Fort Worth, Texas,
10:31 AM

7 things that make an App dangerous

Information Security Officer looks at risks of kids using social media

1. Connectivity

Games and apps that are locally loaded and need no connectivity to the Internet to work are not categorized as "dangerous" as long as the content is appropriate for the age level of the child. However, most "free" apps require some level of connectivity for ad delivery. These ads are often unregulated or under-regulated and could contain links to material that is inappropriate for young children.

2. Social Interaction

Xbox, Playstation, and Wii (to name the popular consoles) all have the ability to connect a player with other, anonymous users. There are also games and other apps on Andriod, iOS devices, and PC that also allow social interaction with the gaming community. Kids can be subjected to ridicule, bullying, and age inappropriate conversations. Of course, sites and apps designed specifically for social interaction can be a worry if the content is not filtered and users can remain anonymous.

3. Information Sharing

A good deal of social media sites and apps give out a plethora of information about the user. This data can range from age to birth date and general regional area to specific city or even the exact address. A lot of times the information given is based on the users input and privacy settings; however, sometimes it can be unknown to the user. Take GPS location services as an example. If the young user may not be aware the app is pinpointing their current location to within 30 feet. Or, if they do, they may not realize the dangers associated with this type of situation.

4. False Accounts and Anonymity

Most social media sites and apps - even the most well known - allow for fake accounts to be created. Beyond fake accounts, a lot of apps out there promote anonymity among the users. Apps like "Omegle" and "Chat with Strangers" were built around the premise of anonymity. The problem comes when the child is encouraged to give out their personal information during a chat session. Children can be gullible and may more readily fall for scams being perpetrated by an adult. Even seemingly useless information can be used to create a bigger picture.

5. Lack of Filtering

Some sites and apps are policed for inappropriate content while others are not. However, even on sites that are supposed to be policed and filtered for inappropriate content, some things still get through. Take YouTube as an example. It is very difficult to police millions of videos and code that can successfully filter videos by content are not very useful (i.e. skin tone recognition) and produce too many false positive alerts. Because of this, YouTube relies on the community of users to police the content and alert YouTube if inappropriate material is found. Does this work? Not well. When's the last time you spent hours looking at random videos for inappropriate content? Beyond YouTube, sites and apps usually filter content based on age restrictions. My kids use age appropriate sites for educational entertainment that does filter content. If you attempt to type foul language, the words will be replaced with asterisks. You will also be warned and, if the behavior continues, your account will be terminated. The big problem comes when children lie about their age and sign up for apps designed to be used by adults. In those cases, there are not content filters.

6. Intent of the App

Any app can be used in a benign or harmful way; however, many apps out there are specifically intended to be used for meeting up with people to either date or downright have a sexual encounter. Regardless of what my child may tell me regarding their use of an app specifically designed to facilitate a sexual encounter with an adult, I would never allow continued use of the app. The bottom line is apps intended to be used by consenting adults should not be used by anyone under age - period. Even if the child's intention is to use such an app outside of the apps expected use, other users on the app will not know this. Things can go horribly awry.

7. Maturity level

Continuing with the intent of the app and the age and maturity of the user, children may be signing up on these sites out of curiosity or the lure of monetary gain. Sites and apps designed to be "Sugar Daddy" dating apps can be alluring. "Meet a millionaire" who will bestow expensive gifts upon you! These sites are very dangerous. The judgment of a child is not mature ... because they are still a child. Reactionary decisions can lead to catastrophic results. A young girl may be upset because her parents refused to upgrade her iPhone to the latest version and her friend tells her about some "sugar daddy" dating app where she can meet a man that will buy her whatever she wants. Immaturity can be a hindrance to thinking things through and recognizing the potential dangers.


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