Schools block new secret chat rooms
Queensland schools are warning parents about a new chat room marketed as a discrete platform for students.
Brisbane Catholic Education schools last week emailed parents advising them they had blocked the Google Chrome browser extension from the schools network.
WhiteBox is a Google Chrome extension and free to download. It allows users to chat one-on-one, make group messages and play games.
"Easily message your friends with WhiteBox, the clean simple and discrete chatting platform made for students," the WhiteBox Chat site says.
"No more bloated Facebook messenger or phone exclusive Snapchat. Get WhiteBox now - it's free."
"Once alerted to the capabilities of a commonly available chatroom extension, we took immediate action across our network and through our schools to disable access," a BCE statement said.
And the Education Department told The Courier-Mail it had deemed that the platform was not sufficiently secure for Queensland state school students, having blocked the extension from its school systems and devices.
Top cyber safety expert and former police officer Susan McLean said schools and education authorities should be more proactive and prevent these sites from ever being used.
"It beggars belief, why education departments, independent, catholic, Jewish, Montessori, you name it, why are they being reactive?" she said.
"Why can't they foresee the potential risk for students and prevent it from happening?"
In a letter emailed to Guardian Angels Primary School parents on the Gold Coast, principal Stephen Montgomery said there had recently been a cybersecurity incident at one of the BCE schools.
"We have responded quickly to this issue and blocked the URL to the chat room site for all our schools. It has also now been disabled to any user of our BCE network," the emailed letter said.
"I also encourage you to continue actively monitoring your child's use of the internet and online chatrooms at home, as your child's safety is a priority for all of us."
The chatroom also advertises students can "enable transparent mode for when you don't want others to see you chatting".
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman said any app, website or chat extension which provides students with the ability to interact and share images can pose a range of risks.
"It's important for students, parents and teachers to be aware of such risks, including cyber-bullying, exposure to inappropriate or harmful content, and messages being shared or copied without consent," she said.
"Parents can limit the apps and extensions kids are using on their devices through parental controls but schools are best placed to monitor activity on their networks and take appropriate action during the school day."
The founder of WhiteBox, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was marketed as a discrete chat "as it has an unobtrusive and simple design".
"We do not intend to suggest that WhiteBox should be used for illegal or circumspect activities," he said.
"WhiteBox absolutely does not condone cyber-bullying, sharing of illegal images, or predators using the platform.
"We take every report of these activities very seriously, and take necessary measures to prevent these activities from happening.
"WhiteBox is safe for students to use, however we do advise all users to only accept friend requests from people they know - as they should on any social media platform."
The Parenthood's executive director Georgie Dent said most parents felt it was really difficult to keep on top of the various online platforms and spaces available.
"On a platform like that it sounds like there's limited oversight that a parent or teacher could have even if they were aware of the platform and how it was being used," she said.
Originally published as Schools block new secret chat rooms