5 apps parents should delete from kid's phones

Trying to keep a reign on your kid's online activity is tough. Add smart phone apps to the mix and you'll be quickly overwhelmed.

There are smart phone apps to help you compare prices, pass the time and stay connected to your neighbors. Most of the millions of apps for Androids and iPhones are harmless, but several new apps promising to hide your identity are creating chaos in local high schools.

On April 16, someone posted an anonymous bomb threat to a high school on Yik Yak. The app works like a virtual bulletin board where anonymous posts can be seen by anyone within a mile and a half radius.

The principal of that high school sent an email to parents asking them to delete the app Gaggle from their children's phones, writing that students were using it to "post extremely hateful speech, photos and drawings."

Gaggle is also anonymous, and while the school district blocked the app from WiFi on its campuses, students can and do use it away from school and on their cell phones.

At campuses all over pictures were found posted of students and teachers with comments calling them fat. Others pile on, adding their own viscous comments. Sometimes silly, posts are more often hateful and racist. One picture posted near the same high school shows someone holding a bag of pot. 

"It just turns nasty so quickly," said Kathy Boehle.

Boehle works for a company paid by school districts to monitor student communication. Ironically, her company is called "Gaggle" too.

Boehle refers to it as "the good Gaggle."

Her company has come up with a list of anonymous apps parents should know about.

"Keep an eye on your kid's phones," said Boehle. "Look at the photos that they're taking."

She says many kids are using an iPhone app called Photo Swap to anonymously send nude photos to strangers. There's no registration required, so no one ever has to know it's you.

Askfm is an app and website that allows anyone to post anonymous questions and answers to you, but Boehle says the questions are usually graphic and sexual. 

Secret is an iPhone app that lets you "speak freely" and "share anything" with people in your address book, and no one knows who you are. But even those messages can and do turn ugly.

"I think there should have been more thought into how this could be used in a negative way," said Dr. Jennifer Blaine, associate superintendent with another school district.

Below are some statements released by app creators:

Yik Yak Response:

"Yik Yak is an anonymous app built to foster responsible interaction and build networks in hyper-local areas. We're very disappointed in how many have chosen to misuse our app. We recognize that with any social app or network, there is the likelihood for misuse from a small group of users, so we have put specific algorithms in place to prevent this from happening. We have geo-fenced almost all primary and secondary schools and turned the app to 17+ in stores to ensure the user base is age appropriate and parents can easily block the app on their children's phones. Also, if a school administrator or parent sees the app being used maliciously at a high school or middle school, they can go to our website to request that a particular school be geo-fenced. The app monitors conversations and posts, and any negative or harmful behavior will result in the respective user being blocked, or altogether banned from future use. We continue to build out this technology to ensure positive interaction, but we are also finding that as more users sign up and start using the app, each community begins to self regulate itself in a positive way." - Tyler Droll, CEO and Co-founder, Yik Yak

Gaggle Response:

Thanks for reaching out to us about Gaggle. Gaggle is strictly intended for people over 17 years of age. We're actively looking into all technical options to prohibit the violations of our terms of service.

We all get outraged by the ignorant things people say and do online, but bullying is not acceptable. Gaggle is a pretty open and free speech place, but it is not ok to post someone's personal information, or post links to personal information. This includes screenshots of images with the names still legible.

However, while posts may contain content that can be distasteful, Gaggle is not in a position to arbitrate disputes. In light of the protections afforded to online hosts of third party content, such as Gaggle, we rarely remove defamatory material, but we reserve the right to do so for legal or other reasons.

Photo Swap Response:

Sexual content is not welcome on PhotoSwap. Users receiving inappropriate pictures may report them to a moderator that will ban the user (using its unique mobile identifier or IP address) if deemed necessary. We try to be as clear as possible about it in our communication.

That said, there is no pre-screening of pictures and with thousands of new users and millions of pictures swapped every week it's challenging to deal with people engaging in such activities, especially if they're not reported. We're always trying to improve our moderation mechanisms and we're almost ready to deploy an update allowing us to handle user reports in real-time for better reactivity.

Also can Padadaz track down the IP or identifying information of the person who posts in appropriate content (for example, if it is subpoenaed by the police)? Is that even possible?

Yes, we collect IP addresses and mobile device identifiers for moderation purposes as specified in our privacy policy. We work with law enforcement when necessary.

Askfm Response:

More than 100 million young people globally use Ask.fm to discover themselves and the world around by asking questions in a simple and fun way. We acknowledge that it is often important for young people to ask questions without revealing their identity. It helps to discover what others think on the range of important subjects especially in the context of gender, race, culture, family and school. Our network allows its users ask and answer a staggering ONE BILLION questions a month. Only a very tiny fraction of those questions are mean or cruel, and we deal with those instances very robustly.

We strongly condemn the abuse of technology and posting of offensive comments on Ask.fm. In order to limit unacceptable use of the platform, we have put in place several new safety protocols. Firstly, we empowered users to decide which questions to answer and what content to publish. All users have the ability to turn off questions from those wishing to remain anonymous, block unwanted users and report offensive content. Secondly, we have developed an online Safety Centre to help internet users and their parents to understand the safety tools available on Ask.fm, and how to report any concern to us.

Furthermore, for few months now, we have installed a software to catch and automatically remove offensive content.

In addition, the company reviews every picture and video uploaded on Ask.fm. They are assessed by independent moderators and if deemed inappropriate, are removed on average within 15 minutes.

Finally, our dedicated team of customer support answers all questions from parents and users within 24 hours.

On Ask.fm anonymity does not mean unaccountability. If we detect a bully, we can identify their IP address and their whereabouts. Our policy towards users who are consistently aggressive in their communication with others is unapologetic. Our software allows us to block them from accessing other profiles and if necessary, block them from accessing the site. We encourage all our users and visitors to report offensive content to us by simply clicking the Report button.

These reports are reviewed by a team of moderators on average within 24 hours.

In the framework of an official investigation Ask.fm shares IP address and profile information of our users with law enforcement agencies. In order to obtain necessary information, the relevant law enforcement agency makes an official request to the Latvian authorities who, in turn, will pass the request on to us. We understand the importance and urgency of such requests and react quickly.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.