Apps Every Parent Should Understand

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Overview:

At almost every presentation I make to parents or school staff, I get the question, “What are the apps of greatest concern?” Generally, my answer is, “All of them.”

It’s not about the apps. The people using the apps make a simple and elegant app such as Instagram, the app chosen by most predators to groom children.

Or the apps that bring so much joy to teens that express themselves creatively,  actually becoming propaganda arms of terrorist groups, such as was done during the Syrian Civil War when ISIS used YouTube to recruit, fundraise and train other terrorists.

Apps are neighborhoods. The homes within these neighborhoods are neither good nor bad. It’s how the people in those homes choose to use them.

The following groups of apps do not represent every app that is being misused by teens or adults. It is meant to provide a small resource to help you understand those apps —  whose brand names might be known to you — but whose threats you have not considered. Or the apps in which you’ve not discovered —  that are creating issues for families around the globe.

JAILBREAKING AND ROOTING

What Are Jailbreaking & Rooting: Jailbreaking and Rooting are not apps – but are processes that can are used to provide access to other apps that are forbidden by Apple or Android.

In simple terms, jailbreaking is the process of removing software restrictions imposed by the phones operating system. In the case of Apple devices — IOS runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and second-generation Apple T.V. With Android devices, the practice is  Rooting.

In other words, your child can download many things on their device without your knowledge.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  From a parental perspective, you must understand that there are consequences if your child attempts to jailbreak or root their phone.  Perhaps the most significant issue is that your child may access thousands of apps downloaded from rogue app stores. However, it also can void the warranty to your child’s device – and perhaps cause the device to be “bricked.” In other words, the phone will no longer function.

To find out more, go to https://awiredfamily.org/2016/02/24/jailbreaking-rooting-all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it/

VAULT, GHOST & CALCULATOR APPS(They hide apps & images.)

What Are Apps That Hide Apps & Images:  A teen’s entire life is captured in the smartphone they carry daily to school, to sports, on dates, and get-togethers. They snap a multitude of photos and videos, which they want to remain private. In fact, they may have apps that they don’t wish their parents to see. So, they download any number of VAULT, GHOST, or CALCULATOR apps to hide their activity securely. The most popular of these apps look and function like a calculator. But, if you input the proper series of numbers, i.e., the password, that calculator opens the vault of images and hidden apps.

These types of apps are so secure that some will automatically snap a person’s photo if they use the wrong password. To that end, these apps can hide a teen’s life from any prying eyes.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Parents need to think of their child’s apps and devices as they would their real-life, brick, and mortar neighborhood. As parents, we generally know where it is safe for our children to walk or ride a bike. The same is valid with their use of a device.  If a child has access to these apps, a parent loses their ability to help manage a child’s online activity to keep them safe.

TikTok

What The App Provides: TikTok, which was formerly known as Musical.ly,  is an app for creating and sharing short videos. It is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and has been a concern by the United States and other governments for its potential use as propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party. Users create short music videos of 3 to 15 seconds and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. Although the app encourages users to express themselves through video and music – much of the music denigrates women and is often highly sexualized.

A Wired Family’s Concern: Although users must be at least 13, like almost all apps, there is no way to validate age. There is often significant use of inappropriate language along with highly sexualized images and drug use. Again, like so many apps, a user’s account is set to public by default. Parents must take care to understand how accounts can be made private. Also, there is no mechanism in place to keep your child from viewing inappropriate images, videos, and inappropriate discussions.

YouTube

What The App Provides: If YouTube were a city, it would be like New York. It has the best and worst of everything. On the plus side, if you take your time, you can control privacy settings.  Additionally, it can be an excellent tool for educational videos and entertainment.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern: Although nudity is banned from YouTube, they have yet to fully automate deleting such images. However, almost every kind of video can be found on this app and website. You can learn how to make wine, grow carrots, and learn to play the guitar. You can also learn how to build just about any bomb, kill yourself painlessly, and learn techniques for any sex act. The users of the app often provide grotesque criticism of video producers, along with significant cyberbullying and threats.

Additionally, YouTube also has a known pedophile problem, which is a significant cause for concern.

