Google Introduces Family Link, A Remote Control for Your Kids’ Phones

This week Google is announcing Family Link, its latest foray into the digital parenting game.

Family Link is, for the time being, an Android app available in the U.S. only, and can be used by parents who are Android users, with kid(s) under 13 who are also Android users. The app is invitation only, and you can request an invite here.

Android parental controlsHere’s how it works:

  • Once invited, parents can download the Family Link app. They will need their own Google account first.
  • Parents then set up a Family Link Google account, the one that will have settings applicable to the child.
  • Once installed, each time the child uses the Android device – a phone or tablet – parents will have more control over what the child can do and when.

On what the child can do:

  • Parents can block apps installed on the device from being used (like email, for example)
  • Parents have the opportunity to block or approve each new app download
  • Parents can ensure that Google safe search settings are always on

On when kids are using their device:

  • Parents can set a bedtime, after which the device can’t be used until the next day
  • Parents can set a daily usage time limit, after which the device is locked (for the child) until the next day
  • Parents can remotely lock the device on demand, when it’s time for dinner or for something other than using the device
  • Parents can view weekly or monthly usage reports, by app, whenever they want

Additionally, parents can remotely see the location of their child’s device, which is great for when the device is lost, or when the child is.

A note on privacy: Setting up a Family Link account for your child will result in Google having more personal information on your child than would otherwise have been the case. Google’s privacy disclosures are here.

Family Link seems like a good option for parents looking for more control. If you’re an Android family with kids under 13, we suggest you check it out, but as is the case with any tech solution, this will not take the place of parenting.

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If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

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Is the Houseparty App Safe for Teens?

houseparty app rankingDoes something look out of place in the image on the right? It’s a partial listing of the top 10 free apps in the iTunes App Store today. In between Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon and Google Maps – all household names – is a surprising newcomer called Houseparty.

Houseparty is the brainchild of the folks who created live video broadcasting app Meerkat, and it looks like it’s a hit. Launched in August of last year, the idea behind Houseparty is that groups of up to 8 friends can simultaneously video chat with each other, like they’re at a party. We thought we’d take a look at whether the app is safe for teens to use, since based on the rankings we can assume that some of them are already using it. According to one estimate, nearly 2 million people used the app in the last month.

First of all, the age limit is 13 years old, but like so many other apps and social networks, they don’t ask a user’s age at signup so they aren’t even trying to exclude the kids. All you need is a smartphone to join and use the service.

Houseparty does collect a user’s name, email and phone number, so those pieces of information are “out there”, but there is no indication that this is more of a risk than with any other network.

Houseparty’s Privacy Policy states that they may collect user location information, which does seem like an unknowable risk to us. If they are using your location to somehow improve the service, it’s probably no big deal, but if they at any point they decide to broadcast user location to other users, that is not safe for teens. If they decide to suggest “friends” based on a user’s location, that could be a nightmare.

Houseparty appA number of types of content are not permitted. From the TOS:

You may NOT post content that:

  • Impersonates another person or entity in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others;

  • Violates the rights of a third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and publicity rights;

  • Promotes discrimination, hatred or harm against any individual or group;

  • Is a direct and specific threat of violence to others;

  • Is defamatory, obscene or pornographic;

  • Is furtherance of illegal activities; or

  • Is harassing, abusive, or constitutes spam.

It doesn’t look to us, based on that wording, that plain old nudity is prohibited, but if your teen is looking for a sexting app, this one is no more risky than others out there.

Houseparty has built some safeguards to help users avoid unwanted joiners, which can happen. According to an article at The Verge:

“A friend of a friend can enter your chat, and when they do, a banner warning “Stranger danger!” flashes on your screen. You can “wave” at other users to send them a push notification inviting them to join you — like a FaceTime call, sure, but a bit less thirsty. And you can lock your room for privacy.”

Other than the location tracking, we don’t see any real red flags here. We have reached out to the company for comment on the location thing, and will update this post for clarity if and when we hear back.

