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.

 

 

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Snapchat – Causing Dilemmas For Parents Since 2011

We wrote a post last year titled “Is Snapchat Safe for 10, 11 and 12 Year Olds?

Official age limit aside, our conclusion in that post was, “if you are allowing a tween to download and use Snapchat, you are trusting that she is mature enough to keep herself safe from predators and cyberbullies, and to stick to age appropriate behavior.” While it wasn’t the topic of that post, the same goes for 13 and 14-year olds.

We stick by that conclusion for the most part, but we were struck by a comment left by a reader under that post, which you can read below (emphasis added):
snapchat-logo

“My parents still won’t let me get it. I am 13 and I never get in trouble. They don’t understand how much I don’t get included into [because] nobody uses text messages anymore. I just hope they understand how much I get picked on at school for being the only one in the whole grade without it. And to be honest everyone just uses it to text and connect with people it would be weird to just randomly text.”

We’ll be the first to say that “everybody else is doing it” is never enough reason for parents to say yes to something. However, we acknowledge that the pressure is on this girl’s parents to do just that. If as this girl asserts, she is the only one in her group of friends who is not using Snapchat, her parents have put her in an unfortunate situation.

From what we’ve seen, there are groups of 8th graders where every kid has a smartphone and is using Snapchat. We have no doubt that some of them are using it inappropriately, and there is no foolproof way for parents to guard against an impromptu gaffe.

If this girl is as responsible as she says she is (we admit there’s no way of knowing that), we’d encourage the parents to let her use Snapchat.

That isn’t the end of our advice. Saying, “Yes” is just the beginning of parenting with respect to Snapchat, or any other social network or app.

Lay out firm guidelines: Be very specific as to what kind of behavior is appropriate. Sexting is never okay. Neither is cyberbullying. Talk about how she should react when she sees a friend being cyberbullied. Talk about which types of friend requests she should accept. Tell her to treat every post as if it’s public and permanent.

Agree what will happen if she violates the rules: If she runs afoul of your guidelines, will she lose her Snapchat privileges? Her phone? Spell it out beforehand, but try not to put her in a position where she will be reluctant to come to you with problems.

Monitor activity: You won’t be able to monitor all of her Snapchat activity. You should be able to get a good idea of how she’s using the app if you talk to her about it often, and you should.

Do some research: There is plenty of content on the web about how teens are actually using Snapchat. By learning a little about Snapchat, you can greatly increase the meaning in the conversations you have with your teen.

Smartphones are definitely here to stay, and Snapchat looks like it is as well. Saying yes to Snapchat can increase your parenting workload an your stress level, but at some point it is the right thing to do.

 

 

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Is Voat Safe for Teens?

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably never heard of Voat, a newish news and commentary social media platform.

It’s more likely that you’ve heard of Voat-mascotReddit, a social network that is very similar (if you haven’t, that’s okay – more than a third of Reddit users are 24 or younger). It’s not a coincidence the two networks are similar. Voat is quite literally a clone of Reddit.

You may have also heard that Reddit has been having big problems lately, as users and moderators have been revolting over a number of issues. One of the key issues is censorship, from the users’ point of view. Reddit’s management views what they are doing as more along the lines of maintaining a responsible community.

Which gets us back to whether Voat is safe for teens – and the answer is no. Both sites’ Term of Service are very lax about permitted content and on both users are mostly anonymous. The rules according to Reddit:

reddit-rules

There are a few more Reddit rules, known as Reddiquette, and you can see them here.

From Voat’s User Agreement:

“Keep Everyone Safe: You agree to not intentionally jeopardize the health and safety of others or yourself. Keep Personal Information Off voat: You agree to not post anyone’s sensitive personal information that relates to that person’s real world or online identity. Do Not Incite Harm: You agree not to encourage harm against people. Protect Kids: You agree not to post any child pornography or sexually suggestive content involving minors.”

While’s Voat’s rules may look more strict, the difference between the two is that Reddit has begun battling harassment in earnest. On Voat, there is no such battle because harassment is permitted, and that is why former Reddit users have been migrating to Voat. Voat is Swiss-based, and if your teen is in North America and using Voat, you might want to ask him why he is doing so in the first place. Reddit has more content and more users. Chances are he is doing so because Reddit is policing some of the inappropriate behavior that he is interested in. For example, one of the forums that Reddit recently shut down was based solely on shaming fat people.

Because most types of adult content is permitted on both networks, neither is really safe for teens. On Voat, you have the added risk of unchecked harassment. Even is your teen is not participating, that’s not the best environment of be hanging out in.

