Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Whisper

Anonymous Sharing, Chatting and Location-Based Feeds

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex Ships Next Week!

Get it in your mailbox (or on your e-reading device) next Tuesday, May 17!

Pre-order my book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

Don’t forget to grab your copy before the release date (May 17!), and get some great freebies that will help you talk to your kids about sex.


Today’s App Every Parent Needs to Know About (full series here) is Whisper. It’s made the rounds in media and has received some bad press–maybe rightfully so, as it’s another app that allows users to anonymously post pictures, secrets, confessions, questions, and chat privately with others and share their location or only look at Whispers that are nearby.


parents-apps-whisper

Whisper’s Purpose (according to their app store description):

“Ever wondered what the people around you are really thinking? Whisper is an online community where millions of people around the world share real thoughts, trade advice, and get the inside scoop. See what people are thinking at the places you visit, like your school. Chat directly with other Whisper users – it’s a great way to meet new people. Join the 30 million+ people who use Whisper every month; it will change the way you see the world.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: Whisper is rated 17+ in the app store for:

  • Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References

In the Terms of Service, Whisper is very clear that the intended audience is 17+. Even still, their messaging is confusing as they say in the fine print, “If you are between 13 and 18 years of age, you may use the services provided with the consent and under the supervision of a parent or guardian, who are obliged to abide by these terms,” and the age you can claim within the app begins at the age of 15.

So, I’m guessing they really don’t care how old you are. Parents, it’s your responsibility to limit which apps your kids download (or have access to download). On that note, Whisper offers parents advice on how to enable restrictions on their kid’s phones and tablets.

They lay out their community guidelines simply:

Do not be Mean, Do not be Gross, and Do Not Use Whisper to Break the Law: Do not defame, impersonate or abuse another person. Do not share personal information of another person, including address or telephone number. Hate speech directed at any group of people will be removed from our services. This includes hate speech on gender, sexuality, race, religion and ethnicity. You can use your own photos on Whisper, but do not allow images that are filthy, violent or pornographic. Do not use Whisper to promote illegal behavior like selling controlled substances or solicitations. If you solicit minors for any reason or post sexually explicit images of minors, we will suspend your account and report it to the National Center for Missing Children. Do not make threats of violence. We may share your IP, location and other information with the police if we think you are a threat to the safety of others. We are required by law to disclose your information if we receive a subpoena, court order or warrant.”


Privacy & Parental Controls: Whisper keeps the standard amount of information that other apps keep: cookies and pixels (that track your use), geolocation (if location services are on) and does provide that information to advertisers and some third parties.

Some notable comments, mostly in regard to Whisper’s location services–as you can see from my screenshots, it tells the user approximately how far another user is away in distance. If kids use the service and reveal any personal information (name, a photo of something outside that’s identifiable), they can be easily found.


whisper-8The Good:

  • Compared to other apps, Whisper had the least amount of sexually explicit content. It’s not void of it completely, but there was a considerable difference.
  • You can turn location services off, but it limits how the app functions.
  • If someone is mature enough and knows how to process the mature topics or photos that do populate feeds, it could be a great place to encourage people who are going through tough times.
  • Reporting posts, users, and blocking chats is quick and easy.
  • Users can enable a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) filter which filters out some mature content.
  • Within the app settings, users can visit “Your Voice” which shares videos from users who struggle with various issues, sorted by issue (mental health, sexuality, suicide, etc.). Users can also share their own stories, which are moderated before being shared.

The Bad: 

  • Content is user-generated, which means even if something is reported, users can view inappropriate content simply by using the app.
  • After you type in your Whisper, based on what words you use, the app suggests “related” photos to accompany it. Some of these photos are hard PG13 or rated R.
  • Location features allow for users to be easily identified if not cautious.whisper-11
  • The “My School” section is has only basic protection: anyone on campus (even across the street) from a school can log in to that school’s feed and communicate with minors.
  • Although the TOS says feeds are actively monitored for suicidal/self-harming/eating disorders/threatening posts, it’s easy to find and suggested images from the app support inappropriate messages.
  • One report I read online said users who post suicidal/self-harming/eating disordered posts are directed to help. I posted about “wishing to be dead” and “starving myself” and was not redirected to help. Instead, I was shown similar confessions from others. (see side photo)
  • Users can also add a personal PIN so that if the app is accessed, the feeds remain but personal chats and Whispers are not shown unless the PIN is entered, which can prevent parents from checking the app.
  • In my experience, as a 15-17 year old female persona in the app, in less than 24 hours, I was by a male adult in my city where I live and what school I go to.


What you need to know: 

One of the most concerning features of Whisper is the location-sharing element, and within that, the ease in which one can sign into a local school’s “private” feed. Unlike After School, where your ID has to be verified through Facebook and/or a state-issued ID, anyone can get on or really close to a school campus and have access to that feed without having to do anything else. 

Like I did in After School, I chose a nearby school. To verify myself, I drove to the parking lot of the school and logged in. I pretended to be a 15-17 year old high school student and easily started chatting with other high school students, both receiving chats and sending them (I sent mine as anonymous encouragements, the ones I received were a mix of positive and sexual).

