Parents, these five apps are as popular as they are dangerous

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5 dangerous messaging apps parents need to know about. For more information on how to keep your kids safe online, visit www.digitalcitizenacademy.org

If you think messaging apps that your kids download to their devices are safe, I have bad news: they’re not.

In fact, the most popular apps on your child’s phone are also the most dangerous. What are they? And, what do you need to know about each of them? Let’s dive in. 

5 dangerous messaging apps parents need to know about. For more information on how to keep your kids safe online, visit www.digitalcitizenacademy.org

The 5 most dangerous messaging apps teens use, in no particular order:

Snapchat

This app allows users to send photos, videos, and messages from their mobile device to another Snapchat user. The user sending the photo can determine how long the receiver of their picture or video can see the image until it “self-destructs”. Your teen can also post a story on their account which stays visible for 24-hours.

However—like with anything posted online—even if your child deletes the media they sent, that does not mean it has vanished forever. Alarmingly, users can screenshot and even record their screens to continue the life of a post. That inappropriate photo your child shared to their group of friends? It’s been passed on even if your child thought it was gone.

What’s more, Snapchat has geolocation on the posts thanks to its Snapchat Map (SnapMap). Terrifyingly, this feature allows public access to the user’s exact location at all times. In other words, your child’s selection in their privacy settings may allow strangers to see their location, their story postings and give them the ability to directly contact your child. 

Kik

Law enforcement put Kik on high alert after a kidnapper contacted a 13-year-old through the mobile messaging app. Because this app allows accounts to be anonymous, there is no valid phone number or email needed to set up the account. This makes it extremely easy for predators to find unsuspecting teens online. 

Law enforcement officials say, “[Kik] is one of the most common apps used by sex predators. They convince children to submit nude photos of themselves then threaten to send those photos to their parents unless the child sends them other photos.”

On Kik, users can exchange photos, videos and messages privately with a total stranger. The messages disappear from the sender’s phone once sent.

Law enforcement officials say, “[Kik] is one of the most common apps used by sex predators. They convince children to submit nude photos of themselves then threaten to send those photos to their parents unless the child sends them other photos.”

Facebook Messenger

Whether or not someone has downloaded Messenger, the ability to read and respond to messages exists on Facebook. Chances are, if your kid has Facebook on their device, they likely have Messenger installed as well. 

In 2016, Facebook began funneling messages sent by people not connected as Facebook “friends” to a separate inbox rather than hiding them from users. Now, users can see messages sent by accounts they aren’t connected to via a “Message Request” in their inbox, making it easier for kids to see messages from people they don’t know. You can find this feature in-app and even on the desktop version of Facebook.

A representative at Facebook explained, “Now the only thing you need to talk to virtually anyone in the world is their name.” The Facebook Messenger feature has also made it easier for strangers to send links that can hack your child’s device and/or account.

Scary, right?

WhatsApp

Also owned by Facebook, WhatsApp has more than 1 million monthly active users. Originally designed to send messages, today kids are using WhatsApp for much more. Tapping into popular Facebook-like characteristics such as status updates, teens are using the app to send videos, share locations and make voice or video calls over the internet. 

Similar to other dangerous apps kids have on their phones, WhatsApp provides yet another way for strangers and predators to contact your children. 

In recent years, attackers have also created malicious software downloads that masquerade as WhatsApp. Once installed, they can compromise the security on your children’s phones and/or desktops if they access their account on the computer.

Instagram

Another Facebook owned app, Instagram is not solely used for messaging, but messaging has become an integral part of the app. Users now have the option to send direct messages to other users in response to stories they view, livestream, or just simply post their image to the world. 

Similar to Snapchat, Instagram allows users to send videos, pictures and share stories that appear on their account for 24 hours. 

Parents, be concerned about these apps

You know and I know that the reality is teens use messaging apps. The major concern is that once your teen sets up a profile and starts to actively interact online, it can compromise their safety. Some of the dangers of messaging apps include:

  • Stalkers
  • Predators/Kidnappers
  • Cyberbullying
  • Hackers
  • Unsolicited messages
  • Exposure to illegal content
  • Sexual harassment
  • Pressure from strangers who send threatening messages

How to protect your kids online

Education about these apps are important. If your kid wants an app, talk to them about the why first, open the terms of service and have a conversation, and read the reviews. You should definitely download them and see how they operate first. Then, have a meaningful talk about these apps and the potential risks teens face if they download them. Discuss with them how to be a digital citizen and how to stay safe online, as well as what they need to know about protecting themselves. 

As a parent, there are also monitoring apps you can download that alert you to when programs are being downloaded and used and allow you to block access to these dangerous messaging apps.

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