 

 

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Is the New Reveal App Safe for Teens?

reveal-app-logo-sqReveal app wants to pay its users. That’s right, like budding social network Tsu (which never really got going as far as we can tell), new app and community wants to be the social network that allows users to directly share in its success.

Reveal bills itself as “the first social network with its own integrated cryptocurrency”, and it will use that currency to pass payments from future advertisers directly to users (there are no ads for now). Reveal also claims that they will give users control over what kinds of ads, and how many, they see in their feed.As with most social platforms, the age limit is 13, although curiously I was not asked my age when signing up. Reveal operates on a reveal-app-sign-inquestion and answer framework, and as we’ve seen with Ask.fm, which is similarly structured, the Q&A format and optional anonymity have resulted in widespread cyberbullying and bad behavior. That’s something Reveal will have to look out for.

In terms content they allow, Reveal is pretty mild. The Terms of Service prohibits threats of any kind, pornography and sexually explicit material and anything that is illegal. No word on how they plan to moderate content, though there is a “Report This Post” option readily available. Reveal’s straightforward Community Rules page is quite good.

Although it appears that they intend to respect user privacy, they do reserve the right to sell your personal data if they sell the company.

We aren’t sure whether Reveal is going to be successful – we are not huge fans of the Q&A format but we’re probably not in their target market. We spent some time playing around with it this morning and we didn’t see any signs of cyberbullying or inappropriate content, which is a good thing. We’ll continue to watch and see if Reveal gets to critical mass, and what types of problems for teens (or good experiences) that pop up along the way.

 

 

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 the Tinder App Safe for Teens?

tinder-appLet us be clear here. Tinder is a hookup app. It might be positioned as a dating app, but it isn’t really being used that way. It is not a “find friends” app. It is used by people looking for casual, no-strings-attached intimate relationships. It is also used by predators, as was the case in the Midwest this month.

Twenty-four people in Wisconsin and surrounding states, including two teens, were arrested this week after using the Tinder app to target victims, some under the age of 18. The under-age nature of the targets was ascertained by police in the sting operation, as they (the police) were posing as 15-year-old girls.

The age limit on Tinder is 13, but like most age limits online there is no way for the company to enforce it. Ignoring possible users under 13, according to one of the founders of Tinder, over 7% of users are aged 13 to 17. Since Tinder has more than 10 million users according to recent reports, that could be almost a million teens. If your teen, male or female, is on Tinder, whether he/she intends it or not he/she is telling nearby Tinder users that sex is an option. At least that’s how it is perceived.

Here’s a handy guide for parents who happen to notice the Tinder app on a teen’s phone:

If your teen is Appropriate Parent Reaction
17 years old “Don’t use Tinder”
16 years old “Don’t use Tinder”
15 years old “Don’t use Tinder”
14 years old “Don’t use Tinder”
13 years old “Don’t use Tinder”

 

So parents, if you don’t like the idea of your teen getting solicited for sex by strangers, Tinder is a bad idea. If you’re worried about your teen being contacted by a predator, tinder is a terrible idea.

13 is the wrong age limit for Tinder. It should be 18+. If you see the Tinder app on your teen’s phone, see that it is deleted.

 

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

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Is “We Heart It” Safe for Teens?

We-heart-it-logoWe were surprised to read last week that emerging social network We Heart It had passed 30 million users. If you’re not a teenage girl, you probably haven’t heard of it, but that might change soon.

We Heart It is an image sharing social network that caters so specifically to the teen girl demographic that it is almost obvious that it’s seeing success – it’s like Pinterest for the daughters of Pinterest users.

The site is not as family-friendly as we would like to see. There is an option in the settings to allow users to view mature content, and some nudity is permitted (we’re not sure where they draw the line). The site’s Terms of Service do state that most content that is not safe for kids is prohibited, including harassment, threats, anything depicting sexual acts, discriminatory in nature or promoting self-harm. While browsing the site today, we did notice some posts that included profanity, but we-heart-it-abuseWe Heart It states clearly that they will remove inappropriate content, and the “report abuse” function is easy to find and appears on every post.

The site’s stated age limit is 13, but like most social media sites, they do little to enforce it. For example, I signed up for a new account using Twitter, and they didn’t ask for my age at all.

We Heart It promises to delete any personal information from users under 13 if they learn that a user is under age, so we are hopeful that a parent reporting a child’s account would get the result they are looking for.

On the topic of cyberbullying, We Heart It gets high marks for keeping it safe. Since the site doesn’t allow text comments – users can either “heart” another user’s content or repost it – there is no opportunity to trash other users.

Because of the nudity, we’d recommend parents not let younger users join We Heart It. For older teens, it is a pretty good option for kids looking for a social network focused on their peers’ interests and not their parents’.

 

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