Because there can be such a high emotional element to sharing secrets or confessions, predators can engage in conversations under the guise of being a peer and in worst-case situations, can schedule a meet up  to “help” their new friend out.


Conversation Starter:

I have to admit: Whisper was not as “bad” as I’ve heard. Maybe people in Iowa don’t post a lot of explicit content (or maybe users of the Whisper app compared to the After School app are toned down.) While it wasn’t completely teen-friendly, more mature teens could use this app with extreme caution and could be a source of encouragement for others.

Chances are, if you have a junior high or high school student, they know about the Whisper app. What are your child’s app settings? Are they restricted from downloading certain content (like 12+ or 17+)?

  • Have you heard of the app Whisper? Tell me about it.
  • Have you ever shared something on Whisper or read someone else’s secret?
  • Has someone you don’t know tried to start a private chat with you? What did/would you do?
  • What would you do if you saw on Whisper that someone wanted to hurt themselves or others?
  • What are some ways you might accidentally share your location? (i.e., geographically identifying pictures, using photos in public places that other can see)

5ThingsMedEducating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

Nervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller:

  • Equips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.order-now
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust them with fears, struggles and questions.

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Instagram

Sharing Photos and Videos (And Just a Few Clicks Away from Porn)

Quick Reminder: Have you pre-ordered my book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex?

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

Don’t forget to grab your copy before the release date, and get some great freebies that will help you talk to your kids about sex.


apps-every-parent-needs-to-know-instagramToday’s App Every Parent Needs to Know About (full series here) is one of the most popular social media apps around. More than likely, you have it on your phone. More than likely, your kids might too.

It’s the photo (and video) sharing app: Instagram.

Instagram is one of the classic apps, making its debut in late 2010. They’ve managed to stay relevant and widely-used. Unlike my other social media channels (Twitter, Facebook), I follow a small group of people–mostly friends and family–and a few celebrities or organizations. I engage with the app most days, and use it to keep track of what’s happening in the lives of friends.

Because Instagram’s content is user-generated, I knew there had to be sexual content on it, but it rarely appears to me due to Instagram’s algorithms, which shows you content you’d likely enjoy the most (so in my “What’s Popular” feed, there are lots of pregnancy posts, puppies, and food/drink pictures…which is pretty customized to the things with which I naturally interact).

However, Instagram’s innocence disappears with only a few clicks.

Instagram’s Purpose (according to their app description):

“Instagram is a simple way to capture and share the world’s moments. Transform your everyday photos and videos into works of art and share them with your family and friends.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: Instagram is rated 12+ in the app store for:

  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes

In their Terms of Service, Instagram is very clear that the intended audience is 13+ and they also state:

You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content; You must not defame, stalk, bully, abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate people or entities and you must not post private or confidential information via the Service, including, without limitation, your or any other person’s credit card information, social security or alternate national identity numbers, non-public phone numbers or non-public email addresses.”


Privacy: Instagram keeps the standard amount of information that other apps keep: cookies and pixels (that track your use), geolocation (if location services are on) and does provide that information to advertisers and some third parties. As far as parental controls and user privacy, there are only a few options:

  1. Don’t post your location if you don’t want people to know where you are.
  2. Keep your account “private,” which removes any public access.

Instagram says,

“Any information or content that you voluntarily disclose for posting to the Service, such as User Content, becomes available to the public, as controlled by any applicable privacy settings that you set. To change your privacy settings on the Service, please change your profile setting. Once you have shared User Content or made it public, that User Content may be re-shared by others.”


instagram-5

Reporting is Easy

The Good:

  • If a user doesn’t wander outside his or her feed or click any hashtags, the probability of viewing something unwanted or inappropriate is relatively low (unless someone a user follows directly posts something inappropriate or is hacked).
  • Users can keep their accounts private, which blocks any public searches and sharing of information.
  • Instagram automatically blocks obvious inappropriate hashtags–for example, if you searched for #sex, nothing will show up.
  • Instagram makes reporting and blocking posts or accounts that violate their Terms of Service really easy, just by clicking “Report” and choosing the reason.

The Bad: Anything outside of a user’s feed is only a few clicks away from trouble.

  • Accounts who post inappropriate material often use common, innocent hashtags to have their posts show up to larger audiences, i.e, you can click on the hashtag #dogsofinstagram because you want to see more pictures of dogs, but an explicit photo or video will find its way into that feed because the user tagged it #dogsofinstagram.
  • Curious users who want to find inappropriate material don’t have to try very hard. Whereas #sex may not have any results, simply turn the word into #sexy and you have millions of posts, most which violate Instagram’s terms, right at your fingertips.
  • It’s also super popular to follow celebrities on Instagram. I don’t want to pick on Kim Kardashian, but she’s always made infamous headlines for posting some mostly-nude photos (which, based on Instagram’s TOS, I do not understand why they are still up–see example below).
  • Celebrities can post explicit material, and project what someone is “supposed” to look like (skinny, sexy, wearing certain items, not wearing certain items; essentially they can be negative role models for body image and online behaviors).
  • Users can tag their location and publicize where they live, go to school, work, etc.

