GREENSBORO, N.C. — How does a 14-year-old get into a conversation with a 38-year old man she’s never met? In the Savannah Childress case, she was talking to William Ice through a free chat site called Emerald Chat. She was using her school-issued Chromebook.
It’s unclear if Savannah knew who she was really talking to. Emerald Chat allows strangers to talk to one another anonymously. Investigators say Ice was known as Will Hedglin on Emerald Chat.
Along with Emerald Chat, there are other apps you should have on your radar. Cyber Security Expert Dr. Steve Webb talked to our news partners KING earlier this year about apps parents should be aware of and why.
The top five apps he talked about were: Snapchat, Yolo, TikTok, