First off sorry for the lack of posts this past month – not sure what happened other than time getting away from me. There is certainly no shortage of topics to share with you. I receive a lot of e-mail asking if I’ve heard of certain apps that parents discover on their child’s iPod. Or I’ll get a comment on an article mentioning a scary site – that’s how I ended up writing about Omegle. I always try to research these and share what I’ve learned. Here are a few apps and sites to look out for.
5000+ LOL Jokes
At first glance, this seems like an innocent enough app – silly jokes for the kids to enjoy. A few of the jokes are in the app description – “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”. You might quickly approve this one for the kiddos. But after looking closely at the app description, a few red flags go up. First off, the app is rated 12+ in the App store for “Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content or Nudity”. There is also mention of a new feature “Chat with strangers who are using this app too.” It almost seems like the jokes are there to lure minors into a chat app.
Once in the app there is a tab where the app developer sells his or her other apps – clearly these are not for children! I’m sure there are other more suitable joke apps on the market for kids to enjoy – probably with funnier jokes, too.
Ask a kid if they’ve heard of Ask.fm and they’ll probably answer your question with a resounding “Yes”. Ask.fm is a web site where you create a profile and invite anyone in the known universe (not just other ask.fm users) to ask you a question. Some questions I saw on the site were innocent like “Are you scared of airplanes”. Other questions were typical teen and tween inquiries: “Who do you like?” and “Who’s your best friend” but it can quickly go downhill from there. “What are you wearing” was innocent compared to other questions I saw on the site. Those asking questions may remain anonymous, so there is no accountability. Bullying has been a problem. There is even a petition calling for the site to be shut down.
There is little to no privacy here. I saw that some kids used their last name in their profile and listed their Instagram or Facebook links. I’ve also seen local kids – 5th graders – put their Ask.fm link in their Instagram profile description. Instagram profile descriptions are PUBLIC even if the photos are PRIVATE so this is an invitation for anyone to pose questions to your child.
Learn more about the issues with Ask.fm from A Geeky Dad and a very comprehensive overview and warnings from High Tech Dad. (Even if your dad is not geeky or high tech, he will probably agree that Ask.fm isn’t great for kids!)
Texting apps like Kik: WhatsApp, Oovoo, LiveProfile and IM+
With Kik Messenger getting a lot of attention I’ve had questions about similar messaging apps. Here’s a quick rundown.
I was recently asked about WhatsApp. I had heard of WhatsApp but hadn’t heard about it having a “bad” reputation like Kik does. One reason may be that WhatsApp is not available on iPods (only phones – iPhones, Android, Blackberry) and is not free. Even though it’s only 99 cents that may be enough to keep people away when there are free options. WhatsApp is rated 4+ in the Apple store. Here is the Common Sense Media review.
Oovoo is an all-purpose text, video and chat application. It’s available on desktops and mobile devices including iPods and iPads as well as phones. A popular feature is video chat between more than two people – up to 12 at one time. There are privacy settings available to control who can contact you in the app. You can change the default of “Anyone” to “Only people who know my email or ooVoo ID”. Oovoo is free and rated 4+ in the Apple store.
LiveProfile is another messaging app for iPhone, Blackberry and Android. It can also be used on iPods/iPads. With LiveProfile you can send messages, photos, videos, post status updates, and customize your profile. Only those you “friend” can see your information. There is a privacy setting to keep your phone number private and it is “OFF” by default which is helpful. You can only be contacted if another LiveProfile user knows your e-mail address, phone number (if you provide it) or your LiveProfile “PIN”. LiveProfile is free and rated 4+ in the app store.
IM+ is yet another app for “All-in-one communication at your fingertips, plus text, voice, video and picture messages”. Again, it’s available for all iDevices, plus Android, Blackberry and more. IM+ has a feature called “Neighbors”. When this feature is enabled, IM+ users can “locate friends on the map, chat with local friends, as well as initiate conversations with other people who are located nearby.” So that would certainly be a concern for parents! IM+ is free, or $4.99 for a “pro” version with no ads. It is rated 4+ in the app store.
Any of these messaging apps could potentially be used safely as a way to communicate with known friends. As pointed out by many commenters on the Kik article, if you only connect with real friends and don’t broadcast your username all over the internet, these apps are about the same as iMessage.
So the question to ask – how many methods does your child need for communicating with friends? You might find more than one of these apps on their iPod, depending on what other friends are using as their “text app du jour”. If they all have iPods/iPads, then iMessage and FaceTime should do the job. If they want to use an app to connect with friends using different devices, then choose one app and ditch the rest. Check through the contacts list to make sure their “friends” are truly their friends and take a look at the privacy settings. Most of these have terms of agreement stating the user must be 13 or older, so if your child doesn’t make the age cut-off you can always have them wait it out using iMessage, or that old-fashioned device: it’s called the telephone.