What you need to know: 

Although Instagram has a straight forward TOS and privacy settings, beyond that, there are no parental controls available. It would be awesome if they could implement a rating system for users and, at the very least, try to have more control over who sees what. Public users are also allowed to send private messages to other public users, unless they are blocked. And even if a user is set as “private,” someone can always take a screen shot of his or her post and repost it publicly. You wouldn’t believe the number of phone numbers I see on junior high and high school students’ private posts that have been shared. Also, Instagram allows a user to clear searches, so hiding the history is easy to do.


Conversation Starter:

It’s likely you and members of your family use Instagram. I realize that by sharing some of these “shortcuts,” it may open pandora’s box, so to speak. Maybe your kids would never think about searching for #sexy on Instagram. Then again, maybe they already have, or have clicked an innocent hashtag, or have been followed by an explicit account.

The real question here is do you know?

Instead of sheltering, open up to your kids and let them know you’re sharing this because you care about what they see online. You don’t have to give them an instruction book for how to find content they shouldn’t see, but by asking them questions, you can move forward in this conversation in a productive and appropriate way.

  • Do you use Instagram? What do you like about it? What don’t you like?
  • Is your account set to private? Who follows you? Who do you follow? Why?
  • What are some funny things you’ve seen on Instagram? Have you ever seen anything inappropriate? (Note: if they answer yes, don’t freak out. Engage them!)
  • Do you know how to report things that shouldn’t be on Instagram?
  • Tell me what you know about hashtags…how do people use them?

Educating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

5ThingsMedNervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller:

  • order-nowEquips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents how to keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust their parents with their fears, struggles and questions.

 

Tons of Freebies!

Have you pre-ordered Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex yet? Have you been thinking about it? 

Oh, happy day! It’s time to get rewarded for your eagerness!

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

The book ships on May 17–just a couple weeks from now. And to thank you for pre-ordering the book, I made up a nice little package of freebies for you. Now, I wish I could throw in some cookies or a new puppy, but unfortunately, neither of those ship really well. Instead, if you pre-order Five Things by May 17, email me a copy of your receipt or order confirmation and I’ll send you:

  • A 35 minute audio file of a Q&A my husband Tim and I did with parents that covers their questions on sex, porn and social media.
  • A 30 page eBook containing everything from my series on Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About so you can easily reference information and share it with your friends. You’ll also get an updated file every time we add a new app!
  • A free trial of the Internet accountability and filtering software, Covenant Eyes. Sign up using the code I’ll give you and you’ll get to try this amazing software (which Tim and I use on all our devices) for free!

How do you get all this? It’s super easy!

  1. Pre-order the book (you can find all the retailers at 5ThingsBook.com – Bonus: You can get the first 30 pages of the book there for free)
  2. Send me the copy of your receipt or confirmation number to freebies@annemariemiller.com
  3. I’ll send you a link to download all these wonderful freebies to help your family begin redeeming the conversation about sex!

Now, I can’t make any promises, but it’s been the norm in my experience that people who pre-order books actually receive them before their official ship date. I have no control over this, but you may even get the book a bit earlier than if you waited until it officially released.

Questions? Comments? Just shoot me an email and let me know!

Lots of love,

Anne Marie

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: After School

Week 5: After School - A Truly "Students Only" Anonymous Posting App with a Bad Rap

apps-parents-review-after-school

Update: May 4, 2016 – A special welcome to parents who saw the “After School” story on CBS 2 or Fox 28 news. Since I’m a Corridor gal, if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know! We’re in this together as a community! You can contact me here.

Preface:

This was one of the hardest posts on apps I’ve ever written. How bad could an app be if it’s totally meant for teens? Where do I draw the line in what I share and what I don’t? How can I share the shocking truth without being gratuitous? 

Here’s the deal: on this post, I’m not sharing everything I could. And I’m doing my best to tone down what I am showing you, but the reality is hard: our teenagers, as young as 13 (and maybe younger), are being exposed to this. I’m sorry if you find the content offensive, but please know my intent is to be educational. It may be offensive to some, but we should be more offended that this is passing in front of our kids’ eyes on an increasing basis. 

About a year and a half ago, I heard of the app After School, and by the time I went to download it, it was removed from app stores because of threats of violence and the app developers’ inability to monitor/delete inappropriate content. Recently, a mother and educator told me about the problems her school’s been having with the app. I realized it was back, and it wasn’t better than ever.

Here’s the fifth installment of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About, talking (as much as we can, anyway) about the very private app After School.

(To read earlier reviews in this series, click here).


TODAY’S APP: After School

You guys.

I spend about a day or so researching the apps I write about. There are always other stories, other reports, and other reviews out there, but I want to give you my personal experience using the app. The screenshots are from my time spent in the app–it’s my first hand experience.

In order to even get access to log in to After School, I had to…pretend…to be a local high school student via my Facebook page. I needed to change my age (I chose 17) and my grade (a junior) at a local Cedar Rapids area high school (which I will not name as to protect the privacy of any students). Changing your birthday on Facebook is a hassle, but it can be done. So while After School may not be the easiest app for predators to creep on, it’s still possible.

If you go to the After School website, you’ll be greeted by a collage of normal-looking, happy high schoolers, some with videos sharing why the love the After School app. At a first glance, it’s totally harmless (save the few mentions of the word “anonymous”). There’s no apparent nudity or sexual material. Even the app’s page in the Apple App Store is mostly innocent.

Where’s the harm? Keep reading.

After School’s Purpose (according to their app description)

“Your high school experience will never be the same. After School makes every day a little bit more interesting ;).  After School is a private space for you and your school where you can find fun stuff about your friends, embarrassing stories, uplifting notes of encouragement, who is into whom and more! Then take some weight off your mind and post your confessions or hilarious observations either anonymously or with your name — it’s your choice and your network.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: After School is rated 17+ in the app store for:

  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes

However, when you go to their TOS page on their website, it says, “Don’t create an account or post any content if you are not over 13 years of age;” and says nothing about needing to be over 17 years old.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and met their burden of proof (verified account via Facebook that you are of high school age and attend a local high school based on your phone’s GPS location), the clear audience is intended for high school students since it asks what grade you’re in (9th-12th).

So, how can kids under 17 download the app? If their parents don’t have restrictions set up on their phones, they can download away, ignoring Apple’s rating and crossing into After School’s ethos:

“It’s okay with us if you’re 13 or older. We won’t tell the app store that there’s a conflict between the age you’re giving us and the age you need to be to download our app.”

After School is like your older friend who buys booze for you when you’re under the age of 21.


Privacy: After School keeps most personal information for an undisclosed amount of time, including location, cookies and pixels on both a user’s mobile device and computer. They make it tough for law enforcement, parents and educators to work with them should an issue arise. From their site (emphasis mine):

While we make it difficult to do so, it is still technically possible for us to connect your Posts with your email address, phone number, or other personal data you have provided to us. This means that if a court asks us to disclose your identity, we may be compelled to do so…You may be able to fight the subpoena on the basis that it violates your First Amendment right to speak anonymously.*

*My Note: For what it’s worth, in the US, students in public schools are not protected by the First Amendment if their actions disrupt or cause harm to the student body.


The Good: After School does provide a place to report inappropriate content, users, and has both contact info for teens who may self-harm and a generic parents’ guide on their website about social media (which isn’t that helpful).

The Bad: Everything else.


What you need to know: 

After browsing what most parents would look at (the website, the app store), it appears that After School is not a big threat. You download the app and instantly the demeanor changes from innocent to sexy and private.

Here are some screen grabs from the couple of days I was in the app. I’ve censored them to take them from an R or hard PG13 rating to a soft PG13 rating. I think you’ll be able to get the gist and I’ll let the pics speak for themselves. (Remember, in order to get this far, I had to pretend to be a verified high school student at a local school, otherwise, I wouldn’t have even gotten past the first “bouncer.” (There’s another bouncer later on in the app I was unable to pass by for more explicit material. More on that in a moment.)

“But my kid would NEVER use this.”

Look at the third picture there. It shows how many students are using the app and are online at the time I took the screenshot which was 10:17 AM on Monday, April 18 – a school day) at various high schools near me in Cedar Rapids.

  • 931/2025 at Linn-Mar – 46% of the students
  • 46/250 at Cedar Valley Christian School (the 250 students is an estimate of ALL students K-12, not only high school. If each grade has 21 students, that would be 84 students in high school)54% of HS students
  • 463/1378 at George Washington High – 34% of HS students
  • 697/1730 at JFK High – 40% of HS students
  • 397/705 at Xavier High – 56% of HS students
  • 589/1495 at Thomas Jefferson – 39% of HS students

My math? 44% of students of the six closest Cedar Rapids high schools to my location are using After School.


There is a filter in the app which “protects” younger students from more explicit material. It’s automatically set until you can prove with a State Issued ID or Drivers License that you are who you are, and that you’re over the age of 17. The name and age on the ID must match the name and age on your account. Since I am not really a 17 year old junior, when I tried verifying it using my Drivers License, it rejected me (even though I am 19 years older than their required age).

I kept trying, contacting the support at the app, asking if my “mom” could give me permission (AKA-just me, real me) using her ID and I got so far as my “real” self was vouching for my “17-year old daughter” and I still could NOT get into this part of the app.

So that’s where my investigation ends. I’m totally stumped, and I wasn’t about to ask an actual teen to subject their phone or eyes to what lies beyond in the explicit section of After School.


Conversation Starter:

I’ve said before that the basic premise of all these posts is to not write off every app or social media as inherently evil or terrible or useless. BUT IT’S REALLY REALLY HARD FOR ME TO FIND ANY REDEMPTIVE VALUE WITH THIS APP.

Still, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about tough apps like After School. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about After School? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Do you know anyone who uses After School?
  • What are the benefits of using After School?
  • What are the risks?


Miller_5ThingsEveryParent_3DSign up to get the Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About post in your inbox every week.

But it’s not just about apps!

Get the first 30 pages of the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex FREE here and learn more about the book.

Nervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller

order-now

  • Equips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents how to keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust their parents with their fears, struggles and questions.

