Especially in times when children and teenagers are at home a lot and can’t meet up with each other as usual, they like to use video telephony tools to stay in touch with friends. There is a huge range of different providers.
Some of the very well-known and popular tools are services of large American companies, such as Skype from Microsoft. With them, data protection is less strict because they are not bound by the European General Data Protection Regulation. Nevertheless, these tools are particularly stable and there are few problems when using them, because most people already know them.
The best known is probably Skype which has been around for almost 20 years and can be used free of charge. Costs are only incurred when calling landline and cell phone numbers. To start a conversation, you have to register. If you only want to participate, it is sufficient to click on the invitation link sent to you.
A newer, but very common service is Zoom which has come under heavy criticism due to security vulnerabilities. However, Zoom has improved encryption for calls, among other things. With Zoom, you can make free video calls for up to 40 minutes. The tool rarely causes problems, even if you use it with larger groups. Just like Skype, only those who start a meeting need to be registered.
Also via the popular messenger service WhatsApp you can video chat in groups of up to eight people. These established tools are easy to use, but there are many concerns about the providers’ handling of personal data.
If you want to use tools that offer more data protection, you can turn to so-called open source products. Open source means that different people develop these services together and theoretically everyone can see how they are programmed. This makes it easy to understand how the tool handles data protection. Tools like Jitsi Meet do not store user data, according to experts. Besides, they are easy to use: You don’t need an account when you start a conversation, nor when you just want to participate. A disadvantage of these tools is that sometimes there are problems when too many use it at the same time. Jitsi Meet is even easier to use than Skype and Zoom. Alternatives to Jitsi Meet include Palava or Jami.
Tools like Houseparty and Discord are popular among young people. Here they are among themselves and can hang out together without adults disturbing them. The services are made for young people. However, these tools are also mostly in the hands of large American companies and in the rarest cases are data protection compliant. In addition, it is usually difficult for adults to become familiar with its use. They are often not as intuitive to use as the established services or the open source tools.
Houseparty offers besides the video chat also the possibility to play with each other. But even here there are risks that must be taken into account during use. In particular, one’s own privacy must be reflected and secured with certain functions. Discord is particularly popular among young gamers. But here, too, young people can come into contact with inappropriate content and are exposed to other communication risks, such as cybergrooming.
No matter what video calling tool is used, it is important to discuss with your child what risks are associated with its use. Children and young people need to know that they should not reveal everything about themselves in online conversations. You can never be sure who is tapping personal data or otherwise watching.
Open source tools are particularly recommended because they are not only easy to use, but also take data protection into account. At the same time, however, your child’s living environment should also play a role. Perhaps you can discuss with other children’s parents or friends which tools everyone can use.