- Internet & the Web
Mobile Apps Parents Should Not Allow on Their Children's Devices
The Threat Is Vast and It Is Real.
The rise of technology and increase in the number of people developing mobile apps presents a literal plethora of mobile applications from which to choose from. Everything from calculator apps ( how many calculator apps do we need, I mean really?) to live stream applications allowing you to video chat with anyone, anywhere in the world.
The overwhelming majority of mobile applications are harmless and have legitimate uses. This article seeks to touch on some of the mobile applications I feel parents need to be aware of and in my opinion, make sure their children do not have access too.
Count of Active Applications in the US App Store
Knowledge Is Your Best Weapon.
With the hundreds and thousands of mobile apps being introduced on a daily basis, how can any parent hope to keep abreast of all the current trends? More specifically, how can they hope to know what applications to monitor on their children's devices?
Well first off, it is important to understand this fundamental truth:
YOU WILL NEVER BE AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Unless it is your job, like mine, to constantly study, interact, and learn what mobile apps children are using, you will never know it all. While you are working, raising the family and pretty much being an adult, you will not have time to devote 100% or even 75% of your time to keep ahead of the curve.
Your children on a daily basis are interacting with schoolmates both in person and via the internet. They are exposed to this technology and live it far more than you are expected to. Because of this, coming to the understanding now that you are always going to be playing catch up will help decrease a lot of parental angst and over reaction to this technology.
Do Not Stress Out
Learn As You Go.
You are never going to know all the mobile applications which exist in the world at a given time. My job is to investigate internet crimes against children. This is my career. I know I don't know every mobile application currently out there. I know some of the more prominent ones which children are exploited through but there constantly news ones popping up on my radar. Even mobile apps or websites which you never would associate as being a conduit for predators to take advantage of you children are capable of being used. Just recently I investigated a case involving Pinterest. Pinterest of all places!
The takeaway here is knowledge is not something which is instantaneous. It is something which takes time. Talk to other parents, talk to law enforcement and to your school teachers. If more of these groups communicated the information they are hearing on their end the more knowledgeable everyone will be because of it.
This article will serve as a means to provide you information on some more prominent applications you need to monitor. It's not an end-all list. The key thing to remember is to be proactive in keeping tabs on the programs your children have on their devices.
Now I know what you are thinking. Isn't Tinder an adult dating application? Yes, as stated in their Terms of Service:
You must be at least 18 years of age to create an account on Tinder and use the Service. By creating and account and using the Service, you represent and warrant that you can form a binding contract with Tinder, you are not a person who is barred from using the Service under the laws of the United States or any other applicable jurisdiction–meaning that you do not appear on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals or face any other similar prohibition, and you will comply with this Agreement and all applicable local, state, national and international laws, rules and regulations. If you create an account, you represent and warrant that you have never been convicted of a felony and that you are not required to register as a sex offender with any state, federal or local sex offender registry.- Tinder TOS
But take a look at the chart down below
Tinder Age of Subscribers Chart
Tinder is known as a Hook Up App
As you can see, the second largest age group using Tinder is 16 to 24 year-olds. Tinder doesn't really seem police their users. If someone makes an account on Tinder, they have to list their age as 18 at a minimum. After that, if no one flags their profile they can stay on there as long as they want.
What's the harm in that you may ask? In 2015 a Melbourne Australian group created a project they called " The Tinder Experiment". The purpose of this experiment was " to confront the people who are using the app to groom underage girls into having sex".
In this experiement, the group created a fictional persona of a 15-year-old girl. The group listed her age as being 18. The fake account wrote in her bio that she was actually 15 and Tinder incorrectly listed her as 18 due to her linking her Tinder account to her Facebook profile which erroneously listed her age.
The bait target would swipe right on every person she saw on the Tinder App and when messaged would inform her would be suitors she was underage. This deterred many but not all. The Tinder Experiment documented their investigations in a series of videos which can be found on Youtube. In one episode, the bait target posted a photo of herself and stated she was home alone. This, in turn, drew in responses from predators offering to come visit her and provide company.
While Tinder has a minimum age restriction of 18 currently, prior to 2016 users as young as 13 were allowed to create accounts. Back then, underage users were only allowed to communicate with users in their same age group, but as the Tinder Experiment demonstrated, it is quite easy to fake one's age.
Tinder should not be on your child's devices. At all.
Snap Chat- Watch Your Kids Innocence Fade Away.