 

 

If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Ranking Teen Social Media Preference

Brokerage firm Piper Jaffray does a semiannual survey of teen preferences – from shopping to TV watching. We’ve written about it before, and the section on social media usage is always something that we focus on. As a reminder, here are the rankings of the surveyed teens’ “most important” social network from 12 months ago.

Piper teen survey social media

As you can see, Instagram was the clear #1 last year, Twitter preference was moving down, Facebook was stable in the teens and Snapchat was beginning to make inroads.

Fast-forwarding twelve months, the new results are in. This time around the survey polled 10,000 teens about a number of topics, and when it comes to social media the momentum of Snapchat is undeniable. Below is the percentage of teens’ who ranked each network their top social site or app for fall 2016:

snapchat-logo

  • Snapchat – 35%
  • Instagram – 24%
  • Twitter – 13%
  • Facebook – 13%
  • Pinterest – 1%
  • Google+ – 1%

The survey also asked the teens which network they use at least once a month.

  • Snapchat – 80%
  • Instagram – 79%
  • Twitter – 56%
  • Facebook – 52%
  • Pinterest – 25%
  • Google+ – 22%

It’s pretty clear that Snapchat and Instagram are dominating teen time and attention right now. Pictures and video are hot, both in the context of messaging and making permanent posts.

There are more interesting tidbits in the survey. When asked where/how teens consume video/TV, a big time evolution is happening. This shift may be clear to you if you’ve got a teen living in your house. As of this survey, YouTube passed conventional TV for the first time in terms of preferred viewing medium, and Netflix continues to be the leader.

  • Netflix – 37%
  • YouTube – 26%
  • Cable TV – 25%
  • Hulu – 3%
  • Other streaming – 6%

In terms of mobile devices, iPhone continues to dominate and looks to get stronger. 74% of the teens surveyed own an iPhone, up from 69% in April of this year, and 79% said that their next phone will probably be an iPhone. We’re not sure whether the bulk of the responses came in before or after high end Samsung phones started catching fire, but we suspect that it was before.

When it comes to teen social media preference, a couple of things are clear:

  • Pictures and video are where it’s at currently
  • Permanent vs. ephemeral is an important distinction and perhaps more important than public vs. private

With Instagram for example, your account can be public or private, but even if it is private it is public to your friends who can all see it – and make no mistake, what your friends think of your pictures is very important. Instagram is the home for your permanent images, and you may also use it for messaging. If you don’t want that image living on into next week or next year, you’ll probably use Snapchat.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Facebook Introduces Lifestage Just For Teens

Facebook’s history of introducing successful standalone apps is not a good one, and in the case of its new Lifestage app, we hope that streak continues.

Lifestage is aimed squarely and solely at the high school crowd, and is yet another attempt to put a dent in Snapchat’s momentum. Lifestage is available only on iOS for now, and is a video resume for your friends and social life. Users create a profile, tell the app which high school they attend then create, according to a review at Mashable “videos to show off what they like and dislike and who their friends, pets, boyfriends and girlfriends are.”

If your teen is thinking about downloading Lifestage, for now this is all you need to know:

Lifestream

In case you can’t read that, the text is as follows:

“Everything you post in Lifestage is always public and viewable by everyone, inside and outside your school.

There is no way to limit the audience of your videos.

We can’t confirm that people who clam to go to a certain school actually go to that school.

All videos you upload to your profile and record are fully public content.”

If you’re at all worried about your teen having the option to keep some content private, this isn’t the app for her. If you’re worried about some creeper infiltrating the crowd at your local high school, ditto.

As for the risk of creepers, however, we tried to sign up but that part of the app worked as intended. When you sign up, you enter your age and phone number and if Lifestage believes you’re a high school student, they send you a confirmation text. In my case, Facebook knows my phone number (possibly via Instagram – I’ve avoided giving it to Facebook), so they denied my sign up, even though I lied about my age. I’ll try it this week with one of my teen’s phones and update this at that time.

The Terms of Service and Privacy Policy are not specific to Lifestage – they use Facebook’s – and as you probably know Facebook gives itself license to do just about anything with your data and content.

We’ll be watching this closely, but we’d advise teens to avoid this app for now.

