The Marco Polo app is a widely popular video messaging app among teens and tweens. It works like a walkie talkie – but with video. The app encourages users to communicate with their friends directly through the app as opposed to text messaging or phone calls. Users must upload their contacts to the app server to connect with friends. As more people rely on video chat apps due to social distancing, Smart Social wanted to know, is Marco Polo safe for students?
Note: Marco Polo asks users to share their contacts with the app. We do not know what this app will do with your student’s phone contacts/numbers (once they are uploaded to their app/servers). We reached out to the company several times and have not heard back from their Founder for comment.
What is the Marco Polo app?
- Marco Polo is a video instant messaging app
- Users sign up with their name, phone number, and email address
- Marco Polo encourages users to find their friends who already use the app by requesting access to the user’s phone contacts
- The homepage is populated with rows of squares. Each square is a different contact or group of contacts that users can click and start a video chat
- When video chatting on the Marco Polo app, users can see their chat history and tap on old videos to rewatch them
- Any user in a group can watch any of the videos in the chat history, even if they weren’t the person that created the video
- Users can filter their videos and filter their voice to a lower pitch, sound like a robot, or as if they inhaled helium
- Other features include drawing and adding text to videos
- Users can respond to messages right away, like a walkie talkie, or send a video reply when it’s convenient
Marco Polo App Concerns
- The Marco Polo App requires (at the time of this blog) access to all of your phone’s contacts
- Once you upload your contacts to an app/company, you can never get them back
- Some people believe you are not sharing YOUR information when you share contacts with an app, but you’re actually sharing all of your friends’ and family members’ info
- Apps can triangulate who you are – by running your info to determine what kind of a buyer you are, how affluent you are, what city you live in, etc.
Marco Polo app in the news
It never fails that whenever we get an incoming FaceTime, my kids are still napping, we’re dealing with a temper tantrum, we’ve just sat down for dinner, [Marco Polo] has all the visual benefits of live video chats but with the ease that comes with shooting off a quick text message… Unlike other video apps, you don’t need to be ‘live.’ —Popsugar
Apps such as Kik Messenger and the Marco Polo Walkie Talkie apps, are popular and common avenues predators use to befriend their victims. –Daily Republic
[Sheriff] Morgan cautioned all parents to be wary of apps like Marco Polo, which teens can use to communicate with strangers. –CBS affiliate WKRG
Some users complain about Marco Polo spamming their contacts — the app does ask to access your contacts during the set up, but it apparently has texted some users contacts in the past. –Business Insider
One Reddit user pointed out that the app sent a bunch of text messages to all of their contacts. It also looks like there are some complaints on Twitter. And there are negative reviews in the App Store referring to spamming contacts. –TechCrunch
What users say about the Marco Polo app:
HORRIBLE APP – SPAMS YOUR CONTACTS MULTIPLE TIMES!
BEWARE! App will spam all of your contacts! –Dave P. on Common Sense Media
SPAMMED MY CONTACTS and SPOOFS PHONE #s
Even the ‘invite’ that used my granddaughter’s name to entice me to sign up, I realized too late, did not come from her phone number! Only after I downloaded the app, and it spammed my contacts with the same invite, did I notice this. I don’t like this at all! WHO is doing this? and WHY? –Faith B. on Common Sense Media
The app has an email bot that sends a message to those in your contacts (and without letting you know!) Now, I have to send a text to all my work colleagues to explain why I sent them a message with a link to a video. Very intrusive app! And highly unprofessional! –Esther L. on Common Sense Media
Why should parents care about the Marco Polo App?
- Private messaging apps can sometimes bring out the worst in teens because it feels more private than social media and doesn’t show up on their parents’ phone bills
- Please make sure you are on ALL of the apps that your students are using. Otherwise you will not know what they are encountering online
- WARNING: Upon registration: To add users on the app, Marco Polo encourages users to: “Send your contacts to the server to connect you with friends.”
- It also asks you to “Upload your address book to know which of your friends already have Marco Polo”
What can parents do to protect kids on the Marco Polo App?
- Ensure that your children have a firm understanding of what is appropriate to send in a video or chat message, even if it’s with their friends
- Remind your teen that their friends can screenshot their videos and post them to other social media channels
- If your teen is looking for a place to be silly with their friends, read our Parent App Guides to learn how your family can use different apps in a safe and positive way