With several recent reports of arrests made after online predator and human trafficking stings, law enforcement officers around the country are reminding parents about potentially dangerous apps their kids could have access to.
A few weeks ago, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said 25 people were arrested during an operation targeting online predators. Sheriff Tom Knight said all of the men arrested utilized "the internet and mobile applications to contact the children to have sex."
The sheriff's office, and most recently the Madill Police Department in Oklahoma, shared graphics showing 15 apps parents should know about.
The apps include well-known social media and dating apps like Snapchat, TikTok and WhatsApp, as well as location-based dating apps like MeetMe, Grindr and Skout.
App parents should know about, according to law enforcement
- MeetMe: A dating social media app that connects people based on location. Users are encouraged to meet in person.
- WhatsApp: A messaging app that allows texts, video calls, photo sharing and voicemails with users worldwide.
- Bumble: Similar to Tinder, but requires women to make the first contact. Law enforcement says kids and teens can create fake accounts and falsify their age.
- Live.Me: A live-streaming app that uses geolocation to share videos. The sheriff's office said users can earn "coins" to "pay" minors for photos.
- Ask.FM: The sheriff's office said this app lets users ask anonymous questions and is known for cyberbullying.
- Grindr: A dating app geared toward the LGBTQ community based on user location.
- TikTok: A new app popular with kids lets users create and share short videos. Law enforcement said the app has "very limited privacy controls" and users can be exposed to cyberbullying and explicit content.
- Snapchat: One of the most popular social media apps in the world, Snapchat lets users take and share photos and videos. The app also lets people see your location.
- Holla: This self-proclaimed "addicting" video chat app lets users meet people in seconds. Law enforcement said users have seen racial slurs and explicit content.
- Calculator+: Police say this is one of several apps that are used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.
- Skout: A location-based dating app that is supposed to prohibit people under 17 from sharing private photos. However, police say kids can easily create an account with a different age.
- Badoo: A dating and social media app where users can chat and share photos and videos based on location. Police say the app is supposed to be for adults only, but they've seen teens create accounts.
- Kik: Police say kids can bypass traditional text messaging features using this app. Kik "gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime," the sheriff's office said.
- Whisper: An anonymous social network that lets users share secrets with strangers. Police say it also shows users' location so people can meet up.
- Hot or Not: The app lets users rate profiles, check out people in their area and chat with strangers. Police say the goal of the app is to hook up.
Back in May, Apple and Google removed three dating apps from their stores after reports of the apps allowing children as young as 12 to access them. The Federal Trade Commission said apps Meet24, FastMeet and Meet4U appeared to violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and the FTC Act.
The apps are operated by Wildec LLC, a Ukranian company, according to the FTC. They collect a user's birthdate, email address, photos and real-time location data. The FTC claims the apps failed to block users under the age of 13 from using the apps or from being contacted by other users.
Earlier this year, 10News reporter Jenny Dean spoke with Sgt. Pat Voit with the Tampa Police Cyber Crimes Unit about keeping teens safe online and social media.
Police said parents and teens should know two things:
1. Once a picture or video leaves your phone and is sent to someone else, it is out of your control.
2. Someone can use that picture or video against you.
Voit also recommends parents and teens check out the website Netsmartz for some guidelines to follow.
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