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. I first wrote about Ask.fm last May but wanted to revisit, as it is still a popular site among teens. There is also a corresponding app for Apple and Android devices.
This isn’t an article warning of the dangers of using Ask.fm; you can find that online already. I wanted to offer some advice to parents whose teens already use this service. If you read some of the articles on the web and say “no way!” that is totally understandable! These are simply suggestions for settings to use if you should decide it’s okay for your teen to continue with Ask.fm. As a parent you know your kids best and set the rules you are comfortable with.
Why use privacy settings on Ask.fm?
There have been many reports of cyberbullying, and the nature of the anonymity makes it easy to say things that you might not say to someone in person. On the profiles I’ve visited (by randomly clicking on profiles that appear at the bottom of the Ask.fm home page, and from kids who have ask.fm links in their Instagram profiles) most questions were fairly innocent. So your teen may or may not be experiencing any negative encounters.
But this doesn’t mean that your teen won’t encounter inappropriate questions and answers. These may not be from their friends, but there is plenty of racy stuff to be found on the “Stream” and “Popular” pages, which are only available to Ask.fm users. The stream shows recent Ask.fm activity, and the popular page features popular accounts.
Note that I was able to view Ask.fm profiles of people I don’t know. That’s because these people made their Ask.fm profile link available on another social media profile, or were shown in the “Stream” of Ask.fm activity. While there is no such thing as a “Private Profile”, the following privacy settings will reduce the chance that someone could randomly find your profile.
The most important settings and actions for privacy on Ask.fm:
1. Don’t add personal details to your profile; don’t include links to your other social media profiles.
2. Don’t allow anonymous questions.
3. Don’t show your answers in the “Stream” (less of a chance that someone can randomly view your profile).
4. Don’t answer questions that make you uncomfortable – delete them. Just because a question is asked, does NOT mean it has to be answered!
Here’s how to enable these settings.
How to update Profile Settings in ask.fm
First let’s take a look at a profile page. This is where you set your username, name, bio, website, location, and language. Note that e-mail and age are not publicized but everything else here IS available to anyone viewing Ask.fm. Remind teens not to include personal information here like their school, or links to other profiles. Often you’ll see links to Instagram, Twitter or other profiles here, along with age, city, and school. That’s giving away too much! Just a first name and state or country would be better for privacy.
How to update Privacy Settings in ask.fm
There are a few options for privacy settings on Ask.fm. Here are the suggested settings for the utmost in privacy on Ask.fm:
a. Privacy settings for questions: With the privacy settings for questions set to “Do not allow anonymous questions” only those logged into ask.fm will be able to ask you questions.
b. Email notifications: With email notifications set, you will receive an e-mail when someone asks a question. This could be helpful as you can quickly delete unwanted messages; but it could also be distracting to a teen if they receive a lot of questions.
c. Stream: As stated here, if you uncheck the box (it is checked by default) your posts will no longer appear in the “Stream”, and your profile will attract less unexpected attention. (Teens might like the unexpected attention; but we are going for privacy here!)
d. Blacklist: If you have blocked anyone, you can see them here and unblock if appropriate.
Example – I used the privacy settings shown above. Here is my profile page as seen by someone who is not logged into an ask.fm account:
And here is my profile as seen by someone who IS logged into Ask.fm (has an account). My privacy settings require that they can’t remain anonymous; notice that option is crossed-out:
Because I had also checked “Notify me when someone asks me a question” I received an e-mail notifying me of a new question:
I was able to click over to my Ask.fm profile to review the question. A few things to point out here:
1. Until you answer, a question does not appear on your profile for anyone to see.
2. When your profile does not accept anonymous questions, you can always see the username of the person who asked the question.
3. When you receive a question, you have choices – you can answer the question, or hover over to the right to reveal an “X” to delete the question. Make your teen aware that she does NOT have to answer every question! Note that you can also record a video answer. You might suggest that your teen skip this feature; again remind them that once answered, their video answer is public and available for anyone to see.
4. If you choose to answer a question, you are presented with the option to share on either Facebook or Twitter. For the utmost in privacy, you may want to instruct your teen to keep those unchecked.
You also have the option to add a photo to your answer. Again, remind teens to use this feature wisely – everything is public here.
6. Should the question be wildly inappropriate, or you have been the target of bullying, you have the option to block a user.
The Ask.fm App
The instructions and screenshots here are for Ask.fm on a computer. The same privacy settings and options exist on the Ask.fm app. Your teen may be more likely to be using the app. You may want to look at the settings together. The changes made on the web version will trickle over to the app version (from what I saw testing this). And be aware that your teen could change the settings at any time; there are no parental controls here as it is not an app or website designed for children.
And interestingly, it seems that an update to the app in early December actually removed the anonymous option! So those teens using the app (on Apple devices, anyway) may not even have a choice at the moment.
Will teens want to use these settings?
There is a chance that your teen may not want to change their settings, as part of the “thrill” may be the opportunity to seek anonymous feedback. (Reading through the complaints in the Apple app store about the missing anonymous feature in the app version, confirms this). Even with these settings in place, remember that your teen can still view any profile on Ask.fm, and can answers questions on other random user’s profiles. You may want to chat about what they like about using the site. What kinds of questions are they asking? Remind them that anything posted on the internet is no longer in their control – so as always, think before you post.
- “The content you submit, post, or display will be viewable by others. You are responsible for the data you transmit using the ask.fm service”
- “…persons must be 13 years or older to use this service.”
- “The Ask.fm service allows for anonymous content that ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the Ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene, or in poor taste.”
From Ask.fm – http://ask.fm/about/safety – advice about safety on Ask.fm (clearly they know they have a large teen audience as the page is written as if speaking to teenagers).