What Does Family Zone Say: https://www.familyzone.com/anz/families/blog/youtube-paedophile-investigation-deepens

Tellonym

What The App Provides:  Do you want to know what people think of you? Well, maybe this app is for you. Tellonym’s marketing says, “Tellonym allows you to receive anonymous and honest feedback from everyone who is important to you.” This fast-growing app is somewhat similar to KIK and, to a certain extent, Ask. F.M. and Whisper. All three have an anonymous component to them. Tellonym also bills itself as “the most honest place on the internet.” The app is very popular with middle school and some high school students. However, it appears many college students use the app as well. Much like ASKfm, it allows users to ask and answer questions anonymously in what is known as “Tells.”

A Wired Family’s Concern: It has frequent cyber bullying incidents, sexual content, and even physical threats to its users.  Like a few other apps and adult websites, it provides options for unmonitored access to the internet. Additionally, there is no way to validate age – even though the age requirement is stated as 17. This app is inappropriate for anyone younger than 18.

What Does Protect Young Eyes Say: https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/tellonym-parental-controls/

Bigo Live

What The App Provides: What could be cuter and less threatening than an app represented by a baby dinosaur? A lot of things. But what is Bigo? Bigo leverages the growth of video streaming by offering yet another streaming option for users. Much like its competition, which includes YouNow, Periscope, Twitch.TV, Streamage, Instagram LIVE, Facebook Live, and many others, users can stream video about their lives,  host their own shows, live stream their video gameplay, or simply tell the world what is on their minds.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern: It is rated for users age 17 and up – but again, there is no way to validate age. Moreover, users need to provide personal info like their age and location. As you can imagine, when you must give your age and location, this presents enormous privacy concerns. More importantly, this app has significant amounts of nudity, bullying, profanity, and threats of violence.

In an attempt to make this app safe for children, Bark has partnered with Bigo to create a safer environment.

What Does Commonsense Media Say: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/search/bigo

What The App Provides: IMVU stands for Instant Messaging Virtual Universe. I’m not sure if they have successfully fulfilled what the name suggests, but it is a virtual world game, much like SIMS, GraveYard Keeper, BitLife, Animal Crossing and many others.  As occurs in most of these types of games, users interact with each other as avatars.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern:  It would not surprise you that given the nature of the game, there is nudity and sexual encounters. Although nudity generally appears in the 18+ area, there is sexual discussions in all other areas as well.

Much like with the Omegle website, and the Holla app, there is a Chat Now feature that randomly pairs users with other users and can lead to inappropriate pairings and interactions. Sadly, all profiles are public, therefore there is a lack of privacy. There is often bullying and there have been predators attempting to acquire phone numbers and to send pictures.

What Does Protect Young Eyes Say: https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/imvu-parental-controls/

Houseparty

What The App Provides: Houseparty was established as the app teens were users can chat with groups of friends without leaving the house. It has stood the test of time.  Friends can communicate with each other through live video and texts in chat groups. In March of 2020, AppAnnie ranks Houseparty as the seventh most popular free app in the iOS App Store, placing it just behind social distancing peers such as Zoom.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Get a bunch of kids streaming live video – nothing could go wrong. Right? Actually, the app is often used by teens to simply catch up, do homework together – and yes, sometimes get into trouble. Since there is no live moderation, there’s nothing to keep kids from inappropriate content. Users can send links via chat and even take screenshots. However, the bigger issue is “keeping friends of friends from joining groups where they may only know one person.”

What Does Family Zone Say: https://www.familyzone.com/anz/families/blog/houseparty-what-parents-need-to-know

Tinder

What The App Provides This is a dating app developed for anyone 18 and older. Tinder’s marketing suggests that the app as “the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you.” But over the years the app has evolved in many ways to a geo-location, hook-up app for 20-somethings – with a growing trend toward teens. However, back in 2014, Rosette Pambakian, VP of Communications & Brand Partnerships at Tinder said, “Tinder is not a dating website. It is a social discovery platform.”

Other similar sites include, Blendr, Hot or Not, Badoo, MeetMe, Skout, Yubo and others.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Tinder helps users find others in their geographic location and allows them to view each others’ photos and start instant messaging if both users had “liked” the other’s profile. As you can imagine, the geo-location and anonymous features of the app put all users, but especially children at risk for sexual harassment, stalking, and worse.

Perhaps just as dangerous is the heavy emphasis on looks as a foundation for judgment. This pushes users to emphasize looks – often creating highly sexualized photos.

Until recently, the age restriction for Tinder was set at 13. In 2014, 7% of all users were under age 17. Thankfully, the age restriction today is 18.

