There are so many new apps for mobile devices coming out every day that seem incredibly attractive to our children, but how do we know which are safe and which are not?
Firstly, if your child is under 13yrs of age, you need to limit your child’s ability to download free and paid apps without your consent. Some kids are very trustworthy and will happily ask your permission first, but if you are in any doubt don’t wait for a bad experience before you set up parental controls on that Android, iPod, iPhone Tablet or iPad. My instructions are here. You then need to review each app first on iTunes or Google Play, look at the age limits that are set for the app. Note: You do need to abide by the Terms of Service of each app, not doing so means your child is lying and breaking the terms of service, and you are taking a risk that your child will be either approached by a stranger online, or see porn or drug use.
Many apps that children are using, are clearly not meant for children because there are few if any privacy or cyber safety settings available on these Apps to protect your child from meeting adults online or seeing adult content. Any app that has a public sharing or social media aspect to it, is dangerous to children.
Why are children using these adult apps?
Because they don’t think they are in danger, and the parents either don’t know they are using it, or are also unaware of the dangers. When kids download Apps with an age restriction on them, a popup message will come up asking them to confirm that they are indeed over the recommended age. So these kids downloading age limited Apps know they are lying about their age, and that the app is designed for mature teens or adults. They simply don’t think anything will go wrong. Children are not mature enough to make those decisions. Parents need to make them.
Why Are They Dangerous?
Firstly there is very adult content on these apps, not only being shown, but promoted on these apps! The picture below shows a video which is being promoted as one of the top 5 best videos on Keek. It is of girl peeing in a cup in a car. When your child goes to the home page they WILL see this.
How Can Kids Download Adult Apps?
There are no real security settings set up to prevent the download of adult Apps to kids on iTunes or Google Play, even semi pornographic apps can be downloaded by a child if the child is using iTunes or Google play unsupervised without any parental controls set up on the mobile device. If parental controls are set up on the mobile device, it can prevent your child downloading apps without your supervision. With parental controls enabled, every time the child wants to download an app even a free one, they must ask the parent for their secret password.
All mobile apps that have a social sharing aspect potentially open your child to either having their video, picture, or message copied or downloaded shared with people it was not intended for. And because of the ability to comment on the content, bullying and cruel comments can be added under the content. A bully can also use the content uploaded to these apps, to set up fake social media accounts with your child’s name and pictures or video, and then gangs of kids, can comment on those accounts and say mean things (this is a common way to cyber bully).
Your child’s uploaded content can also be used by pedophile rings. Your child’s photos can be uploaded to a pedophile website, (yes pedophiles like pictures of kids fully clothed and in swim suits). Photos and videos are easily copied from the internet. From there it can be shared all over the internet with or without your child’s name and location available, world wide. A photoshopped or cropped picture might be made to look like your child is nude, and then can be posted all over the internet, and you will NEVER get it removed.
Update: 27/2/13 Just heard a story, about a nine year old girl who sent nude pictures to a pedophile on Kik. He apparently knew her home address also. It’s likely that she shared her Kik account name to her Facebook Timeline or Instagram (which is what they encourage you to do) and he contacted her through there. This would mean she has a Facebook account…and she’s nine…and it’s likely not private, or he may have been a friend of a friend of hers or her parents.
Your Child Can Be Stalked At Home Or At School!
Some of these apps, also use your child’s mobile devices Geographic Locators, or Location services settings. Meaning that when someone downloads your child’s content to their computer all they have to do it put the picture or video into iPhoto or another photo software application, or right click on the content and the meta data embedded in the photo or video can tell them where and when the photo or video was taken, easy to do if they wanted to meet your child face to face. This is particularly frightening if the child films or takes photos in their home, or in their school uniform (there’s lots of those!). Google maps will point out where the exact location of your child was when the picture was taken, even right down to which end of the house they were, or their bedroom. Many of the kids in the video’s I’ve seen are wearing their school uniforms with the name of the school easily seen.
What If My Child Makes Up A Fake Name?
Even if your child makes up a name, that is no guarantee that they won’t be tracked or protected from future ridicule or embarrassment. Photo recognition programs are getting so sophisticated that there is an app being developed right now to scan all our publicly available photos in Facebook to target us by advertisers. So imagine that app in the hands of the wrong person.
