JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – An app gaining popularity has local school systems concerned for their students’ safety.
Saturn, an app first released on app stores in 2018, allows high school students to enter their daily school schedules, view the schedules of other students and communicate with those in their classes.
On Aug.15, Johnson City Schools sent out an email to parents warning them about the scheduling app, asking them to be aware of the privacy concerns the app raises, both locally and nationally.
“It’s far-reaching as far as the possibilities of this being not only just a nuisance but being a real safety problem for school campuses across the country,” said Dr. Steve Barnett, Superintendent for Johnson City Schools.
At the time the email was sent out, the app did not have a strong verification process.
“Anybody can go on that app and apply for a user account,” said Michael Lehrfeld, Chief Information Security Officer for East Tennessee State University. “And according to the Saturn app documentation, they’re not very forthcoming into how they actually verify you as an 11th grader, or are you a 35-year-old?”
Concerns about the app extend beyond the initial registration. Lehrfeld said issues can stem from the information the app is able to collect.
“An app asks you to look at your contacts,” said Lehrfeld. “Who else are you communicating with? It may ask to look at your GPS, your precise location.”
Barnett said Johnson City Schools sent out the safety concern email to parents in order to keep students safe and parents aware.
“Good reminder for us all as a community to know what apps are on our child’s device and how those apps are used,” Barnett said.
Although high schoolers may not have concerns about the app, Lehrfeld said students should continue to be wary about their internet use.
“They’re professional bad guys,” said Lehrfeld. “You’re a professional student. You’re not a professional defender. So you’re going up against a professional and you’re just an amateur Internet user.”
Lehfeld encouraged parents to talk to their children should they have concerns about their online presence and safety. He advised any parents worried about certain apps to look at trusted resources.