Kids have easy access to certain online platforms and apps that are considered red flags for dangerous activity—either because predators lurk there, extremists use them to spread radicalization materials, they’re used to hide other apps, or they’re breeding grounds for inappropriate content.
It’s nearly impossible for parents to stay on top of them all, though—an average of 100,00 Android apps and 30,000 new iOS (Apple) apps are released every month. How are we supposed to keep track of which are okay for our kids, and which almost definitely are not?
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of potentially problematic apps that parents should watch out for. If you find any of these in your child’s browsing history, or installed on their phone or other device, use the information below to start a conversation about why the app or website might be inappropriate. Then make a decision together about whether or not it should be deleted.
Apps that can reveal personal information
These days it seems like almost every app collects some degree of personal info, but parents should be aware of ones that can reveal that information to the public. Here are a few of the ones most popular with kids:
Zoomerang: This video creator, rated E for Everyone, is popular with kids for editing videos for other platforms like Instagram or Tik Tok. However, it does use location tracking, which can allow predators who see your child’s videos to find out where they are. Screengrabs of the videos are also easily clipped and used out of context for online bullying.
GamePigeon: While this simple gaming app has a lot of good qualities, it’s only available within Apple’s Messaging (texting) app. Predators who “meet” kids in one place can suggest playing a GamePigeon game, which gives them access to your child’s phone number and moves their interaction to a private text chat. Parents should make sure their kids are aware of this potential danger if they’re going to use the app.
Bigo Live: This live streaming app is rated for age 17 and up, but users’ age isn’t verified. You have to share personal info to open an account, which the app can use to track your child. It also has many reports of bullying, nudity, violence, and predatory comments.
Live.Me: Another live streaming video app, this one uses geolocation when posting videos which allows users to find out a minor’s exact location.
Snapchat: The photos and videos shared via Snapchat are meant to disappear as soon as they’re viewed, or within 24 hours. That fact can make kids vulnerable to pressure to share compromising photos, which are easily screen recorded or saved to the recipient’s camera roll (to be used for bullying or harassment). Snapchat also defaults to sharing your location.
Yubo: This app is designed similar to Tinder, where people (including kids) can swipe right to connect. For the app to work, you have to allow geotagging—and there are no privacy options.
Toxic online communities
These sites have a reputation for allowing cultures of hate and intolerance to flourish. They’re also known to spread online campaigns of disinformation and harassment. If your child is part of these communities, it’s a huge red flag you should look into more closely.
Sites where extremist ideas are spread
Some corners of the internet are known spots where extremists and predators find vulnerable people to manipulate and victimize. Here, kids can run into problems from being groomed by sexual predators to falling prey to white supremacist propaganda. That said, they’re not all bad, and many times kids can find funny or useful content there, too. If your child uses one of the following sites, talk with them about how to stay safe online and how to spot extremist activity.
- Tik Tok—which also has very limited privacy controls
- Teamspeak (via Steam, Xbox, PS4)
- VKontake (VK)
Apps and sites with limited moderation
Many of these sites offer extremely limited moderation of content or comments and discussion, often relying on users to report problematic things they see. Because there is so little oversight, these places are frequently used to spread hate speech, misinformation, bullying, and extremist content.
Tellonym, YOLO, Lipsi, or Ask.fm: These apps let kids ask and answer questions anonymously. Since there’s no way to trace content, things like bullying, sexual content, and violent threats are common.
IMVU: This is a virtual world game, but it includes a Chat Now feature that randomly pairs users in private chats where kids can be bullied, convinced to share phone numbers, or asked to send photos. Avatars created for the game are highly sexualized, and and allow characters to have “virtual sex.”
Camsurf, Coco, Chitter, Chatspin, Gaze, Chatous, Omegle, Kik, HOLLA: Each of these apps (and there are many others) instantly pairs users with strangers via a combination of text, video, and/or voice—an obvious concern when it comes to kids. Many allow location tracking to match up with people nearby, and have reports of young teens getting paired with much older kids (or adults posing as kids).
Minds: This is a social media platform intended for content creation, but also lets you “engage with people from all around the world who value free speech and have strong opinions.” Users report having difficulty muting others they find offensive or aggressive in the “uncensored” chat threads.
Riot Chat/Element Messenger: Riot was an open source messaging app that changed its name to Element in July 2020. Their chat app says it’s designed for remote workers to call, text, and video chat, but of course the encryption will cover non-business interactions, too.
Rocket Chat: Similar to Element Messenger.
World of Warcraft: This game has robust player communities where harassment, hostility, and extremist ideas against LGBTQ people are known to spread.
Apps and services that make online activities secret
The following apps use encryption and other privacy technologies to keep their activities secret. If your child is using one of these, be sure to find out why—there aren’t many legitimate reasons for kids to use these, so they’re often a sign of trouble.
- Jitsi Meet
- PIA VPN
- Nord VPN
- Proton VPN
- Unseen.is Email
- Tutanota Email
- Tor/Onion Browsers
- Brave Browser
Other apps are used to hide photos, videos, files, text conversations, and browser history. They often look like regular apps with a harmless purpose (like a clock or calculator) and can even function like one on the surface, so at first glance they can be hard to detect. Hint: It’s unlikely that your child would have more than one clock or calculator on their phone—if they do, dig a little deeper.
- Calculator Vault
- Best Secret Folder
Apps that encourage meeting irl (that’s “in real life” to us parents)
Several apps are specifically designed for finding people near you to meet up with in person. They’re generally intended for older audiences, but it’s simple enough for kids to create a profile—which leaves their location and personal info vulnerable to predators.
It’s a challenge to keep our kids safe online, but digital citizenship and internet access are going to continue being a big part of their lives. While that might seem scary, it isn’t all bad—the internet provides vital access to information, useful tools, and social interactions. Keeping yourself informed—and keeping the lines of communication open between you and your kids—will help them navigate this rich online world safely.
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.