Pinellas schools warn parents about app with privacy issues

Makers of the popular Saturn app for keeping track of high school schedules say they are tightening security.

Tampa Bay Times | By Marlen Sokol | August 17, 2023

The Pinellas County school district is warning parents to counsel their children about Saturn — Time Together, a phone app that could jeopardize their privacy and even safety.

In an email sent to parents this week, the district’s technology department warned that “anyone, regardless of whether they are a student or not, can create an account, indicate that they attend a school, and provide school-related information, such as a class schedule.”

That person can then gain access to the students’ information, including where they will be at a specific time. The user also can gain links to students’ social media accounts.

Pinellas has blocked Saturn from its network and from district-owned devices.

However, the notice said, “students can still connect to the application on personal devices that are not connected to our network.”

Founded by a high school student in 2018, Saturn is available for Apple and Android devices. It is marketed as a tool that can help students organize their activities and responsibilities during the hectic high school years.

In a post that has been widely shared, parent and Facebook user Chris Cullum said he found it alarmingly easy to create a fake Saturn account.

“I was just a 41-year-old man using the Saturn app to gain access to 350 new friends,” he wrote.

On Saturday, the management at Saturn posted on their website that they are taking steps to tighten the verification process for new accounts.

“We’ve raised the bar for the amount of contact overlap users must have with other students at a school to be verified,” they wrote.

“New features in our backend system will also proactively flag and block phone numbers that we deem suspicious from registering for Saturn. If a user fails to verify using our improved protocol, their account will be restricted from participation in any school community and eventually removed.”

Cullum, in an update, wrote that “things are headed in a better direction.”

But he advised parents to become familiar with their children’s social media and telephone app activity, with similar advice coming from the Pinellas district.

“Please take a moment to talk to your children about the importance of keeping personal information private,” the district notice said.

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