If you're a parent, you will no doubt be aware of the dangers of giving your child unfettered access to the web. Whether it's adult entertainment, gore, or gambling, there's a near-endless number of sites that your children shouldn't see.
Worryingly, even content that appears innocent can still be a minefield. For example, the YouTube Kids app has been criticized for letting unsuitable content leak through its filters. Meanwhile, popular kids streaming apps have been hijacked by pedophile rings and groomers.
Suddenly feeling apprehensive? Keep reading as we examine some seemingly-innocent websites that should parents block right now.
Live streaming sites have grown in popularity over the last few years. One such app is Periscope; it's particularly popular among young adults and teenagers. Indeed, more than 30 percent of its users are 21 years old or younger.
In mid-2017, a BBC investigation found children as young as nine were being groomed on the service. In a video on the BBC YouTube channel, there's a chilling exchange as a groomer encourages a young teen to show off her skirt and remove her top. The person even offers to pay money in exchange for a "show".
Yes, we know online dating sucks for both men and women, but if you really want to give it a try, Tinder should be your first stop. For minors, however, Tinder is dangerous and a wholly inappropriate site.
To sign up for Tinder, you only need a Facebook account. Technically, the app banned under-18s in mid-2016, but it's notoriously easy to create a fake date of birth on Facebook. Estimates suggest that despite the ban, as much as seven percent of Tinder's userbase is aged between 13 and 17.
Of course, this opens the same issues that we've already touched on: grooming and pedophilia. As a parent, you need to be alert to the possibility that your child could be a target. Remember, instil "stranger danger" into your child at a young age. Using Tinder at a young age also opens a can of worms about image and self-worth. It's easy for your early-teen to fall into an unhealthy obsession with appearance.
Ultimately, you need to put Tinder on your block list to protect your child both physically and mentally.
Ask.fm is a question-and-answer site that's widely used among the 13-to-17 demographic. On the face of it, the site appears harmless: ask a question, get an answer. Simple.
However, there are some critical reasons to keep your kids off the Ask.fm site. When we investigated, we discovered it was littered with sexual requests, innuendos, cyberbullying, and other inappropriate content for minors.
And in case you don't think your child is susceptible to the above issues, consider these facts:
- In Spring 2013, a 15-year-old from England committed suicide because of cyberbullying on the site.
- In August 2013, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, England, also committed suicide after an Ask.fm user told her to "drink bleach."
- A Guardian expose found 10 percent of 11-to-16-year-olds on Ask.fm were targeted at least once per day with rape threats, suicide encouragement, and death threats.
Omegle was named in the same BBC investigation that brought attention to the issues with Periscope.
In case you're not aware, Omegle is a video chat website. You do not need to register to use the service. It works by randomly pairing two strangers together for a chat, though you can express some preferences such as interests and desired gender.
Omegle does offer a "monitored" video chat. In the monitored version of the site, mods are looking for sexual behavior and other inappropriate content. However, an unmonitored version still exists, and several minors use it.
No registration, lax moderation, anonymity, and video chat. It's clearly a recipe for problems and should go on the block list.
Chatroulette works on the same principle as Omegle. It's a video chat site that pairs random people together for conversations. When you go to the homepage, you can choose whether to participate in filtered or unfiltered chat. There are no age verification checks.
If anything, the site's reputation is even worse than Omegle's. Here's what renowned American psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, said about the site:
"Parents should keep all their children off the site because it's much too dangerous for children. It's a predator's paradise. This is one of the worst faces of the internet that I've seen. It's disconnecting human relationships rather than connecting them."
There are two other worrisome facts about the service you need to be aware of. Firstly, 30 percent of the sites monthly visitors are under 18. That makes Chatroulette an attractive destination for predators.
Secondly, as part of the site's attempts to clean up its image, it introduced random screenshots. In practice, that means your child's video feed could be snapped without their knowledge or consent and looked at by a complete stranger---even if they're doing nothing wrong.
4Chan is an image-based bulletin board that often draws comparisons with Reddit. But while Reddit isn't exactly a haven of safe, moderated content, it's nowhere near as bad as its older cousin. It's one of the most inappropriate sites for kids and tweens on the web.
The site's rap sheet is worryingly long. It's endured headline-grabbing scandals as diverse as racism, child pornography, celebrity nude photo leaks, murders and killing sprees, and the Gamergate controversy.
It's not a crowd that you want your child to associate with.
Kik is an anonymous instant messenger app. Again, anything regarding anonymity and kids online is a potential trouble spot, but Kik's adult-orientated tools make Kik more dangerous than most other chat apps.
For example, you can search for anonymous chat partners by selecting up to five compatible interests from Kik's list, many of which intentionally allude to sexual behavior. Perhaps worse, anyone can message you. Users can spam messages to multiple guessed usernames in the hope they exist.
Even though Kik recently introduced new tools for parents, it's a predators' paradise; block it.
The sites and apps we've listed might not be caught on regular parental controls. At face value, they are not necessarily problematic. The issues arise either because of the way the site handles users who are minors, or the way in which other people use the site.