Here are three apps all parents should have on their radar. Meerkat, Periscope and YouNow are apps used to live-stream video from your phone. More than just recording videos and sending them, with these apps you hit “record” and people can watch you – live. Sound a little scary? A little voyeuristic? A little narcissistic? I thought so too! I downloaded all three to see what they were all about and yes, there are many kids and teens broadcasting their lives.
[NOTE – Meerkat is no longer available, having shut down in October 2016]
The basics of Periscope and YouNow
Each of these apps allows the user to:
- Watch live streaming video of others who use the service
- Record themselves and publish that recording – live as it happens – so that others can watch
What about Privacy?
Periscope is the only app here with an option for a private broadcast. YouNow does have a few basic settings so you can use a nickname instead of your real name – but all broadcasts are public.
Can kids and teens use these apps?
These apps are not designed for kids; they are not intended for the under 13 crowd. Each app has specific terms that state this.
In addition, YouNow specifically states in their terms that users should be at least 18 or have parental permission.
What are the concerns?
The same concerns I’ve mentioned for apps like Vine, Omegle, and Keek apply here. Namely, the possibility of encountering inappropriate content (nudity, drug use or anything else you really don’t want your children to be exposed to). While I didn’t encounter any overtly sexual behavior, others have with only a bit of clicking around. I did encounter some teen girls beings asked by viewers to lift their shirts; thankfully, they didn’t.
There are also concerns about sharing too much personal information when broadcasting (I saw several teens streaming live from their bedrooms and answering personal questions). And there’s always the issue of wasting too much time – these apps are definitely a time suck!
So talk with your kids about these apps – have they heard of them? Are they using them? Are you okay with that?
Here are a few more details about each app.
Launched in 2014, this app has been around the longest of the three. Of the three apps, YouNow did seem to have a large number of users – particularly teen users. This could be due to its longevity. Or it could be due to the way the app is designed. It is easy to browse and search for available broadcasts, especially when they are tagged with a particular topic. Popular topics include #girls, #boys, #musicians, #dance, #bored, and #sleepingsquad (for watching people while they sleep).
YouNow can be used without creating an account. As soon as you open the app after installing, you are immediately connected to someone’s live stream. Parents will want to keep this in mind; even if a teen isn’t planning on broadcasting, there is still a lot to see (and time to waste) in the app.
If you want to create your own broadcast, or comment on others, you do have to create an account and must sign in via Facebook, Twitter or Google. (And since those services also have terms that require people to be 13, again this is not intended for kids.)
However on YouNow I encountered the largest number of young people as compared to the other apps. A few did look like they might be younger than 13.
Here are some things I saw on YouNow:
- Tweenage girls practicing flute and chatting with each other.
- #bored topic – a teen boy trying to act cool, lots of swagger, burping, making silly faces
- A teenage girl singing and playing her guitar. When asked her age and birthday she did reply. Her username is likely her real name, she was broadcasting from her bedroom, and her profile information includes her town and state. There were 500+ people watching. Hello identify theft!
- A teenage girl deciding what to wear to school that day, displaying her outfit of a midriff-baring top and short shorts.
- A person who had been live streaming themselves sleeping for over 4 hours.
YouNow terms of agreement are more specific about age than the other two apps.
You affirm that you are either more than eighteen (18) years of age, or an emancipated minor, or possess legal parental or guardian consent, and are fully able and competent to enter into the terms, conditions, obligations, affirmations, representations, and warranties set forth in these Terms, and to abide by and comply with these Terms. In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of thirteen (13), as the Service is not intended for children under thirteen (13).
Once you create an account (again, using FB, Twitter of Google) there are some settings you can change. You can hide your city, and replace your real name with your nickname. If you experience any inappropriate content or conduct, you can block or flag someone. When you flag a user, you report them to the app moderators. (Good to know there are moderators).
YouNow is rated 12+ in the app store, available on iOS and Android (the only of these available to Android users, currently). Parents may also want to know that there are in-app purchases as part of the YouNow app.
Periscope launched just about a month ago, in March 2015.
Unlike the other two apps, Periscope is rated 4+ in the app store, for iOS only. However, just like Meerkat, Periscope requires Twitter to use, and Twitter terms require a user to be 13. In fact, Periscope is owned by Twitter. While there is no specific wording in Periscope’s terms regarding use by children, due to the Twitter ownership, the same terms apply.
Periscope also seems to be attracting some big names. Celebs like Ellen DeGeneres are here. Periscope also has the most geographically diverse broadcasters, at least from what I observed.
Some of the things I saw on Periscope:
- Senator Ted Cruz answering questions from a small crowd of people
- A woman in New Jersey driving in her car – yes, driving while constantly looking at the phone to look at the camera and read comments
- Two teens in an empty classroom in Turkey
- Two teenage girls (or maybe younger) chatting with viewers, some asking inappropriate questions
Our Services are not directed to persons under 13. If you become aware that your child has provided us with personal information without your consent, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13. If we become aware that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we take steps to remove such information and terminate the child’s account. You can find additional resources for parents and teens here.
Periscope is the only app of the three that allowed any semblance of privacy. When broadcasting on Periscope, you can choose to invite any of your followers to a private broadcast. The broadcast will only be available to people who follow you. The invited viewers won’t be able to share your broadcast with others.
Periscope uses your location, microphone and camera, and sends notifications (which you can turn off). You can also choose not to use cellular data when using the app (i.e. only use when you have Wi-Fi available).
[NOTE – Meerkat is no longer available, having shut down in October 2016]
I could easily see how kids and teens would be interested in these live streaming broadcast apps. Like most any app, there is some good and some bad. All the apps have content guidelines – they want to keep things clean – but it is up to the users of the app to follow the guidelines. And that doesn’t always happen.
I can see a use for brands and performers looking to promote themselves. I really did enjoy listening to some live music straight from Liverpool! Unfortunately most people are trying to promote their silly antics.
Has anyone else tried either Periscope, YouNow or other live streaming apps? What do you think? Would you be concerned if your kids or teens were using these apps? Let me know in the comments!