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ChatFOSS

What is it?

‘The first social network designed specifically for under-13s,’ ChatFOSS (Friends Only Stay Safe) is for PC, Android, iPhone and iPad, is free to download and free to use for the first four months.

The app enables children, friends and family to share pictures and videos, send messages and video chat in safety. Available for private users or for schools and other associations.

What they say

‘ChatFOSS is a social network designed by parents, teachers and children to enable children who are not old enough for social media accounts to enjoy communicating with their friends online.’

Price

The app is free to download and use for the first four months. After that, if you want to continue using it you will be charged a yearly subscription of £29.95 per person or £69.95 per family (one parent and up to four children). Packages for schools start from £495 per annum.

There are no in-app purchases.

What’s the reality?

The makers of the app, StayPrivate Ltd, have clearly put a lot of thought into how to keep children safe while they share pictures, send messages, and swap videos and video chat.

Strangers cannot contact you through ChatFOSS. No one can search for you or find you. No one can know what you are doing.

The app is a way, not just for children but for families, to keep in touch safely. It is also used in schools to help teach children online safety skills, where each child is connected with their classmates.

Adults can also have a ChatFOSS account.

The design of ChatFoss is functional with no frills but it gets the job done.

What parents need to know

To set up your child on ChatFOSS, first create an account for them on the website using your email address. You will then receive their username and password and instructions on how to download the app to your chosen devices. Be warned, this can take some time.

You then click a link in the email which takes you to the ChatFoss terms and conditions. You have to accept them and then choose whether you wish to use microphone, webcam etc. Be aware that if you don’t read them at this stage, you can’t access them later to check anything. ChatFOSS has told us it’s looking into changing this after we raised the point with them.

Users cannot search for friends. The makers of the app say 'Recent research showed the average 12-15-year-old has never met 3 in 10 of the friends listed on their main social networking profile. ChatFOSS has been designed to destroy this culture of communicating with strangers.

'If a child wants to share their selfie with all their friends, they will have to individually send it to each and every one of their friends. Using ChatFOSS promotes a culture where photos and information are only shared with people you want to have that information.'

For your child to be friends with someone, both they and their friend must invite each other. To do this, they need to know their friend’s ChatFOSS ID before clicking ‘connect’.

If they don’t have the ID they can use their email or phone number. The parent is then either informed or has to give consent each time their child adds a new friend.

This enables parents to ensure that they know who their child is interacting with online.

All this means that parents may be spending a lot of time answering emails from ChatFOSS about new friendship requests, approving those both from your child and from their friends. Once friendships have been established perhaps the admin may slow down.

When ChatFOSS is set up in schools, the children are set up as friends with their year group so the inviting process isn’t relevant.

Friends can also communicate as part of a group. But only if each individual accepts the invitation to the group. Only the individual can remove themselves from the group.

Once a friendship has been OKed the children are free to communicate in private.

ChatFOSS doesn’t moderate individual conversations. It uses algorithms that are programmed to detect sexting and certain inflammatory words. Any findings are then referred to the ChatFOSS compliance team who decide whether to notify child protection agencies.

Are there appropriate parental controls and are they easy to use?

Parents are notified of and authorise all friendships. If a parent is worried about what their child is doing on ChatFOSS they can request a password reset link to be sent to their parental email, allowing them to access their child's ChatFOSS account.

Is it age-appropriate and are age settings clearly indicated?

The app is aimed at under-13s, although families are encouraged to use it so adults can sign up. Hence there are no age verification checks.

The app is rated PEGI 3 which means that the content is suitable for all ages. iTunes rates it a 4+.

How easy is it for users and parents to report issues?

There is no specific way for a parent to report issues, although there is a general enquiries email.

If a parent is worried about what their child is doing on ChatFOSS they can request a password reset link to be sent to their parental email, allowing them to access their child's ChatFOSS account. They can then discuss the issues with their child.

Is it commercially responsible?

There are no in-app purchases and no advertising.

Is the functionality appropriate to the age of users?

Perfectly suited to 8-13 year olds.

Are the terms and conditions of use easy to understand and find?

When you first join ChatFOSS a link in your welcoming email takes you to the terms and conditions which are easy to understand and which you accept before you can continue. Apart from that, they are impossible to find on the website and on the app. See above.

The Verdict

ChatFOSS is a great introduction for children to the world of social media, helping them to develop good habits and skills. A safe social network for schoolchildren and families.