Knowledge is everything, especially when it comes to child safety online. We conduct school-wide parent and pupil surveys before our internet safety workshops, so we are able to quickly identify high-risk behaviours, and more importantly high risk apps that are popular amongst children and teens.
Taking a working sample of 1000 children and teenagers, we know that the high risk apps listed below are gaining popularity. Whilst these apps carry significant risks for all age groups they are particularly topical for 10 - 14 year olds who may be tempted to try them out, either through peer pressure or curiosity - in particular in that transitional period from primary to secondary school. During our school workshops, we explain to pupils how the technology behind some of these apps works and what the risks are. Nearly all of them readily accept that they are not safe for children.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Tinder?
Ask any pupil what Tinder is (and we do!) and they will say “a dating app”. Whilst this is the direction it is heading in, Tinder is, stripped down to the basics (excuse the pun), an app for consenting adults to "hook up". It is free, location-based and usually linked to your Facebook account. The app has two separate user communities – one for 18+ and one for teens aged 13-17, which is concerning in itself! When you set up a profile Tinder automatically takes information based on your Facebook profile, including photos, date of birth and gender. Once your profile is set up, Tinder will then provide you with a list of relevant matches based on your location, profile, interests, mutual friends on Facebook, gender, selected age range etc.
What are the risks for children?
1. Location, location, location...
Tinder uses location services (GPS technology) to match users who are near to each other. This can make it easy for other users to work out exactly where your child is located.
2. Adults posing as teens
There is essentially no real age verification process. Anyone can (and many do) create a fake Facebook profile and then a fake Tinder profile, thus giving them exposure to teenagers through the app. This would make it possible for an adult to see where your child's located and what they look like.
3. Judged by looks alone
If the physical risks aren't reason enough, the fact of being judged based on looks alone probably shouldn't be underestimated and, incidentally, this brings with it further potential issues. To encourage the feel-good factor of someone right-swiping them (i.e. "I like the way you look"), teens may be tempted to use "risky" images - which in turn, of course, further increases the physical risks highlighted previously.
WHAT IS OMEGLE?
This chat/video chat site’s catch phrases: "Talk to strangers!" & "Use Omegle at your own peril!" say it all. Omegle is not for kids! The site puts two random strangers together in a chat or video chat room - also referred to as "chat roulette". Chats start out as anonymous, but 9 out of 10 times the first thing you’re asked is “ASL?”. Age, sex, location. If it doesn’t interest the person on the other end, they disconnect the chat. Users often ask for and share personal information and images. Sexual content is rife, as its main use if for sexual chats/video chats.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR CHILDREN?
1. Sexual predators posing as teens
There is no elegant way of putting this - but based on user feedback, there appears to be a practical guarantee that your child would come into contact with online sexual predators, or at the very least will be asked to share sexual images and/or video with other teens or adults.
2. Webcam getting hacked
User feedback and information available online suggests that, due to poor security of the video chats, users may be able to hack into your webcam and continue watching you through it - even after the chat is closed.
3. If you really need another reason...
Just google "Omegle" images. We suggest you don't do this at work or with children peering over your shoulder...enough said.
What is Kik?
Kik Messenger is an app-based alternative to standard texting as well as a social networking app for smartphones. The globe symbol on the bottom right of the app, however, opens another world altogether...this is where the app hosts "apps within the app". Such apps include: "Match and Chat", "Flirt!" and "Flirty Bird". You get the picture...
WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR CHILDREN?
The app has been recognised by law enforcement as a key playground for sexual predators and is directly linked to the murder of 13 year old Nicole Lovell.
“We are alive to the threat of those with a sexual interest in children seeking to exploit messenger apps for their own ends”
UK National Crime Agency
2. No avoiding strangers
It's probably not so much that a child or teenager sets out with the wrong intentions, but rather that by just using the app, strangers will simply find their way to your child. As an experiment, we created a fictitious, completely neutral profile and within hours we had strangers looking to chat...and not about the weather!
3. Fellow parent's warnings
THIS COMMENT, BY A PARENT AND EDUCATOR ON A PUBLIC APP REVIEW SITE, KIND OF SAYS IT ALL:
"Very Disturbing. Very, Very, Very dangerous place for children to be. A man posing as a young girl began contacting my 11 year old. She began getting calls from an unknown number...This site is a predators paradise....Keep your child(ren) away!!!!!!"
What is YikYak?
YikYak allows users to post text-only messages called “YAKS’ which can be seen by upto 500 of the nearest users. It uses the GPS location services on your device to determine the location of the Yakker. The messages have no filter and are usually completely anonymous.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR CHILDREN?
1. False rumor spreading
Due to its geography based, anonymous nature, this app is a veritable rumour machine. It is particularly harmful when used to discuss school and/or teachers.
2. Cyber bullying
It is also the perfect channel for the kinds of cyber bullies who hide behind a shield of anonymity. Cases of cyber bullying through YikYak have regularly been in the news.
3. adult content
Users are exposed to – and contributing to – sexually explicit content, abusive language and personal attacks so severe that 80% of US schools have blocked the app from a certain radius of the grounds, through "geo-fencing" (YikYak can block the app within a certain radius if the school requests it).
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Coming up: We also learnt from the surveys that there are many apps which, whilst popular among children and teens, parents are not familiar with and/or don't know how they work. To help you get to know and understand these apps, we will be introducing an app guide section to our website in the coming months. Stay tuned...