On today's Insight Today we looked at the concerns every parent should have about their child having a smart phone. Among other issues we discussed, I mentioned a number of app which are a real danger for exposing kids to sexual predators and sexually explicit material. As we said on the broadcast, you must be proactive and vigilant if you decide that your child should have one of these devices. Here are a number of the most dangerous apps you should make sure you child or teenager does not have on their smartphone. They are given in no particular order of concern.
SNAPCHAT: This app allows a user to send photos and videos to anyone on their friend list. The sender can determine how long the receiver can view the image and then the image supposed to be “erased” after the allotted time.
Problem: It is the number one app used for sexting, mostly because people think it is the safer way to sext. Unfortunately, the “snaps pictures” can easily be recovered & the receiver can take a screen shot and share it with others. Also, a lot of images from Snapchat get posted to revenge porn sites, which is often referred to as “snap porn”.
SKOUT: This is a flirting app which is used to meet new people. The problem here is that ages of users are not verified and while there is a version for teens which has a few more safety features, it is easy to bypass them by using a fake birthday. This gives children access to the adult sector which includes a lot of profanity, provacitive images and private messaging with strangers who can see your child’s location.
KIK MESSENGER: This is an instant messaging app with over 100 million users that allows users to exchange videos, pics, and sketches. Users can also send YouTube videos and create memes & digital gifs.
Problem: Kids use this app for sexting and sending nude selfies through this app is very common. The term “sext buddy” is being replaced with “Kik buddy”. Kids use Reddit and other forum sites to place classified ads for sex by giving out their Kik usernames. Also, Kik does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.
OMEGLE: This app is primarily used for video chatting. When you use Omegle, you do not identify yourself through the service. Instead, chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger”. However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. When choosing this feature, an Omegle Facebook App will receive your Facebook “likes” and try to match you with a stranger with similar likes.
Problem: Sexual predators use this app to find kids to collect personal information from in order to track them down more easily in person.
TINDER: An app that is used for hooking-up and dating. Users can rate profiles and find potential hook-ups via GPS location tracking. 450 million profiles are rated every day! The good news is, this app pulls information from user’s Facebook profiles, so it is more authenticated than other apps.
Problem: It is easy for adults and minors to find one another. Also, due to the rating system, it is often used for cyber-bullying, because a group of kids can target another kid and purposefully make his/her rating go down.
MEET ME: This app uses the GPS on your phone to help you meet new people who live near you. The problem with this app is that there is no age verification, and accounts are linked to Facebook so that the user and their location is easily identifiable to a predator. It also uses a popularity rating which makes seeking approval from strangers like a game.
WHISPER: Whisper is an anonymous confession app. It allows users to superimpose text over a picture in order to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously. However, you post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can also search for users posting within a mile from you.
Problem: Due to the anonymity, kids are posting pics of other kids with derogatory text superimposed on the image. Also, users do not have to register to use Whisper and can use the app to communicate with other users nearby through GPS. A quick look at the app and you can see that online relationships are forming through the use of this app, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. Sexual predators also use the app to locate kids and establish a relationship.
BLENDR: A flirting app used to meet new people through GPS location services. You can send messages, photos, videos, rate the hotness of other users, etc.
Problem: There are no authentication requirements, so sexual predators can contact minors, minors can meet up with adults. And again, the sexting.
CHAT ROULETTE: This is a video chat app that allows the user to be randomly matched up with someone from anywhere on the planet to have a video chat. The problem with this app is it is very popular for pornography and cyber sex. It is also common for users to be randomly matched with a chat partner who is naked in front of their webcam. There is also nothing to stop the person you are chatting with from recording the video chat and posting it elsewhere.
YIK YAK: An app that allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters. The messages can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking.
Problem: Users are exposed to and are contributing sexually explicit content, derogatory language, and personal attacks. Although the posts are anonymous, kids start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users.
A video chatting app where users can chat with up to 12 people at a time. The problem is that while this app is not terrible in itself, your kids must use the privacy settings and only let people who know them to chat with them. Otherwise, you child is exposed to any and all preditors who may be using it.
ASK FM: Ask.fm is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site that allows users to ask other users questions while remaining anonymous.
Problem: Kids will often ask repeated derogatory questions that target one person. Due to the anonymity of the badgering, it creates a virtually consequence-free form of cyber-bullying. Ask.fm has been associated with 9 documented cases of suicide (2) in the U.S. and the U.K.
DOWN: This app, which used to be called Bang with Friends, is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends in one of two ways: They can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they’d like to hang with or someone they are “down” to hook-up with.
Problem: Although identifying someone you are willing to hook-up with doesn’t mean you will actually hook-up with them, it creates a hook-up norm within a peer group. Depending on your sexual values, this might be something you don’t want for your child. Also, because of the classification system, a lot of kids will feel left out or unwanted, which can lead to anxiety, etc.
POOF, HIDDEN APPS, HIDE IT PRO, APP LOCK, and others like it: This app allows users to make other apps “disappear” on their phone. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see by opening the app and selecting other apps.
Problem: It’s obvious, right? Luckily, you can no longer purchase this app. But, if it was downloaded before it became unavailable, your child may still have it. Keep in mind that these types of apps are created and then terminated quickly, but similar ones are continuously being created. Others to look for: Hidden Apps, App Lock, and Hide It Pro.
If you do allow your child to have a smartphone, what are some things you can do? Fortunately, most cell phone carriers have family services or family oriented plans that allow parents to monitor the activity on each of the phones in the plan. It also allows you to limit cell phone usage and block certain activities.
There are some apps and programs parents can use to keep up with what their children are doing: Kids Place, KuuKla Parental Control, Abeona, Secure Teen Parental Control, Screen Time, Kid Zone, Parental Control Board, Norton Family Parental Control.
I also want to suggest that you do not allow your child or teen to take their cell phone, smart phone, tablet or lap top computer with them to bed. Have them give you their devices when they go to bed so you can know that they are not tempted to stay up late texting, talking, or surfing on the internet. They may whine and complain, but let's remember who is the parent, and who is the child!
And don’t forget the example you are setting as a parent!