Internet Safety

From the Hermosa Beach Police Department – February 2016

This morning’s post is extremely important, especially if you have children who are using cell phones. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to read this post.

Like you, many of us at the police department have children and find it hard to keep up with the ever-changing technology regarding phone applications. We often hear from parents dealing with issues regarding their children’s cell phones. Even as informed as we at HBPD are, it is still hard to keep up and understand exactly what the potential dangers are regarding current apps and new apps being developed daily.

Please make sure you inspect your child’s phone often. You should also discuss the possible concerns and potential dangers of certain apps.

The following applications (to name a few) have their uses, but can lead to significant issues if allowed to be used by young children or teenagers.

TINDER: An app that is used for dating. Users can find potential “dates” via GPS location tracking. This app pulls information from user’s Facebook profiles. Many people use this app for “Hook-up” (sex) purposes.

Possible issue: It is easy for adults and minors to find one another. Also, due to the rating system related to the picture posted by the user, it is often used for cyber-bullying because the app allows other users to rate the poster. A group of kids could use this opportunity to bully other children.

SNAPCHAT: This app allows a user to send photos and videos to anyone on his/her friend list. The sender can determine how long the receiver can view the image and then the image “destructs” or disappears after the allotted time.

Possible Issue: It is the number one app used for “sexting,” mostly because people think it is the safer way to “sext.” However, the “snaps” can easily be recovered and the receiver can take a screen shot and share it with others. Also, a lot of images from Snapchat get posted to revenge porn sites. It is also a way for kids to hide texts from their parents.

BLENDR: A flirting app used to meet new people through GPS location services. You can send messages, photos, videos, rate the looks of other users, etc.

Possible Issue: There are no authentication requirements, so sexual predators can contact minors, minors can meet up with adults, and like other apps, sexting can be an issue.

KIK MESSENGER: An instant messaging app that allows users to exchange videos, pics and sketches. Users can also send YouTube videos and create memes and digital gifs.

Possible Issue: Using the app for sexting and sending nude selfies through the app is common. The term “sext buddy” is being replaced with “Kik buddy.” Kids use Reddit and other forum sites to place classified ads for sex by giving out their Kik usernames. Also, Kik does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.

WHISPER: Whisper is an anonymous confession app. It allows users to superimpose text over a picture in order to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously. However, you post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can also search for users posting within a mile from you.

Possible Issue: Due to the anonymity, kids are posting pics of other kids with derogatory text superimposed on the image. Also, users do not have to register to use Whisper and can use the app to communicate with other users nearby through GPS. A quick look at the app and you can see that online relationships are forming through the use of this app, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. Sexual predators also use the app to locate kids and establish relationships.

ASKFM: Askfm is one of the most popular social networking sites and is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site that allows users to ask other users questions while remaining anonymous.

Possible Issue: Kids will often ask repeated derogatory questions that target one person. Due to the anonymity of the badgering, it creates a virtually consequence-free form of cyber-bullying.

YIK YAK: An app that allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters. The messages can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking.

Possible Issue: Users are exposed to and are contributing sexually explicit content, derogatory language and personal attacks. Although the posts are anonymous, kids start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users.

POOF: Poof allows users to make other apps “disappear” on their phone. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see by opening the app and selecting other apps.

Possible Issue: You can no longer purchase this app. But, if it was downloaded before it became unavailable, your child may still have it.

Keep in mind that these types of apps are created and then terminated quickly, but similar ones are continuously being created.

OMEGLE: Omegle is primarily used for video chatting. When you use Omegle, you do not identify yourself through the service. Instead, chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger.” However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. When choosing this feature, the Omegle app receives your Facebook “likes” and attempts to match you with a stranger with similar likes.

Possible Issue: Sexual predators can use this app to collect personal information from in order to find and track your children.

DOWN: Down used to be called “Bang With Friends,” and is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends

in one of two ways: They can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they’d like to hang with or someone they are “down” to hook-up with.

Possible Issue: Although identifying someone you are willing to hook-up with doesn’t mean you will actually hook-up with them, it creates a hook-up norm within a peer group. Depending on your sexual values, this might be something you don’t want for your child. Also, because of the classification system, a lot of kids will feel left out or unwanted, which can lead to anxiety or depression.

VINE: This app allows users to watch and post six-second videos and share with friends.

Possible Issue: While many of the videos are harmless, porn videos do pop up into the feed, exposing your children to sexually explicit material. You can also search for access porn videos on this app. Predators can utilize this app to search for teens and find their location. Once found, predators may try to connect with your children via other messaging apps.

PERISCOPE: Periscope enables you to “go live” via your mobile device anytime and anywhere. The app enables you to become your own “on the go” broadcasting station, streaming video and audio to any viewers who join your broadcast.

Possible Issue: A potential source of sexual harassment and cyber-bullying. Main dangers of the Periscope app are sexual harassment, location tagging and non-monitored comments.

Others to look for: Hidden Apps, App Lock and Hide It Pro.

New apps are developed almost daily and some apps are periodically removed. It is important to stay informed and aware. The following sites are helpful to parents who are interested in staying up to date regarding trending apps for teens.

Parenting is already difficult; technology can make it more difficult.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. We hope it helps!