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: kik

Week 4: kik - A Messaging App

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About Kik

Random bit of news: If you’re reading this from anywhere but my website, my website got a much-needed facelift which you can see here. Yay! It’s been difficult to narrow down what I want my focus to be as I continue writing, and I suppose I’ve landed on three things:

  • Faith,
  • Sex, and
  • Mental Health.

Hopefully the site will be easier to navigate and provide resources for those who are looking for information on these three topics.

Anyway, we’re in our fourth week of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About and this week, we’ll cover a popular app – kik (To read previous weeks, click here).

Today’s app: kik

kik-ratingkik, like our previous reviews, is rated 12+ for the same reasons as the others (noticing a theme here?) for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” sex and suggestive themes.

kik’s Purpose (according to their website)

kik is a messaging app that “lets you connect with friends, groups and the world around you through chat. And now, you can chat with bots too.”

Terms of Service: kik has some rules, regulations and tips (even a section for parents, law enforcement and educators), but you’ll have to go on their website and hunt for it. The TOS says one must be 13 to use it, but it’s rated for ages 12+ in various app stores (it used to be rated ages 9+ until recently).

kik-rating-2

Privacy: General privacy settings apply here–you can block and report others and the app doesn’t share any personal information (date of birth) publicly.

kik is unique in the sense that in order to find and add a user, the other person has to know the user’s specific moniker. For instance, if you wanted to find me on kik, you can’t just search for “Anne Marie Miller” – you’d have to know my specific username.

While that’s a plus for privacy, kik recently released a “new chats” feature that is only a few clicks away, and this is where the crazy starts to happen.

Caution: New Chats

According to kik’s website, under the parental guide, it says about these “new chats”

The ‘New Chats’ feature on iOS and Android devices puts messages from people your teen hasn’t talked to before in a separate section, and turns off notifications for those messages. If your teen doesn’t want to see inbound messages from people they don’t know, they don’t have to. In one-on-one chats from new people, the profile pictures are blurred, and so are pictures or content messages they may have sent. Your teen can block and report someone new right from the messages that have been sent to them. You may want to review messages from new people with your teen, so you can decide together which new users they want to talk with.

So, while your kid is initially protected from random people starting chats with them, it doesn’t take more than a few clicks to start engaging with strangers. And while the photos are blurred until a user accepts a new chat, the first several lines of text are displayed.

Here’s my real life example: I registered as a new user under my real name, age, and sex (Anne Miller, 36, female). I put a photo of Tim and me up for my profile picture. But when I entered into the “new chat” section, it asked me again for my name, age, gender and picture. I played along to see how easy it was to not be me and converted to a 14 year old girl named Taylor and used a random picture of a high school girl I found on Google Images by searching for “high school senior picture.” I didn’t choose anything provocative.

I said I was “looking for new friends” and within less than three minutes of entering a new chat, I had NINETEEN messages (that I didn’t get as a 36 year old female, for what it’s worth).

kik-message-1

Yes, all the photos are blurred, but I could see the content of the message. And, because I was curious (I mean researching), I opened the top chat to see what happened. For what it’s worth, I didn’t open any other chats.

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I censored this message with a red box (he asked to see my breasts, not my toes…)

I didn’t respond, and I was blown away. I showed Tim what happened, deleted the app, deactivated my account.

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The Good: kik is an alternative to messaging where you don’t have to share your phone number (or even have one) to chat with people. I can see this being useful for traveling overseas when there’s a wifi connection and you don’t want to make your phone go international (then again, there are many other apps that accomplish this, including iOS’s built in iMessage, which is what I use and can text any phone that receives SMS over wifi). I also like that a person has to have a user’s unique user name to add them specifically (and that user has to accept the add).

The Bad: kik does not have a special corner on alternative messaging apps. There’s nothing unique about it, and far too much junk that is only a few clicks away from any user. Simply scrolling through some public profiles and messages in chat rooms, you can see what I mean: sexual poses, people who clearly aren’t teens pretending to be teens, if they are actually using their real photos (which remember, even I didn’t do when I pretended to be a 14 year old girl). In my few minutes using the app, not only did we find highly sexualized content, but extreme bullying (telling someone they need to kill themselves).

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What you need to know: 

We’ve talked about how most parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ and under rating. This gives us a false sense of security thinking the apps we allow our kids to download are actually suitable for their age group. kik is just another example of how wrong this thinking is.

Last week, a woman who is a Director of Digital Learning at a private school emailed me about kik, which was the impetus behind me choosing it for this week’s app.

“…I had a girl walk in my office crying telling me that one of our male students was sexually harassing her using the third-party texting app KiK.  At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with KIK.  Long story short, we contacted the company that developed KIK and asked for them to give us the email address that was associated with this account.  They refused.  Our local police department requested the same information from the company, and they still refused.

About the same time I was dealing with the KIK app at school, my husband was driving our daughter who was 12 at the time, and a couple of her friends to a party.  As he was driving, he heard one of the girls say that she was using the KIK app and on KIK she was pretending to be 16.  My husband was horrified.