I Friend/Follow My Child On This App So I Can Keep An Eye On Them
Friending your child on these apps does nothing. If you allow your child to post pictures and videos of themselves publicly online for all the world to use as they see fit, then it really equates to putting your child on a platform in the middle of Pitt Street Mall and walking away. If it’s not a pedophile following your child online, it might be a friend they have a falling out with who posts your child’s publicly posted photo to a website like www.jerk.com or defaces your child’s content and posts it on Facebook, or YouTube.
What Is Recommended?
It’s a really great alternative to other instant messaging services, it’s Free, works on Wi Fi and 3/4G and has easy to set up privacy settings which MUST be set up for safety. It’s not a social app. Kids can use it to talk to friends one by one or in a group, share pics, or text each other. Use with supervision, teach kids about video camera safety, and check out their friends. Works on all platforms. See Skype Here
So what apps are kids using and how dangerous are they?
The apps I’ve selected below are some that you may not yet be aware of that use video or photos and have a social aspect to them. There are many more similar apps, but these particular ones are really getting very popular, especially with children under 13 years of age. A quick cursory look through the public stream on each of them is showing that far too many kids under 13yrs are using them against the Terms Of Service set by each app. Parents need to check the age ratings for each app before downloading them for a child. Set up parental controls on your child’s mobile device so that your child can only download apps you approve.
Kik 17yrs+ Free: An instant messaging app.
Dangers: Being used instead of SMS. You can send pictures and hold private and group conversations. Users can be searched for, if someone knows your user name or has the email you created the account with, they can search for you on Kik. Dangerous if inviting friends from other social networks. Some kids are sharing their Kik user name on Facebook, and Instagram exposing themselves to strangers contacting them. Obviously no parental controls as it’s designed for adults NOT kids! Kik also scans your own address book, and not only gives you the accounts of Adults on Kik but their children’s accounts if the children have used a family email to create the account, which is very alarming!
Snapchat 12yrs+ Free: A photo sharing app for sending SMS photos. Users set the pictures to delete after a few minutes.
Dangers: Snapchat is being used for sexting. But because it’s so simple to do a screen capture on phones, photos’s can be copied. No parental controls. Photos are not really deleted they go into folders on the recipients phone, and a quick search on YouTube for a How-To-Find Snapchat Photos Tutorial can show you exactly how to retrieve them.
Instagram: 13yrs+ Free: A public Photo sharing app using your mobile devices camera. Public sharing on Instagram and other social networks. There is a privacy setting within Instagram, where you must approve followers, but you as the parent would have to supervise each follow, otherwise all photos on Instagram are public on the browser version of Instagram at www.instagram.com .
Dangers: Stranger follows, if privacy setting not set. Location Services can be turned off and should. Instagram have set a few filters on terms you can search for, including sex terms and drug terms, but they don’t look that successful, I still found porn and drug pictures. Abuse in comments. No parental controls. The danger is if one of the followers share your photo elsewhere, or your child get’s bullied in comments. Role playing on Instagram is a new subculture, and photos can be stolen from Instagram to be used for sexual and non-sexual role play.
More on Instagram Here:
Vine: 17yrs+ Free: A public video sharing app, using your mobile devices camera. Take a short video upload it to Vine share it on Facebook, it goes out publicly. You can report offensive videos.
Dangers: Your child may attract with adults who will follow the child’s account, find out where the video was taken, via location services or Geo Location. Share the video with their networks. There is quite a bit of Porn on the App. Within 15 minutes of scrolling through the most popular video feed, a video of a erect penis literally “popped” up on my screen. Abuse in comments. No parental controls. Lots of swearing and rude videos.
KEEK: 13yrs+ and then with parental permission up till 17+ : A public video sharing app, using your mobile devices video camera. Can block other users, and turn off comments. Keek Link
Dangers: Adults can subscribe to your child’s updates, view all their content and find out where they live through Geo Location. Comment on their video’s. No privacy settings or restrictions to adult content. NOT for kids. No parental controls.
Update: 16th June 2013:
The Local Area Police here on the Northern Beaches Sydney Australia, spoke at my recent cyber safety edu talk, they informed us that Kik Messenger was now the social media app that was causing them the most problems. Parents and schools have been contacting the police about Kik messenger and Instagram reporting incidents of pedophile approaches and bullying, including young children setting up “Fake” accounts to humiliate and bully other young children. Both these apps were being used more frequently by under aged kids, and they were seeing increased problems in primary schools.
Learn how to set up parental controls Here:
Google Play Parental Controls Here for Android Here:
More about Kik in my latest post Here: including the dangers of sharing your email address with your children!
Description of iTunes Ratings below: