Parents, do you know what your kids are doing on their smartphones? You probably don’t know this
Every few months I like to take a look at some of the apps that are popular with elementary, middle and high school students for messaging, photos and videos that their parents may not be aware of. Most of the apps I’ve talked about before such as Ask.fm and hidden locker apps, but there are a couple of new entries into this “watch list” including one of the more popular apps among their parents.
Omegle Chat has been around for a long while and was one of the first ‘anonymous chat’ apps for iPhones and Android devices. Omegle connects random strangers from around the world. You never know who you’ll be connected with or what will happen. Users can sign up with little more than a name so there’s no proof they are who they say they are or live where they say they live.
When I signed up to see what the app is all about, I was being approached by strangers within 2 minutes.
The first question I was asked each time was whether I was a boy or a girl. When I responded that I was a boy the person I was connected with quickly left the chat.
I wanted to see what would happen if I said I was a girl. I was immediately approached, chatted up for a few seconds and invited to a private chatroom by someone who identified themselves as a 35-year-old man who insisted I join him using a Kik account.
Speaking of Kik, it remains on this list and is the single most dangerous app for young children according to police departments, law enforcement and school groups. This anonymous chat app is generally preferred by middle school and elementary school students although it asks for proof that the user is above the age of 13.
35 year old man invited me to a private chatrooom
Ask.fm is another popular messaging app popular among the youngest teens and pre-teens. Users can ask questions anonymously of other users who can then answer anonymously. Common comment threads are about classmates who are criticized and ridiculed for weight, appearance, and character.
Whisper first gained popularity on college campuses but is now used by kids of all ages. It is also an anonymous messaging app where users can post their most inner thoughts and others can respond. Whisper is location based so users can see threads posted by people in their own town and school. When you first sign into Whisper you have the option to add your school to see all posts and threads by classmates who are using the app.
Hidden locker apps are popular with kids and these allow them to hide text messages, photos, videos and anything else behind a secret code. These locker apps are most often disguised as calculator apps. The only way to see what is inside a locker is by entering a secret equation that is set up by the user. Enter, 5 x 250 for example, and the locker and its contents are revealed. These apps also have a ‘dummy equation’ in the event mom or dad asks to see inside a locker. The user can enter a different equation such as 4 x 250 which will reveal the contents of another locker, perhaps convincing mom and dad that nothing bad is being kept there.
Police also warn parents to be aware that kids are using Instagram the same way they’re using Snapchat. Kids like sending messages and photos through Instagram because they will disappear once the other user leaves the chat. Parents are more trusting of Instagram and may even follow their child’s account. Kids though are setting up fake Instagrams or ‘finsta’ accounts so parents see one account while another account is set up for their friends to see.
A young man threatened to kill me
And still on my list is the app Melon. This random video chat app connects users to each other. When you first sign in you are paired with someone you don’t know who is streaming live video. You’re both on camera and it’s live. When I tried the app I was connected to several random one-on-one video streams. In one, a woman was doing suggestive or explicit things on camera and in another a group of young men started cursing me. One threatened to find where I live and kill me and my family. He even pointed a gun at the camera and threatened to blow my head off.
I will say the developers of Kik and Ask.fm say they’re working to make their apps safe for people to use and have incorporated both computer software and human moderators to block users who violate community standards. Both also state that the apps only to be used by people 13 and up though that is nearly impossible to enforce.