My husband emailed the dads of all the girls and told them what he had overheard, and explained to them the challenges I was having at school with KIK.  The next day, all the mothers involved called me to get more information.  At the end of each conversation, each mom made the same comment.  They said, ‘This is overwhelming.  I don’t even know where to start getting control over all of this social media stuff.'”


Conversation Starter:

The basic premise of all these posts is to not write off every app or social media as inherently evil or terrible or useless. As I’ve always said, maybe it’s okay for your kids to have some of these apps and that’s up to you and your kids to decide.

Instead of locking their phones away or deleting every app but the calculator, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about how they engage with kik. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about kik? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Are there any kids in your school who you know have lied about their age or who they talk to on kik?
  • What would you do if someone you thought was interesting (but didn’t know) sent you a message?
  • What are the benefits of using kik? What are the risks?


Miller_5ThingsEveryParent_3DSign up to get the Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About post in your inbox every week.

But it’s not just about apps! Get the first 28 pages of the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex FREE here and learn more about the book.

In Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About their Kids and Sex, readers will discover:

•  An easy-to-understand introduction to what the Bible says about the purpose of sex (hint: it’s awesome)

•  Anne Marie’s personal story of being a victim of sexual abuse in her teens, her compulsive pornography use, and how she found freedom from her shame and pain through her faith and her community.

•  What, when, and how to talk to kids at any age about sexuality, researched and reviewed by professionals in medicine, child development and psychology.

•  How the media plays a role in how we develop our sexual worldview (and how to talk about it).

•  That pornography is being accessed and shared by children in elementary schools, how it affects our brains, and viewing pornography creates a need in the supply-and-demand chain linked to sex trafficking.

•  How to watch for symptoms that your child may be sexually abused and how to discuss this tender topic with children of all ages.

•  There is hope! For adults, for children, and for generations to come. It’s time to redeem the conversation!

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Snapchat

Week 3: Snapchat

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We’re in our third week of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About and this week, we’ll cover a familiar app – Snapchat. (To read previous weeks, click here.)

Today’s app: Snapchat

Snapchat, like our previous reviews, is rated 12+ for the same reasons as the others (noticing a theme here?) for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” (emphasis mine) sex and suggestive themes.

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Snapchat’s Purpose (according to their Community Guidelines – emphasis theirs)

Snapchat is about sharing moments and having fun. Our goal in creating these rules is to accommodate the broadest range of self expression while balancing the need for Snapchatters to be able to use our service safely and enjoyably.

And Snapchat lays out the basic rules:

Don’t send people Snaps they don’t want to receive—especially if the Snap is mean.

Be thoughtful about what you Snap and whom you send it to. It’s okay with us if someone takes a screenshot, but we can’t speak for you or your friends. Snapchat attempts to detect screenshots and notify the sender, but it doesn’t always work perfectly – and your friend can always capture the image with a camera.

Keep it legal. Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: keep your clothes on!

What not to Snap:

  • Pornography

  • Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18)

  • Minors engaged in activities that are physically dangerous and harmful

  • Invasions of privacy

  • Threats

  • Harassment or bullying

  • Impersonation

  • Self-harm

Privacy: Snapchat’s user interface allows you to set privacy preferences as far as who sees your snaps (a picture or video that is sent privately or posted to someone’s “Story,” which is similar to a Facebook feed), whose snaps you see, and allows you to block users. There are ads (and sometimes, they aren’t meant for a 12-year old audience…more on that later) and also note that there are options to clear chats and browser data–a place someone can erase their history from being seen.

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The Good: Like most social media, teens and younger adults first started using the app long before their parents. Eventually, either through curiosity or desire, more and more parents and older adults are signing up for accounts. I won’t lie–I first signed up as an alternative way of communicating with and keeping tabs on some of the teens in our youth group, but now that friends my age are on it, I’m enjoying watching snaps of new babies, mothers at hockey games, and adults trying to be funny (myself included). We’ve used it in our youth group as a way of telling students about upcoming events or information (and we can see when/if they watch it). So, Snapchat can be a great alternative to texting.

The Bad: The misnomer about Snapchat is that once a snap is gone, it’s gone for good. However, Snapchat makes clear in their Terms of Service that at any time, they can store or use any picture or video. In addition to that, the receiver of a snap can also save a copy of the picture or a screen grab of the video and shows you (most of the time–they admit they’re not flawless) when someone has taken a screen shot of something you posted. And sometimes, kids post dumb stuff…like their phone numbers, or videos of their friends snorting sugar but it looks like cocaine if you didn’t know, or just…dumb stuff..Publicly (these are all screen grabs I took a few weeks ago while planning this series and only included students in different youth groups I know, and nobody seems to mind…)

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A simple web search will show you plenty of horror stories of kids (and parents) that have been bullied, hurt themselves, hurt others, or committed suicide after misusing Snapchat.

Advertising that is NOT Kid-Friendly: As mentioned earlier, there are ads for various events and websites. Some ads are hidden in live events (the Iowa Caucus was a good example–lots of live scenes of people showing up to vote intermingled with candidate ads) where as some advertising comes in the form of “Channels” and are updated daily by media brands we’re used to seeing (magazines, cable channels, and the like–see below. These are a few I just captured today). Remember, no matter what privacy settings you have enabled or what age you select, these ads are shown to everyone.

snapchats2

 


What you need to know: 

We’ve talked about how most parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ and under rating. This gives us a false sense of security.

Last week, a woman named Alyssa commented on the Apps article on Musical.ly:

I feel like I’m pretty careful with my kids and their devices, but a few days ago, I let my ten-year-old daughter convince me to let her download Musical.ly on our iPad because several of her friends (who are also good kids with strict-ish parents) have it. She spent a little time on it and found her friends to follow, but hadn’t posted anything, and then didn’t look at it again all weekend.

This morning I read your email/blog and couldn’t believe the timing. My first instinct was to go delete the app before she woke up, but your sentence about not stealing their phones and deleting apps and having a conversation instead really stood out. So while she was eating breakfast, I mentioned the app and how I read that it’s really not for kids and you’re supposed to be at least 12 (which I am kicking myself for not even noticing that part, let alone the 18+), and right away she said, “Yeah, let’s delete it. I think there’s some stuff on there I shouldn’t see anyway.”

I think she must have already had some guilt about it and we had a good little chat about apps and life. Later, I went into the settings before deleting, and she did have it set as public! Ah!

So anyway, instead of beating myself up about this total mommy fail, I wanted to take the time to say THANK YOU for this wake up call and reminder to not get lax about all this stuff. You probably saved my daughter from some things she didn’t need to see and/or hear, and helped me remember to be more in tune with what’s happening on those screens.

Snapchat is not evil. And maybe it’s okay for your kids to have it–that’s up to you and your kids to decide. So instead of locking their phones away, deleting every app, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about how they engage with Snapchat. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about Snapchat? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Are there any kids in your school who have had rumors spread about them because of something that was shared because of Snapchat or social media?
  • Do you think Snaps ever totally disappear?
  • What are the benefits of using Snapchat? What are the risks?

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Learn more about the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex.

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex


Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About

Week 2: Musical.ly

Last week, I started the weekly series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About with some information about the Buzzfeed app. (Click on over if you missed it!)

Today’s app: Musical.ly (similar app: Dubsmash)

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Another rated 12+ app on the books today. I discovered Musical.ly because some of the youth group kids I follow post videos from it and I’ve heard their moms talk about it, too.

MY BRAIN: THIS MUST BE POPULAR. LET’S DOWNLOAD IT FOR RESEARCH.

MY HEART AFTER EXPLORING FOR HALF AN HOUR: THESE. LITTLE. GIRLS.

Musical.ly’s Purpose:

According to musical.ly’s website, “musical.ly is a video community that allows you to create, share, and discover short videos.”

App Age Rating:

The Musical.ly app, rated 12+ in various app stores, for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” sex or mature suggestive themes, crude humor, alcohol/drug references and violence. However, in the Terms of Service (TOS), it says,

“THE SERVICE IS NOT FOR PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF 13 OR FOR ANY USERS PREVIOUSLY SUSPENDED OR REMOVED FROM THE SERVICE BY MUSICAL.LY.IF YOU ARE UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE, YOU MUST NOT USE OR ACCESS THE SERVICE AT ANY TIME OR IN ANY MANNER. Furthermore, by using the Service, you affirm that you are at least 18 years of age.”

Don’t worry. It’s not a typo. You are reading this correctly. Somehow, in some magical world, you will equally be ages 13 and 18 at the same time and when this phenomenon occurs, you can use Musical.ly. Just like BuzzFeed, the TOS warrants a user has to be 18 or older to access the site, however there is no verification process for either the website or the app, and the app is not rated 17+ (as there is no 18+ or adult classification in the Apple App Store. Other app stores do have 18+/adult classifications). And as you’ll see as we continue, I’d reckon most of the users are under the age of 18.

musical.ly-app-TOS-screen

What You Need to Know:

While there isn’t much explicit content (at least at first glance), it’s easy to see that pre-teen girls have taken over this app like a sale on Hello Kitty pajamas at the store Justice. Sure, there are guys and people in their 20s (I really didn’t see anyone over the age of 25), but mostly? I’m seeing girls 16 years old and younger. Here are some screen grabs I took.

 

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Musical.ly App Home Screen

And yes, while there is nothing inherently wrong with tweens singing 15-second soundbites of popular songs or quoting popular movies, or posting up their own movies…(wait), if me, a non-creepy almost-36-year-old-sexuality-researching-author can mostly anonymously create an account and access these videos, who else can?

(Pauses to let you answer).

If that’s not concerning enough, let me share with you the most disturbing part of this app.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE VIDEOS AND NOBODY HAS TO KNOW.

Sure, there are privacy settings (see below)…

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Privacy Settings

…but the amount of public, open accounts is VAST. As you can see, you can also share them with anyone you’d like).

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Sharing Screen

 

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Share as a link or a video file

 

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Two clicks and you just sent a video of an unknown underage girl to a friend while a copy is downloaded on your phone.


Now, before the “I can’t believe you posted videos of strange, underage girls!” emails/comments, note that these videos were already shared MANY times on Twitter and on other social media outlets. These girls didn’t have any privacy set up, so their videos were able to be shared and downloaded by anybody. To protect who/where they are, the videos are saved on my private Dropbox and I don’t have them linked to their actual Musical.ly profiles.