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

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Is Musical.ly App Safe for 12-Year Olds?

Musical.ly is a relative newcomer to the social app scene, and seems to be particularly popular with young teens and perhaps even younger kids. The way it works is that Musically Appusers can take a clip from a song or other media that they own, and then create a 15 second video with that clip as the soundtrack. Lip syncing and comedic sketches dominate the feed.

It sounds like fun, and according to an article at Business Insider Musical.ly had 70 million users as of last month, Is it safe for 12-year olds, or younger users? Let’s take a look.

Age Limit

For starters, the age limit is 13, or possibly 18, and that’s not a joke. Once you download the app, you are never asked your age, so maybe they don’t care all that much. According to the app’s Terms of Service:

“IF YOU ARE UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE, YOU MUST NOT USE OR ACCESS THE SERVICE AT ANY TIME OR IN ANY MATTER. Furthermore, by using the service, you affirm that you are at least 18 years of age.”

We’re guessing that the 18-year old reference is a mistake and the app’s age limit is really intended to be 13. Incidentally, it is rated 12+ in the app store. In any case, if your child is under 13 and wants to use the app, you should know that she is breaking the rules.

Are the rules – in this case the age limit – important? If you child is under 13 they are. Under 13s are protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which is you and your child’s primary means of protecting her personal information. Make no mistake, Musical.ly does collect your personal information, and might use it, even if/after she deletes her account.

Adult Content

When it comes to whether your child will encounter adult content on the app, the Terms of Service appear to be quite strict. Musical.ly does not allow users to post material that is “abusive, bullying, defamatory, harassing, harmful, hateful, inaccurate, infringing, libelous, objectionable, obscene, offensive, pornographic, shocking, threatening, unlawful, violent, vulgar or promoting bigotry, discrimination, hatred, violence, or inciting violence.”

In terms of nudity, sexual and other adult content, our take is that the language above is quite vague. While obscene content and pornography specifically are prohibited, it depends on how they define it and how they monitor for it. Furthermore, one might assume that some nudity is allowed. While browsing the app this week, we didn’t see any nudity but profanity was easy to find.

Hashtags are widely used on the app, and it has a search function, but we were happy to see that searches for many adult-oriented hashtags is disabled (#boobs, #sexy etc.).

Predator Risk

As with most social apps, predator risk is an issue. If you want to keep your child safe, we recommend setting the account to private, hiding location info and only allowing direct messages from friends. All of those controls are accessible from the settings menu.

In summary, Musical.ly is not more unsafe than most other social apps, and it probably has less adult content than many. However, since a vast number of users appear to be girls well under the age of 18, it could over time become a favorite of predators. We would still caution parents against allowing users 12 and under to download Musical.ly, and use caution with older teens.

If you want to read more about what other parents have to say, there are a lot of parent reviews posted at Common Sense Media.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

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Turn Off Location on Your Teen’s Phone

iPhone PrivacuYour teen’s smartphone knows where it (and he) is, and most of the time that’s a good thing. Many phone functions (like Google Maps) that are a mainstay of the current smartphone experience would not work without location turned on.

You may want to know where your teen and that phone are as well. If you use an app like TeenSafe (or one of many others) to monitor your teen’s location, that too will not work if location is turned off.

You don’t want strangers – especially predators – to know where your teen is, and this is the key pitfall to young smartphone users keeping location turned on. A new study out of MIT and Oxford University reveals that as few as 8 tweets over the course of a day, even to a low-tech hacker, can reveal both the home address and the school or workplaceiPhone location of a Twitter user. Based on our understanding, the same is true of Instagram, or any other app where location is a secondary, if optional, feature of user posts.

The study was designed to illustrate how much privacy social media users could be giving up, but in the case of young users and predators, privacy is far from an abstract construct. Snooping advertisers are one thing; strangers who could do harm a much more significant risk.

The good news is that this is easy to fix. If your teen is an iPhone user, you can go to Settings->Privacy and see whether Location is turned on or off. There is also a list of the apps which have requested access, and which have been granted access. You can turn location off for the phone entirely, or for individual apps. Settings are similarly structured for Android phones.

iPhone location appsWe recommend turning location off entirely for day-to-day use.