Two nights ago I was sitting in a Long Horns Resturant waiting for my date to arrive. I observed a family of four, Mother and Father plus two little girls, come and sit next to me. As is often my habit, I don't bury my face in my phone, I tend to make note of the people and events around me, especially in a public place. I happened to observe the oldest of the two daughters, my guess being she was probably 12, take out her cell phone and take some pictures with her mother, put some filters on the photos and send them off to who knows.
My immediate reaction was to cringe inwardly when I saw this. As a person who has had to work many cases of exploitation of children via Snap Chat this unnerved me. The reason being no parent should be allowing their children to have Snap Chat. At All. I can not stress that enough.
The whole purpose of Snap Chat is to be able to create messages, images, or videos which will be deleted in a matter of seconds upon opening. I ask you, dear reader, to think of any legitimate reason a child would need such an app?
Sexual Predators make use of Snap Chat to groom would be victims and don't have to worry about any evidence because Snap Chat deletes the offensive material for them. In addition to that, children use Snap Chat to manufacture and distribute child pornography which they can transmit using the Snap Chat app. Snap Chat allows users to screenshot images ( but notifies all parties that such an action had occurred) and I have seen predators use another recording device to videotape or take photos of images and videos being displayed on the offender's phone or tablet.
While parents may believe the filters feature on Snap Chat to be a harmless means to entertain their children and let them socialize with their peers, the downside is far too step.
Whisper- Anonymous Messaging Those Around You
If No One Knows It's You- You Can Say Whatever You Want.
Whisper is described on their website as
Whisper is an anonymous social network that allows people to express themselves. If you have ever had something too intimate to share on traditional social networks, simply share it on Whisper!
I currently monitor Whisper looking for any evidence of sexual exploitation of children or dangerous activity in my area. While users are anonymous, it does provide geo-location information informing you of Whispers around you.
Whisper has been used by child predators to locate children. Given Whisper allows individuals to post their secrets, this can be used by predators to prey on children going through emotional times. In addition, it allows other juveniles to target classmates for cyber-bullying.
What is especially dangerous is Whisper has designed their software to mask posts on the device itself unless you know a pin number which the user can set up. If you are a responsible parent who spots checks their children's device, Whisper has given them the tools to mask their Whispers and messages.
According to Whisper's Law Enforcement Guide:
Whisper is unlike other services because Whisper users do not register for unique Whisper accounts and do not generally provide to Whisper their names, email addresses, phone numbers, or similar identifying information. Because of the nature of Whisper’s service, Whisper does not have information about users' names, email or physical addresses, phone numbers, or payment accounts. Whisper does assign a non-unique display name to each user. Multiple users may be assigned the same display name and users can change their assigned display name at any time and as many times as they like.
In essence, Whisper has a service which is created with the direct intent to mask users identities from law enforcement. Anyone can register with Whisper (sans email), be given a temporary username, and proceed to go forth and exploit. Unless law enforcement lucks out and is notified of the exact username the suspect is using and is able to provide a court order to Whisper quickly enough to acquire the IP address logs from the company, they can be assured total anonymity.
The Canadian-based company is by far the most common mobile App I see in my investigations. Kik allows users to send messages, voice messages, video conference, images, and video clips to other users, sometimes entire chat rooms in one go. Kik allows users to instantly see when someone has read a message as well as see if the user is writing a response.
Kik does not require a verified email address to register and does not possess a means to verify a user's age. Kik has served as host to numerous chat rooms devoted to the trading of child pornography. Some of these rooms are invite only, but most are not.
What makes matters harder for law enforcement is the fact Kik resides in Canada and thanks to a Canadian Supreme Court ruling, will not honor court orders from United States Law Enforcement, thus requiring law enforcement result to going through the State Department under a Mutal Legal Assitance Treaty ( MLAT) which can take months to obtain. This in turn greatly slows down the rate at which law enforcement can actively conduct their investigations. While Kik will provide subscriber information ( Information which the customer willingly provides to Kik as part of day to day operations) with a court order from the states, it will not provide law enforcement content of Kik messages.
Due to the legal hurdles, Kik provides to law enforcement and their lax registration requirements, I recommend not letting your children use Kik.
Just The Tip of the Iceberg.
Theses are just a sample of the many apps out there in which parents need to be aware of. I encourage you to speak with your local law enforcement department and ask if they have an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) detective who can help educate you further on steps to protect your loved ones. ICAC affiliates routinely do Cyber-Safety presentations of which you can request for your church group, schools or civic organizations.