These days, children are walking around with mini computers in their smart phones, and the dangers that once posed a threat behind closed doors in their bedroom have now emerged on apps that they can access anytime. In recent news, the popular flirting appSkout shut down its app for teenagers after three separate reports of children allegedly raped by men posing as teenagers.
The app, which connects people with strangers nearby and has 10 million users, started a more protected app last year for teens between the ages of 13-17. Unfortunately, the site was abused by older men posing as teenagers in an attempt to lure its youngest users. In three separate cases, a 15- -year-old Ohio girl says she was raped by a 37-year-old man, a 12-year-old in Escondido, Calif. was allegedly raped by a 24-year-old man and a 13-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old man from Waukesha, Wis.
These cases illustrate the dangers that can arise from the many apps available on smartphones. In addition to chats and meeting up, these new apps use GPS to show where users are. In addition, Skout allows users to trade photos, instant message each other and send virtual gifts.
The company talks about safeguards used in the app for minors, including parental controls, an opt-in GPS location feature, and a special technology called “the creepinator,” which monitors photos for nudity and checks chats for inappropriate sexual messages, profanity, spamming and violent behavior. However, clearly these safeguards aren’t foolproof. In at least one case, the creepinator did not work. The 13-year-old boy mentioned above sent nude photos to a 21-year-old posing as a 16-year-old in Skout’s under-17 community, before meeting up with him in a secluded park.
It’s important for parents to monitor their children’s phone activity—apps, chats, texts, emails—and know what is going on. GPS should be turned OFF—kids are often posting pictures on Facebook or chatting on apps and there is no reason why their location should be posted.
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