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The Good:

musical.ly is Rated Ages 12+ which, if parents have downloads restricted to this age group, will prevent younger children from viewing the material. Musical.ly can be a fun way to connect over popular songs and movies. It can be silly and in some ways, a great way to explore creative composition with photography and videography. Because the content is user-generated, there’s always something new to watch.

The Bad:

As with BuzzFeed, many parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ rating. But even as musical.ly’s TOS states, nobody under the age of 18 should be using it. And anyone with the app (12 years +) can access the material (and share it) easily. We all know how society, and social media, lend to a “make your own fame” culture. Teen girls are especially susceptible to looking for attention online. (Really. It’s been studied. I’m not generalizing.)

Musical.ly Conversation Starters:

Do you know if your kids (especially teens) or their friends have the Musical.ly app? Check it out for yourself if you’d like to know more and plan to talk to your kids about it today.

  • Have you ever heard of Musical.ly? Tell me about it.
  • Do you have any friends who are obsessed with being famous on social media?
  • What’s good about Musical.ly?
  • What’s bad about Musical.ly?
  • How do you feel when you get a lot of likes (or no likes) on something you put on social media? Why?

Remember, it’s not about freaking out or sheltering our kids forever. It’s about redeeming the conversation.


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Learn more about the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex.

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex


Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About

Week 1: Buzzfeed

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Over the last decade, I’ve had the chance to do a lot of research on what kids–and adults–are exposed to on a daily basis through the Internet: phones, tablets, computers…you name it. I should say that I don’t believe in a shock-and-awe approach; fear is not an emotion I wish to instill in readers. Being educated on what’s available, how it’s available, and to whom it’s available, however, is essential to parents so that they can have conversations with their kids about how to process information when it comes to sex and the media.

My book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex releases in just under four months, so I thought I’d start a weekly conversation based on popular apps accessible to teens. This is the first post of many.

Today’s app: Buzzfeed

I’ll be the first to admit I am a sucker for taking “What is Your Kitten Superpower?” or “Which Star Wars Character would be Your Mom’s Best Frenemy?” quizzes that get populated on Facebook. I thought an quicker way to access these somewhat addicting quizzes when I’m standing in line at Costco would be to download the BuzzFeed app.

And you know, because research.

 

BuzzFeed’s Purpose:

According to BuzzFeed’s website, “BuzzFeed is a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment that generates six billion views each month. BuzzFeed creates and distributes content for a global audience and utilizes proprietary technology to continuously test, learn and optimize.”

In other words, a lot of people are hooked on the entertainment value of BuzzFeed.

App Age Rating:

The BuzzFeed app, rated 12+ in various app stores, for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” sex and suggestive themes is a never-ending rabbit trail of mindless escapism. However, in the Terms of Service (TOS), BuzzFeed says,

“You represent and warrant that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under age 18, you may not, under any circumstances or for any reason, use the Services.”

You’ll see this is a common theme among apps. The TOS warrants a user has to be 18 or older to access the site, however there is no verification process for either the website or the app, and the app is not rated 17+ (as there is no 18+ or adult classification in the Apple App Store. Other app stores do have 18+/adult classifications).

What You Need to Know:

Any time you log in, prepare to be exposed to sexually explicit content.

Within a less than five minute scroll, you can see a few of the articles on the home page of the app I found and screen captured. I didn’t search for anything specific–it’s just what’s on the home page. I captured these photos in January 2016 on the home screen of the app.


 

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Buzzfeed is Rated Ages 12+


 

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“We Know How Many Times You’ve Had Sex This Week”


 

“Babysitter’s Porn an Dead Hamsters: What the **** Do You Do?” (Photo Edited by Me)


 

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“How Much Do You Actually Know About Gay Sex?” … and more.


The Good:

BuzzFeed is Rated Ages 12+ which, if parents have downloads restricted to this age group, will prevent younger children from viewing the material. BuzzFeed can be fun. It’s a common “Listicle” (List/Article) site that gets spread around social media frequently and stays on top of current events in the media. Content stays updated frequently, never leaving anyone waiting to be entertained bored.

The Bad:

Many parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ rating. As you can see, there is content in the BuzzFeed app that is far more explicit than most conservative adults…let alone twelve-year-olds…need or desire to see. Content about sex, nudity, pornography, body image, drugs, alcohol, religion and politics are common (if not almost exclusively populated). Even if an article is meant for adults, anyone with the app (12 years +) can access this material (and share it) easily.

Conversation Starters: 

Do you know if your kids (especially teens) or their friends have the BuzzFeed app? Check it out for yourself if you’d like to know more and plan to talk to your kids about it today.

  • Have you ever heard of BuzzFeed? Tell me about it.
  • Has anyone ever shared something from BuzzFeed with you, or have you seen something shared on social media?
  • What’s good about BuzzFeed?
  • What’s bad about BuzzFeed?
  • How old do you think someone should be to look at articles on BuzzFeed?

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Learn more about the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex.

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex