Is it really a friend or is it a predator?
Unless you are actively monitoring your child’s smartphone and tablet apps, you are not getting a complete picture of who they’re talking to.
“If parents aren’t vigilant in checking apps, they are going to look at their kids texting and say, ‘Oh, there is no problem here,'” said Jefferson County (Colorado) District Attorney Investigator Mike Harris, a 35-year law enforcement veteran.
But Harris says eight apps are now among the top concerns in his search for predators — who children may call “creepers.”
“With anything in technology, we as parents need to parent, and just not let our kids do stuff because we have no idea what it exposes our kids to,” Harris said. “Sometimes we get busy and we forget and our kids add an app. Before long our kids have twenty apps that we don’t even know about.”
Harris provided this list of apps that parents should watch for:
Bragging that it is the “best place to express yourself online,” Whisper is an anonymous social networking tool.
“It is anonymous,” Harris explains. “Anything anonymous spells trouble for kids and those who look to prey on kids. You put in your ZIP code and it will tell you when people Whisper something in your area and the user can decide whether to chat with them or not.”
2. ASK FM
Users of this social network can ask other users questions, and can choose to remain anonymous when doing so.
“This is the worst app I have seen, as law enforcement has difficulty identifying anyone as Latvia doesn’t work with USA Law Enforcement,” Harris said.
Boasting 100 million users, Kik is an instant messenger with a built-in mobile web browser. Harris warns that this is one of several options children could use to hide text messages from their parents.
A ghost is the logo for this social network, representing the ephemeral nature of the messages it sends. The messages or photos disappear a few seconds after being opened. Like Kik, Harris warns this could be used to hide inappropriate messages.
The reigning king of Internet video, Google’s YouTube app allows the sharing and viewing of all kinds of video.
“If the settings aren’t set for children, there is lots of inappropriate content certain aged children should not be exposed to,” Harris said.
Advertising that users can “post anything,” Tumblr is a blogging service specifically suited to short posts and big images.
Owned by Facebook and boasting more than 150 million accounts, Instagram is specialized in photo editing and sharing. Time magazine recently reported on the trend of users sending after-sex selfies across this service.
Searching for other users based on proximity is the specialty of this social networking app that also includes chatting features. In fact, the location data was once a problem in one of Harris’ investigations.
“I was texting a suspect and he said, ‘Why are you at the Jefferson County Justice Center?’ And I realized it was GPS activated and I didn’t know that,” he said.
Harris later added, “Anything which provides your location, I suggest you do not use it.”
Harris encourages parents to be alongside their children when downloading a new app or setting up a new account.
“They need to set it up where they put in a password, they review the app with their child, and they know what the app does,” he said. “By helping your kids go through this you are also finding out what it’s all about and there is that communication going back and forth.”