isolated as a result.

The JusTalk app includes third party advertising, with apps like Tinder and adverts for gambling being featured frequently. This may encourage young people to visit those platforms, especially if they believe these apps have been ‘okayed’ by JusTalk.

Top Tips

Talk to the young people in your care about the risks of sharing information online, such as details about the school they attend, specific hobbies, where they live or like to hang out.

This also applies to sharing online information offline. In other words, discussing or giving out usernames and passwords in public spaces. Emphasise the importance of keeping this information safe, even if they don’t think anyone is listening.

It’s important that young people understand what type of image is and isn’t safe to share online. Talk about the information that might be given away inadvertently in a photo or video, and why it’s crucial to always double check before uploading anything online. You should also discuss consent around sharing other people’s images and content. Rmind them that sharing child sexual abuse material is illegal, even if it’s of themselves.

Find out what to do if a young person has lost control of an image online.

It’s not unusual for people of any age to develop friendships online, especially young people who are spending so much of their time interacting with others on apps and platforms. However, it’s crucial that they know how to interact with others online and how to maintain healthy online relationships. It’s particularly important to emphasise the importance of not arranging to meet up with someone they’ve met online.Talk about the importance of being kind online. It’s easy for a young person to get swept up in a group mentality which could result in them bullying someone else without even realising, or because they’re trying to fit in.

Learn more about virtual friendships.

Look over the safety settings together. Use our JusTalk and JusTalk Kids safety cards to learn about how to block and report on the JusTalk app. You can also visit our Safety Centre to learn how to block and report on other popular platforms and apps.

Have conversations about their online world. Talk to the young people in your care about what they like to do online, such as their favourite games to play and websites to visit. This also includes encouraging your child to talk about anything they have seen online that may have upset them.

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