BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Child predators are successfully using the latest cell phone apps to make physical contact with children.
In fact, a spokesperson for the FBI in Buffalo told News 4 in the last few years, all of their cases involving a younger victim involved some kind of cell phone app. News 4’s Nalina Shapiro took a closer look at four different free apps that parents need to know about.
Lancaster parent Jill Castellana worries about what her three teenagers are exposed to on their phones. She knows about Facebook, Twitter, Intagram and Vine, but hasn’t heard of the four apps troubling modern parents called Omegle, Whisper, the secret app and Ask.FM.
“Its overwhelming. I can’t keep up with them and for the kids, I feel bad I don’t know how they keep up,” Castellana said.
When searching for Omegle online, it clearly states you can talk to strangers with video or text chats. Users are supposed to be completely anonymous on the app and website. Commonsense.Org , a non-profit organization has a warning for parents. It said the conversations are filled with pornographic language — and strangers can send children inappropriate pictures.
The second app parents need to know about is called Whisper, intended for people 17 and older. People anonymously share their deepest most intimate secrets. Commonsense.Org says some people use whisper to solicit others for sex by using the app’s Geo-location “nearby” feature.
Teens might think the words, pictures or videos go away when in fact they can multiply by millions. With a simple search online you can see those secrets that went public. Entertainment sites like Buzzfeed.com feature Whispers online, most of them get millions of views.
The secret app is another application that lets users anonymously say whatever they want. It requires some private information but promises users will remain anonymous. One thing the app tries to prevent the use of names.
Castellana’s 17 year old daughter Sarah says apps like these lead to fights at school.
“You don’t even have a user-name or you can post anything about anyone without it coming back to you,” Sarah said.
Disturbing reports about another app called Ask.FM say it became popular because it lets kids ask questions and people submit random answers from things about their favorite foods to creepy sexual posts. Commonsense.Org says there are a lot of mean comments.
In fact, since 2012 there have been 9 suicides linked to the app, according to local and national media reports.
Castellana always worries about bullying and things that might be posted in the heat of the moment.
“Things you say you can’t take back and I think a lot of things posted they say because they were hurt and then later they look back and say oh I didn’t mean it like that,” she said.
All of these apps have hundreds of millions of users around the world. Psychologist Joan McCool at Buffalo State College said parents should know that pain kids feel on from mean comments on social media feels the same as physical pain because it lights up the same part of the brain.
The FBI said parents should ask their children what apps they want to use. Then parents should download the apps and know how to use them so parents can see what they are really all about.