When fellow educators came to us at the beginning of the new school year with concerns over the Saturn App – an app that has been around since 2018 – we realized the need to do some digging. It appears that there has been a resurgence in its popularity with students. The app has also created a newsworthy buzz following a post by Facebook user Chris Cullum on August 10, 2023 that was quickly shared by parents around the country. In the post, Cullum outlined concerns surrounding users’ ability to see information about the students who choose to use the app. Cullum later updated the post after Saturn released a blog post about improvements to their app.
So, what is the Saturn App?
The Saturn – Time Together App (often just referred to as Saturn) is designed for high school students to keep track of their busy schedules and share information with classmates. Students can upload their schedules, get reminders of when/where they need to go for upcoming classes, share schedules with others, and post bulletin announcements to the whole school community. Although Saturn targets high school students, Saturn does not partner directly with schools and schools do not have any control over the use or management of the app. Saturn launches schools on their app using publicly available information.
Why was Cullum concerned about the app?
According to the post, Cullum was able to create an account with Saturn without being an actual high school student. By using a phone number to sign up, adjusting the birthdate to match that of a high school student, and choosing a school, Cullum was able to log in and gain access to students’ class schedules, information, pictures, and personal social media accounts.
What has changed since Cullum posted the concerns on Facebook?
On August 13, 2023, Saturn published a blog post stating that they had, “raised the bar for the amount of contact overlap users must have with other students at a school to be verified.” Then, on August 17, 2023, they published another blog post outlining additional safety measures they had implemented to make the verification process more effective. We tested it out and were not able to create an account even when we modified birth dates or tried to put in information that mimicked a high school student. When attempting to create the account we encountered the following prompts to verify. Since we could not enter a Google/Microsoft account that was associated with the school district (and it is not possible to create a fake one), we were unable to gain access to the app. So, it seems that Saturn’s recent updates are in fact making the app more secure by keeping out people who are not high school students.
What conversations should you have with your child if they are using the Saturn app?
- Ask your child who can currently see their schedule. Many students don’t realize that all users from their school can by default view their schedules. If students would like to restrict the number of people who can view their schedules, they can hide their schedules causing them to have to add other users as friends before those users can see their schedules.
- Ask your child if they have linked their social media accounts to the Saturn app. When viewing a student’s information, it is possible to link directly to their social media accounts if that student has chosen to link their accounts. Students can use the app without linking social media accounts.
In an increasingly digital world, the safety of the apps our children use has become a huge concern. As parents/guardians, it is important that we actively question and assess the safety measures put in place within these apps. The rapid evolution of technology has provided our children with amazing opportunities for learning and social interaction, but it has also brought forth potential risks and vulnerabilities. By engaging in open conversations with our children about the apps they use and taking the time to understand the platforms they frequent, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge needed to ensure their online experiences are safe and positive. Vigilance in scrutinizing privacy settings, content appropriateness, and potential interactions with strangers within these apps is a responsibility all families must embrace. Just as parents/guardians keep a watchful eye on their children’s physical environments, taking an active role in safeguarding their digital spaces is equally as important. We applaud Chris Cullum for actively engaging with his child around the apps she uses and encourage all families to follow en suite.
Elk Grove Unified families can utilize resources that align with our Board adopted Common Sense Media curriculum located on our District Digital Citizenship Website to learn more about the apps their children are using as well as topics such as protecting online privacy, cyberbullying, family internet use contracts, parental controls, and much more.