7 dangerous Apps that parents need to know
Information Security Officer lists some of the scariest technology for your kids
By: Jody S. Hawkins, Information Security Officer
Over the past several years, I have been actively speaking to parents, children, tweens, teens, and young adults regarding the dangers of the Internet and social media. I discovered rather quickly that I could not prepare a single set of presentations to use over and over again. Rather, I need to conduct new and fresh research for every single presentation I do, regardless of how much time has passed from one to the next.
Why? Because that is how fast things change in the world of technology and online interactions.
I am not going to go on a long rant about immorality or express my true feelings about the class of a person it takes to create certain apps for monetary gain, all the while knowing full well that children can and will fall victim while using those apps; instead, I am going to stick with the matter at hand.
Parents, you need to be aware that truly dangerous apps exist and are readily available to your children. And, if you are reading this as a young person or young adult who thinks I am being condescending, tough. In order to write an article such as this that is intended to reach the parents of potential victims, I have to be general in my assumptions and sweeping in my aim. I would rather offend you than not get the message out to someone that could prevent a devastating, life altering event for a child.
In my presentations to parents, I list a handful of apps; however, you have to understand that there are literally millions of apps available and, even those apps where the intended purpose by the app’s creator may be innocent, can be used dangerously. The reverse is also applicable; however, with the apps I am about to showcase, it is unlikely that they would be used in a benign way. With that, let’s talk about them:
1. SeekingArrangement.com - Brandon Wade is the founder of this site and supporting apps are available on GooglePlay for Android devices as well as iTunes for all iOS devices. SeekingArrangement identifies itself as a “sugar daddy dating app”. While discussing SeekingArrangement, it is also important to note that Brandon Wade also created an app called CarrotDating. CarrotDating (no longer available at the time this article was written) was an app that was borderline prostitution in the same way backpage.com ads are also “borderline” prostitution. The “borderline” is fairly evident. Although CarrotDating has been nixed, the philosophy behind the trend is still evident… bribes for dates. Of course, “dates” can be defined in ways other than going out to dinner and a movie.
2. Yik Yak – This App is one of the most dangerous. It allows users to post text-only “Yaks,” or messages, of up to 200 characters. The messages have no filter and can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. Users are exposed to – and contributing to – sexually explicit content, abusive language, and personal attacks so severe that schools are starting to block the App on their Wi-Fi. Although the posts are anonymous, kids start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users. This app is a rumor machine and a perfect channel for the kinds of bullies who hide behind a screen, hurting other people behind a shield of anonymity.
3. Ask.fm – This app allows users to ask a specific person anonymous questions. Users can answer these questions and posts them to their personal page, truly leaving nothing to the imagination. This is especially dangerous because it allows any user to target a specific person anonymously. Bullies, predators, and more can send anonymous messages to a specific person, asking them inappropriate things or even simply making hurtful statements.
4. Kik Messenger – This is a private messenger app and is coveted by those under 18 for a number of reasons. The App allows kids to send private messages that their parents can’t see. This app also allows users to identify themselves by a made up username, posing the dangers of anonymity. To make matters even scarier, third party websites allow users to search for people based on things like age and gender. There is very little you can do to verify the identity of someone on Kik, which obviously poses the risk of sexual predators chatting with your child. And again, this is an easy tool for sexting. Just last month, a 13 year old girl was murdered by a man she presumably met on Kik Messenger.
5. Omegle – This App has been around since 2008, with video chat added in 2009. When you use Omegle you do not identify yourself through the service – chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger;” the app’s slogan is “Talk to Strangers!” You don't have to register for the App. 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. This is not okay for children. This app is the perfect channel for sexual predators. Experts say these predators blackmail young children, by starting inappropriate conversations with them, then threatening to send the messages, photos, or videos to their parents if they tell anybody, therefore trapping the child in a disgusting, dangerous situation.
6. Whisper – This is a meeting App that encourages users to post secrets. You post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can search for users posting within a mile from you. You are also able to communicate with users who post secrets. A quick look at the App and you can see that online relationships are forming constantly on this App, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. One man in Washington was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl he met on this App just last year.
7. After School – This app is a message board that students can join by scanning their school I.D. or Facebook profile. While the scanning feature provides some security from outside users, once in the app, the user is anonymous. However, this app effortlessly creates drama and conflict among users because they all attend the same school. Students are able to freely post about anything. This year, a single school had problems with posts that included topless photos, alarmingly vulgar posts from males talking about fellow female students, and more. There is even a section where students can scan their driver’s license and enter a discussion only for students ages 17 and up, openly creating an environment for the discussion of more explicit material.
As with my presentations, articles such as this are a moving target as things get more troublesome by the minute. The biggest problem is that these apps make money. Because of this, more apps get developed that push the envelope of morality and safety. Look, if the developers could ensure the apps would only be used between consenting adults, I wouldn’t have a problem with all of this; however, the only way to ensure that to any reasonable level is to pretty much kill the app’s revenue streams. Because of this, we must remain diligent and be ever on the lookout for the next worst thing that could fall into the hands of our children. These apps make criminals out of cowards.
Please note: You can turn location services, or GPS, off on cell phones by going in to the device settings. This will keep the Apps and photos from posting the exact location or whereabouts of the phone user.
About the author
Jody S. Hawkins, Information Systems Security Officer, has been in technology for medical facilities since early 2000 and has been practicing for more than 20 years with his start in the United States Air Force. He is a part of Cook Children's Experts on Call Speakers Bureau. Hawkins specializes in privacy and technology safety and is a regular speaker at the National HIT/HIPAA Conference. He has been quoted and published in several national publications, including Health Information Management Magazine.
Hawkins' can speak on a variety of security topics facing our children & parents today, including:
- Social media
- Cyber bullying
- Safety online (Parents & Child)
- General home networking security
- Virtual Child (Parents)
- Internet Safety (Parents & Child)