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Everything Parents Need To Know About Marco Polo

LAKSHMI on November 14, 2020

Marco Polo app logo

With the ongoing pandemic and associated protective restrictions on socialization, online tools are being increasingly sought for communication. While older children may resort to mainstream social media to stay in touch with friends and family, this is impractical and probably unsafe for younger children. Apps such as Marco Polo have bridged this gap in communication for many families. Before allowing  kids to use this app, let’s try to get an answer for a simple question, ‘Is Marco Polo safe?’

What is Marco Polo App? 

Marco Polo is a video chat app – a “video walkie-talkie” according to the developers, that enables communication via video messages, in real time or with a delay, between people who know each other.  It is, in effect, an instant messenger with video. It is like the Snapchat video function, but, while Snapchat messages are temporary, a Marco Polo video stays until deleted by the recipient. The terms of service indicate that users need to be 13 years of age, at least, but kids can use it under parental supervision.

 What follows is a review of the app, and some of its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Marco Polo App

  1. There is no public feed and no possibility to connect with strangers.  Thus, all video connections are between known people through their mobile phone number, which adds to the safety of the app.

  2. Marco Polo focuses on asynchronous communication in which users leave messages at their convenience, and the recipient may access it and reply at theirs.  This allows communication between people with different schedules.

  3. The app does not generate any objectionable content and there are no advertisements to intrude upon your time and attention.

  4. The basic version is free to use, but a subscription mode may be availed for more features

  5. When chatting, users can see their chat history and old videos to recap.

  6. Groups can be created and anyone in the group can see any of the videos in the group chat history.

  7. Messages you send to others may be deleted permanently by pressing on the tile, holding down, and then selecting and confirming “Delete.” Doing so will permanently remove it from Marco Polo servers and the Marco Polo accounts of whomever the message was sent it to.

  8. This app is that it is not connected to any larger social network like Facebook or Google, which makes it less intrusive and noisy. 

  9. There are a few fun features like being able to engineer one’s voice to sound lower or higher than it is, for comic effect.

  10. Texts and drawings can be added to the videos.

Disadvantages of Marco Polo App

  1. One of the most common complaints by users of Marco Polo is that the basic version offers too few features. This appears to have been particularly irksome to people who have been using the earlier, free version of the app before it went into the subscription model.

  2. Another sporadic complaint has been that when allowed access to the contact list on the phone, the app sends out unsolicited messages and invitations to people on the list. The privacy policy on their website says, “Our software operates an algorithm to determine which of your contacts may be most relevant to you, who you might wish to connect with and/or invite to the Service.”

  3. There have been reports of misuse. While video chats are only allowed with people on the contact list, the contact list itself may not be safe, and there may be untoward video messages from people in it. It must also be remembered that you may be on the contact list of someone, without them being in yours, and they can still send you video messages. 

  4. The data that is transmitted is encrypted only during transit, and not encrypted when stored on Marco Polo’s servers. The privacy and safety of this could be questioned.

  5. Even if you delete your Marco Polo account, your name, profile picture, messages and information you have shared with other users through Marco Polo continues to remain accessible to them. This leads us to the very first question we started with - Is Marco Polo safe?

Smart Social categorizes Marco Polo as a gray zone app, meaning that it can be safe as long as parents are nearby. The video chats by the child would largely be safe and uneventful and the child would most likely spend time chatting with her friends like they would do in person.  However, occasionally there may be problems with inappropriate messages as both text and video. Such problems can be solved or prevented by educating the kid about the right way to use video chatting applications.

  • Ensure that the child knows what  not to say or show on video messages.

  • Educate the child that the video messages may be misused by the recipient, even if rarely.

  • It is important for the parent to use the apps that the child uses as well.

  • Establish rules for app usage both in terms of times and durations.  Afterall, you wouldn’t let the child play endlessly with her friends on the playground.

  • Maintain open communication and non-judgemental conversations. In case of problems or misdemeanours, the child must have the confidence to confide in you.

In summary, Marco Polo is a safe way for children to be in touch with their friends at their convenience. Parents must ensure that the child uses it the way it should be used, and that there are no security breaches in using the app. It helps for the parent to understand the pros and cons of the app and decide accordingly whether or not it is a suitable platform for the child.

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