If your teen is at the Statue of Liberty, and wants to post a picture with the location marked, she can turn location on to make that post, then turn it off again. It takes a couple of seconds.

If you read this and ask your teen to turn location off, she’s probably comply, but you’ll need to make sure it stays off. We’re sure you wouldn’t encourage your teen to post “I live at 123 Main Street, Princeton NJ” to Twitter. Help her make sure she isn’t doing it by accident.

 

 

If you want to make sure your teen is not at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Yik Yak Intros Messaging, Could Become a Hookup App

It’s not totally a stretch to say that Yik Yak might become a hookup app.

Yik Yak logoYik Yak was founded as an anonymous, location-based social network that was originally targeted at college students. The app quickly became popular at high schools, so much so that the company took some measures to block its use at some schools. The block didn’t totally work and its popularity at high schools continues.

Last month, Yik Yak took the first steps away from total anonymity, making “handles” an optional feature. Users can select a user name – which can be their real name – and can elect whether to use it or not for each post.

This week, Yik Yak is introducing what it is calling its most requested feature – chat. Starting today, any user who posts using a handle can send a message request to any other user who also uses a handle, in their local area. Users can accept or decline any chat request from any user. Yik Yak wants to increase the bonds between individual users, but only if both users are willing participants.

With handles and private chat, Yik Yak appears to be considering the idea that cyberbullying and other abusive behaviors might see an uptick. Apparently because of this, Yik Yak has also enhanced the user support features in its Safety Center.

Yik Yak messagingWhy do we say that it might morph into a hookup app? Check out the Yik Yak post at right. From what we’ve seen, a lot of posts on Yik Yak are made by lonely folks looking for company, and not all of them are G Rated. Until now, when users wanted to connect in real life, they typically traded Kik or Snapchat handles, which necessitated at least one of them posting it publicly. Awkward.

Now, if another lonely soul sees such a post and sends a private message, it could be off to the races for the two.

We don’t have anything against hookup apps, or hooking up in general for that matter, but we want to alert parents as to what could happen. Millions of teens have downloaded Yik Yak, and use it at least occasionally.

Now would be a great time to review which apps are on your teen’s phone, and talk about how she is using them.

 

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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This Week in Social Media News For Parents

Stories for the week ending 4/15/2016

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Facebook logoAn Australian high school suspended more than 50 students, about 5% of the school population, after a Facebook game was discovered where a student would post another student’s name and the other kids were encouraged to make fun of that person. The phrase “make fun of” is kind of ironic here.

Australian high school suspends 50-plus students for cyberbullying

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Periscope LogoWorst story of the week – an Ohio teen was indicted for videotaping the rape of her friend, another teen, and broadcasting it on Periscope.

Ohio woman indicted for livestreaming woman’s rape

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A New Mexico med school student made a virulent anti-abortion post on Facebook back in 2012, in which he did not attack or condemn any individuals. The school gave him two choices: rewrite the post or be expelled. He rewrote the post, but now he is suing the school.

Med Student Says School Censored His Facebook Rant

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Kiddle logoKiddle, the new kid-friendly search engine, drew fire earlier this year for making some search terms unavailable that are an important part of kids’ education. Now hackers have discovered that a setting on site app allows anonymous browsing, bypassing all of the Google Safe Search safeguards upon which the search engine is built.

Anonymised search engine page found on ‘kid-friendly’ search site

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Chatbots, and lots of them, are coming to Facebook Messenger.

Facebook launches Messenger platform with chatbots

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When I send an email to one of my teens, I usually have to send them a text to tell them to read it. Turns out I’m not alone. The Wall Street Journal describes getting up to speed with an email a rite of passage for entry into the workforce.

For Generation Z, Email Has Become a Rite of Passage

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Yik Yak logoColleges are still looking for ways to block Yik Yak, and it still isn’t working. Illinois College administrators agreed, at the requests of students, to block the app entirely on its WiFi network. Students, using their phones’ data plans, took to Yik Yak to protest.

