Not long ago, it was easy for parents to monitor and restrict their children’s exposure to content they deemed inappropriate, according to the child’s age or level of maturity. It was as simple as turning off the television or sending the kids outside to play until the streetlights came on. Today, it is a very different story.
We are entering the third decade now since most of the mainstream public has owned and carried cell phones with them everywhere they go, and most people now own some sort of smartphone which is likely connected to the internet at any given moment. Now, smartphones connect people all over the world and many parents tend to allow their children to have them, even if just for entertainment or educational purposes.
This has raised some concerns in recent years about children having unlimited access to the internet, making it difficult for parents and schools to monitor what they do online. And as technology advances, we see more and more apps being designed for social media and dating, which exposes children to more mature content or could possibly leave them vulnerable to adult sexual predators.
A number of recent arrests made nationwide resulting from online predator and human trafficking stings have now raised tremendous concern among communities. Just weeks ago the Sarasota County Sheriff’s made 25 such arrests during one online sting operation.
The sheriff’s office along with the Madill police department have created graphic ads to bring attention to fifteen apps they believe parents should know about and are encouraging parents to restrict their children’s use of such apps.
The following is a list of the apps and a brief description of each:
- MeetMe: A dating app on which users are encouraged to meet face to face.
- WhatsApp: A messaging app for sending texts, videos, and images worldwide.
- Bumble: A dating app which requires females to make the first contact. Law enforcement is concerned that children can falsify their ages to make an account.
- Live.Me: A live-streaming app that uses geolocation to share videos. Law enforcement stated that users can accrue “coins” to “pay” minors for photos.
- Ask.FM: This app allows users to ask anonymous questions and is known for cyberbullying.
- Grindr: A dating app specifically for the LGBTQ community based on user location.
- TikTok: A popular kids app allows users to create short videos. Law enforcement’s concern is “very limited privacy controls” which means users can be exposed to cyberbullying and explicit content.
- Snapchat: A top-rated social media app lets users take and share photos and videos. The app allows people to see your location.
- Holla: A self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app allows users to meet people within seconds. Law enforcement stated users have encountered racial slurs and explicit content.
- Calculator+: Law enforcement says this app can be used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.
- Skout: A location-based dating app which supposedly prohibits minors from sharing private photos. However, law enforcement says kids are able to falsify their age.
- Badoo: A dating app which allows users to share photos and videos based on location. Law enforcement says the app is restricted to adults only, but teens can create fake accounts.
- Kik: Law enforcement is concerned that this app gives users access to anyone anywhere anytime.
- Whisper: An anonymous social network which allows users to share secrets with strangers. Law enforcement says the app also shows users’ locations so people can meet up.
- Hot or Not: This app allows users to rate profiles, check out people in their area and chat with strangers with the intention to hook-up.
In May of this year, Apple and Google removed three apps from their stores following reports that the apps allowed children as young as twelve to use them. It appears the apps Meet24, FastMeet and Meet4U violated the Children’s Online Privacy Act and FTC Act, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The apps, operated by Ukranian company, Wildec LLC, collect user’s birthdate, email address, photos, and real-time location data, according to the FTC. They claim the apps failed to restrict users under thirteen years of age.
Jenny Dean, a reported from 10News, spoke with Sergeant Pat Voit of the Tampa Police Cyber Crimes Unit, earlier this year. He stated that parents and teens should be aware of two things – when you send a picture over the internet it is no longer under your control, and anyone can use the picture in a malicious manner.