ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — As children return to school, law enforcement agencies are warning parents across the country to keep an eye on their kids’ smartphones for potentially troublesome apps.
Police advise parents to keep tabs on “messenger” apps, because some carry more costs than benefits when it comes to teens chatting.
“You can message and communicate through Instagram. Snapchat is probably the biggest one,” said Loves Park School Resource Officer Aaron Johnson. “It kind of gives the illusion of safety. They say that the messages go away when they’re deleted, but that’s not the case. A lot of times, either [someone will] screenshot a picture or screenshot a text message.”
Some of the apps are even disguised to hide their actual purpose from parents.
“The one I know, specifically, [is Calculator+]. It shows up as a calculator. And, if you put in a certain combination of numbers, like a safe, it unlocks a partition in the phone that you can store photos in, that you wouldn’t even know were there, otherwise,” Johnson said.
Parent Ryan Liermann said, “That’s pretty shocking, actually. But, at the same time, it doesn’t totally surprise me that there’s things like that out there.”
Popular apps also have another concealed safety hazard: allowing others to see exactly what a user’s location is while they’re using the app.
“A lot of them, you have to specifically go in and look and make sure that there’s not a location component, and if there is, it’s usually always set to ‘public’ automatically,” Johnson said.
Authorities recommend that parents speak with their kids about their online usage.
“Just take a look every now and again,” Johnson said. “Talk with your kids and see what they’re using, how they’re using it, and download it for yourself. See if it’s something that you’re okay with them having that level of privacy.”
Law enforcement agencies across the country are saying that parents should watch out for the following 15 apps:
- MeetMe: The dating social media app allows people to connect based on location. Users are encouraged to meet each other in person.
- WhatsApp: The messaging app allows users to send texts, video calls, and voicemails to other people. It also includes photo sharing and video chat capabilities.
- Bumble: Similar to Tinder, but requires women to make the first contact. Police said kids and teens have been known to make fake accounts and lie about their age.
- Live.Me: A geolocation-based live-streaming app that allows users to find a broadcaster’s location. Police said users can earn “coins” to “pay” minors for photos.
- Ask.FM: The app lets users ask anonymous questions. Police said it can be used for cyberbullying.
- Grindr: A dating app geared toward the gay, bi and transgender community. Users can chat, share photos and meet based on their phones’ GPS location.
- TikTok: The app lets users create and share short videos. Police said it’s popular with kids and has limited privacy controls. Users are vulnerable to cyberbullying and explicit content.
- Snapchat: Snapchat remains one of the world’s most popular social media apps. Users are supposed to be able to send photos/videos that will later disappear, but features like “stories” allow people to share content for up to a day. Snapchat also allows other users to see your location.
- Holla: A video chat app that allows users to meet people from all over the world. According to some reviews, users could encounter explicit content, racial slurs, profanity and more.
- Calculator+: The innocuous-looking app appears to be a standard calculator but allows users to hide photos, videos and files they don’t want other people to see.
- Skout: The location-based dating app doesn’t allow users 17 and under to share private photos, but kids could easily create an account by lying about their age.
- Badoo: The dating and social media app is meant to be for adults, but teens have been known to create accounts. Users can chat and share photos and videos based on location.
- Kik: The app allows users to send direct messages to other users. Kids can use it to bypass traditional text messaging.
- Whisper: The anonymous social network lets users share information with strangers. It also reveals a user’s location so people can meet each other.
- Hot or Not: The “hookup” app lets users rate profiles, check out people in their area and chat with strangers.
Johnson recommends parents use monitoring apps, such as Norton Family Premier or NetNanny, which allows parents to supervise and control which apps their children can install or use, and also provide alerts about their child’s location.
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