What Does Protect Young Eyes Say: https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/tinder-parental-controls/

ASKfm

What The App Provides ASKfm has gone through significant allows users to interact in a question-and-answer format — with friends, peers, and anonymous users alike.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern:  This app has been around for many years – and it has not been without issues. ASFfm blends user anonymity and inadequate monitoring of content to create the ideal environment for sexual content, predatory actions, and cyberbullying.  To confront these issues, the app added a button so users can report abuse. In the Fall of 2020, ASKfm created a separate stream called DISCOVER. It is located in a user’s news feed and shows people’s posts that the user does not yet know. The content in that DISCOVER stream could be inappropriate for children.

Janis Gravins, CEO of ASKfm said, “I think most importantly, ASKfm, is a place where young people—Gen-Z, millennials—come to receive attention from other people.” If you have a child using this app, that might be a concern for you.

What Does Bark Say: https://www.bark.us/blog/is-ask-fm-safe/

KIK

What The App Provides: Kik is a mobile app that people can use to text with friends at high speed and with more of a “face-to-face feel” than regular texting. It allows you to transmit messages, images, sketches, mobile webpages, video, and more to other users. As of 2016 it had about 300 million global, registered users, and an estimated 40 percent of U.S. teenagers were KIK users. According to Statistica, there were almost 8 million U.S. users in 2019.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  The age-old problem of not having age verifications haunts KIK like many other apps. They rate the app at 17+. Additionally, Kik doesn’t require a phone number to register. Kids simply connect with others using just a username. The app also been connected with cyberbullying and is mentioned in a few death by suicides over the years. To that end, Kik is generally listed in the top ten apps each year that teens should avoid.

What Does Bark Say: https://www.bark.us/blog/is-kik-safe/

SnapChat

What The App Provides Unless you’ve been living under a rock for nearly the last decade, you already know that Snapchat is an app that allows users to send photos and videos that disappear after they’re received. It’s rated ages 12+ — which is interesting because the COPPA Act in the United States requires users of an app that collects personal information to be at least 13.  The app provides unique and exciting filters and special effects that allow users to alter pictures creatively.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern:  There have been hundreds of international stories of kids using the app to send inappropriate pictures because they believe the images disappear within seconds of being viewed. However, ask any prosecutor involved in a sexting or child pornography case, and they will tell you otherwise. There are a myriad of ways the SnapChat images are captured – including on the Snapchat servers.  The thought of  “disappearing photos” might encourage kids to send such images – and has been a problem for many when these images surface months or years later.

What Does Bark Say: https://www.bark.us/blog/what-parents-dont-know-snapchat/

Whisper

What The App Provides Have you ever had a deep and dark secret that you wanted to share anonymously with the world? If so, the Whisper app might be the answer. Its motto should be alarming for most parents: “Share Secrets, Express Yourself, Meet New People.” A similar app called, PostSecret existed earlier but was discontinued due to abusive content. At its closing, the founder of Post Secret wrote, “Unfortunately, that absolute anonymity made it very challenging to permanently remove determined users with malicious intent,” Sadly, Whisper could find itself in a similar position.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern:  The Whisper app  provides users with an anonymous account for making confessions that are superimposed over e-postcards or post-it-notes. Other users can  “like,” share, or comment on your Whisper. Although this often might feel like creative expression – these Whispers can go viral.  Since the app defines a user’s location it might also be possible to determine who made the post. Like many other apps, there are tragic stories associated with its misuse by younger users.

What Does FamilyZone Say: https://www.familyzone.com/anz/families/blog/app-review-whisper

Tumblr

What The App Provides: Although many people across several demographics use Tumblr for business and pleasure, it is commonly known as a place to explore and share content and various forms of media. In the case of teens, it is also a place to connect and share common interests, like fandoms.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Tumblr has been known to have the raunchiest pornography this side of PornHub. In some respects, it is like YouTube, in that it shows the best and the worst of mankind. Ironically, the Tumblr website provides some privacy protection. However, anything done on the Tumblr app is considered public. As such, all of a user’s media and content is for public viewing. Additionally, keyword searches allow children to look up anything… and I mean anything.

What Does Bark Say: https://www.bark.us/blog/is-tumblr-safe-for-teens/

Instagram

What The App Provides At its inception in 2010, Instagram was considered a relatively tame photo sharing, social networking service. Facebook eventually purchased it and now provides photo and video sharing, live streaming, SnapChat-like filters, and Instagram stories. The Stories feature is used by 500,000 users daily.

