Apps Predators Use: Five Apps Experts Warn Against for Kids and Teens

MOBILE, AL (WKRG) — On Thursday night, News 5 Investigates brought you into the offices of local cyber-intelligence divisions to bring you the “Apps Predators Use.”

Our experts from Mobile Police, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, and Child Advocacy Center of Mobile demonstrated the dangers of giving smartphones and tablets to children. If not properly monitored, kids are prone to download messaging apps that expose them to child predators who lurk online, waiting to talk to their next victim.

“There are offenders out there who use these children and turn them into victims,” said Commander Kevin Levy, who heads Mobile’s Cyber-Intelligence Unit. “It begins with someone thinking it wasn’t going to be them.”

The problem is trending younger than teenagers. Children as young as 8-years-old are on messaging apps and talking to strangers posing as a friendly face.

“All it takes is a click, just one click,” said Patrick Guyton of the Child Advocacy Center in Mobile. “The kids wants [phones and apps] because all the other kids are doing it. Everybody’s doing it.”

News 5 visited the digital forensics department of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, where Detective Laura Soulier set up a fake profile to illustrate the problem first-hand.  She posed as a 15-year-old girl with a photoshopped profile image, and within minutes, was being approached and friend requested by strangers — some claiming to be from our area.

“You’re giving your children an electronic device that can actually allow your child to meet somebody and get them killed,” said Detective Soulier.

The experts highlighted FIVE apps that parents should uninstall if discovered on a child’s device:

  1. Kik
    “One of the apps most dangerous for curious teenagers. Known for it’s large user base, the private messaging app has developed a reputation for sexting and anonymous conversations.”
  2. Yik Yak*
    “Unique in that this app is GPS-based. The program steers users to chat with others within a few miles of their location.”  (*Yik Yak has since been ended due to safety concerns.)
  3. Yellow
    “A newcomer to the list, Yellow has been nicknamed ‘Tinder for Teens.’ The online dating app is becoming increasingly popular with kids who are lying about their date of birth for access.”
  4. Ask.fm
    “The ultimate attention-seeking app. Users send open or anonymous questions to users and wait for responses, often time leading to more interactions.”
  5. Live.ly
    “Most troublesome in that this is a live-streaming app. Kids and teens are hosting private shows from the confines of their home, usually their bedrooms, often times divulging personal details.”

Of the four apps above that are active, we reached out to the developers for a response to their inclusion on this list.

One one app responded, and that was Ask.fm. Here is the action plan they sent us to limit the dangers for children:

Firstly, it may not be well known that ASKfm has made a huge investment and changes in its product, policy, infrastructure and leadership over the past 3 years by both sets of company owners, including ASK.com and currently, Noosphere, which has positioned ASKfm as a leader in online safety for young people, and especially with technical innovation in filtering images and text to identify egregious content. Some of the key safety investments of the trust and safety strategy includes the following;
1ASKfm appointed an expert Safety Board in 2015 made up of world leading child safety experts, see http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/askfm-forms-first-ever-safety-advisory-board-
This Safety Board continues to advise ASKFm on the safety and the approaches that have been developed in a thorough and detailed way, where all developments are discussed and safety standards agreed. 
 
2. There has been significant investment in moderation procedures, resources and staff to remove offensive, hurtful and any content that may be threat to a child, including identifying predators and involves automatic filtering of all Questions and Answers exchanged by users, including questions asked by other users that go unanswered and resulted in doubling the amount of inappropriate Q&As being removed from the service.
 
3. ASKfm has established a global 24 hour monitoring across 24 languages and a law enforcement officer to assist with any requests or investigations. 
 
4. Improved and users easier access to safety controls such as blocking users or blocking all anonymous questions. And robust reporting features making it easier for user to report any content or behaviour that concerns them. 
 
5. Developed a comprehensive Safety Centre  see https://safety.ask.fm/ with tailored guidelines for teens, teachers, parents and law enforcement, step-by-step guidance on safety controls to highlight user options, and expert articles to assist teens,  parents and educators with a range of issues young people face online 
 
6. ASKfm has partnered with a number of NGOs and projects working with schools and developed safety resources for teens, parents, educators and law enforcement, for example with the Princess Diana Award charity’s Anti Bullying Pro initiative in the UK see http://askfm.antibullyingpro.com/ and in addition ASKfm is a member of the IWF for reporting child abuse images and following best practice in this area of child sexual exploitation.

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