Illinois College Students Fire Back Against Yik Yak Ban

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Reddit released its first official app this week, and at the same time something fishy happened. A number of third party Reddit apps were removed from the Apple App Store.

Apple boots third-party Reddit apps for violating pornography rules

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Many anonymous apps get a bad rap, for some very good reasons. Then they seem to fade away. Here’s the real reason why so many anonymous apps shoot up the app store rankings, then flame out.

The Inherent Problem with Anonymous Apps

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Did we miss a big story? Please let us know.

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Watch Out for the New Magic Kinder App

Magic Kinder AppA new app called Magic Kinder advertises itself as a way for kids to connect with video and images, read stories, draw, paint and learn, all free of advertising and totally safe for kids.

The problem is, according to a couple of articles out of well known tech research groups, the app could leave your child open to receiving unwanted images and video from strangers who are up to no good. According to an article at Softpedia:

Magic Kinder app“[B]ecause the app doesn’t use encryption in any way or form, an attacker, via a proxy on the local network, can intercept traffic coming from a device with the Magic Kinder app installed. By modifying a few parameters in the HTTP requests here and there, he found out that he could send any type of data he wished to any app user. Since all that the “hacker” had to do was to modify simple user ID numbers, the attack is quite easy to carry out…”

According to one researcher, the company did not respond to emailed questions when the vulnerability was discovered. The company behind the app is Italian candy giant Fererro, who should have the resources to avoid a situation such as this.

Joe Bursell, a tech researcher further commented to tech blog The Register:

“These are not subtle, hard-to-find issues. You’d see those IDs in the proxy within minutes of testing and the first thing you would do is manually increment/decrement them. There are no authorisation checks on any of the requests. This means that anyone can: send a message to your kids, read your family diary, and change other data about people, e.g. gender.”

According to media reports, the app has been downloaded 500,000 times. We haven’t done a full review of the app and we don’t intend to at this time. We strongly advise parents avoid the Magic Kinder app.

Thanks to Greg at CoppaNOW for bringing this to our attention.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?: The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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This Week in Social Media News For Parents

Stories for the week ending 3/25/2016

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As 1/3 of Americans get their election news from social media, Quartz opines that online media may be ruining the democratic process. People’s views are narrowing, as “You read what you want to hear.”

America’s obsession with social media is undermining the democratic process ~

A 17-year old Egyptian high school student has been sentenced to 8 years in jail for a series of Facebook posts in which she criticized the government.

Egyptian student sentenced to 8 years for Facebook posts

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A London man has been charged after tweeting a comment critical of a Muslim woman in the wake of the twitter-muslimBrussels bombing. According to the London police he “has been charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred.” It was rude, sure, but saying he broke a law seems like a tough call to us.

Londoner who tweeted about asking a Muslim woman to explain Brussels is arrested

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Amid an increase of sexual misconduct between Alabama teachers and students, one lawmaker has proposed that teachers undergo annual training on, among other things, how to communicate with students via social media. It looks like the bill is stalled for now.

Lawmaker won’t push bill requiring teacher training on not having sex with students

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One of the first perpetrators charged under Illinois’ new revenge porn law is a hockey prospect in the Chicago Black Hawks’ farm system. The player, who is looking at up to 3 years in prison, has been suspended indefinitely by the team.

Blackhawks prospect Garret Ross charged in revenge porn case

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A Chipotle employee was fired last year for attempting to organize the workforce. Before being fired, the company required him to delete a tweet that was critical of management of the company in violation of the company’s communications policy. A judge has now ruled that the company’s policies were a violation of employee rights. The rules, at Chipotle and elsewhere, are still being rewritten.

Should you tweet about your employer?

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More bad news: three Washington teens have been charged with tying up and sexually assaulting a 15-year old girl then posting the video to Snapchat. The police have confirmed that they have successfully retrieved the “disappearing” images and video.

Three Washington Teens Accused of Allegedly Raping Girl And Then Posting Attack On Snapchat

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Did we miss a big story? Please let us know.

 

NEW: For a limited time the ThirdParent audit is FREE (normally $49). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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