 

A Wired Family’s Concern:  The app is rated 13+, but if you consider who posts on Instagram, i.e., the Kardashians, porn stars, Hip Hop artists, and other adult fare, one quickly realizes that this app is not child’s play. Users are sometimes trolled by others that make inappropriate comments or hurtful statements about a user’s looks or talents. Users can change their settings to block their location or specific followers. However, too often, they ignore their settings until things get out of control. Additionally, the Instagram Stories Feature is usually littered with inappropriate language and images.

What Does Bark Say: https://www.bark.us/blog/instagram-messages-update/

Blendr

What The App Provides: Much like Tinder, Blendr falls into the category of dating or hook-up apps. The app’s marketing describes it as, “The free, socially flirtatious chat-to-meet app.” It uses your mobile device’s location services to connect you with other users that are near you and who share your interests and want to chat. Currently, Blendr has more than 200 million users around the world.

It requires users to be at least 18 years of age to have an account. However, there is no means of verifying age.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Since this app is geo-location based, it tracks the location of the users, and it can feed this information to adults or users that don’t have your child’s best interest at heart.

What Does Wondershare FamiSafe Say: https://famisafe.wondershare.com/app-review/blendr-app-review.html

Discord

What The App Provides: The Discord app is free, and of this writing, it is the defacto cross-platform voice and text chat app developed for gamers. Although other  voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) services exist, none provide the ability to use both voice and text. It has become a “must” for anyone interested in playing Fortnite online – and touts 19 million daily users.

One of the drivers behind its growth is that it allows users to create and join servers – which are actually channels, or chatrooms to interact with like minded  people. These are sometimes called tribes.

Discord also allows for direct and private messages. In fact, it is used not only by gamers, but also as a replacement for other messenger services such as Facebook Messenger. It also can be used on multiple types of devices such as smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  The vast functionality of the app creates dangers for its youngest of users. There is significant abusive and profane language and bullying on a multitude of Discord servers.

There are often adult themes including sex, drugs, violence, and misogynistic behavior in these conversations. This is not an app for young teens.

What Does Protect Young Eyes Say: https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/discord-parental-controls/

Omegle

What The App Provides: Perhaps my first concern about a video chat website was following the launch of Chatroulette. It started in 2009 and made global news due to the private voyeurism it provided. To quote about a million people before me, “It was disgusting.” But, quick on its heels was Omegle.

Much like Chatroulette, Omegle anonymously paired users from around the world interested in finding conversations by chance.  What was discovered was that about 10% of the users were paired with naked users and doing something they could not unseen. Today, the most successful of these services is Omegle. The chance of seeing someone naked is about 90%.

According to various publications, including the New York Times, Omegle’s popularity has spiked over the past four months. The Times suggests that it is related to COVID-19.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  This app is known to lure unsuspecting users, generally teen boys or young men, into other chat rooms by beautiful, naked women. They are provided a link and then encouraged  to undresses and performs acts on themselves.  Once finished, the user that lured the young man into the room, reveals that they recorded the event and will send the video to everyone in their contact list if they don’t pay a “ransom.” As it happens, the link they sent to the private chat room was downloaded to their device – which then copied all of their contacts.

This happens more often than you might think on this app, and others like it.

Additionally, whether a child agrees to go into a private chat room, there are thousands of women – and men – who appear naked on this app. The conversations in the 18 plus area might be considered disturbing. Additionally, there is no way of validating age.

What Does Bit Guardian Say: https://blog.theparentalcontrol.com/is-omegle-safe-for-kids/

Holla

What The App Provides: HOLLA is a  live video streaming app that can randomly matches people in video chats across the globe. It is available on IOS, Android and Window 10 platforms. Although the purpose might be a bit more tame than Omegle, the random matching of users has rated this app at age 17 but I would suggest it should be at least 18. Much like Tinder, the option to “swipe up” to proceed to the next match would place this app into the online dating category. This app recommends strangers that have matching interests and can provide a quick chat between those two users.

A Wired Family’s Concern:  Since children often gravitate to more adult themed apps, this platform is a great concern to any parent of a child under the age of 18. Depending on who randomly appears on the other side of the screen during a “match” there is often sexual conversations and nudity.

What Does Wondershare FamiSafe Say: https://famisafe.wondershare.com/app-review/is-holla-app-safe.htm

 

 

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