SALT LAKE CITY — With so many choices for kids, it makes it tough for parents to keep up with the features inside each app.
“We live in a scary world sometimes,” said Sarah Larsen, a Utah mom. “I tell (my kids) there are people out there who want to take advantage of children, who will come after you and try to meet up with you. They are not good people.”
That's why the KSL Investigators decided to take a closer look at some of the most popular apps out there, and we found there's a feature inside many of them that can put kids at risk.
One of the most popular apps for teenagers and tweens is called Musical.ly, which allows users to post short homemade videos. But what parents might not realize is the app also offers a private messaging — which can give predators instant access to kids who use the app.
“It’s like a playground for (predators),” said Josie Angerhofer, an online safety expert with Utah NetSmartz. Her job involves teaching schoolchildren about how to protect themselves when using the Internet.
Angerhofer is especially concerned about a recent case involving a young child in Utah. A police search warrant alleges that someone posing as a young child on the Musical.ly app contacted an 8-year-old girl and convinced her to message nude photos of herself.
“They’re blackmailed into sharing more,” Angerhofer said.
She warns kids and parents that no two predators act the same. For example, some lie about their age, others don't, but all will manipulate a child in an effort to build trust.
“That person will threaten them and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to share this with your parents. I’ll post this online if you don’t share more with me,'” Angerhofer said.
Another app that’s popular among kids is called Roblox. Users pick from a list of games to play and are able to chat with other users playing the same games. KSL's investigative team found it’s simple for parents to block the chat feature on the app by clicking on Settings.
Other popular apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer ways to restrict or block messages as well.
But there doesn't need to be a direct messaging tool for an app to put kids at risk. Take Clash of Clans, an app that lets users build their own clan and chat with groups of perfect strangers. If your child is using this app, make sure he or she is in a clan with you know.
Another new app gaining popularity among teenagers is TBH, which stands for To Be Honest. It lets users post what are supposed to be positive comments about one another. It doesn't have a private message feature right now, but the developer may add it.
Before a child downloads the latest popular app, Angerhofer advises parents to research it online or in the app store.
Sarah Larsen said she checks her 15-year-old son's phone regularly and doesn't allow him to take the device to school.
But perhaps more importantly, Larsen taught her son if he gets a strange message, he should never message them back.
Parents should also be aware that apps are always being updated. Just because an app didn't have a way to chat when you let your kid download it doesn't mean that won't change.
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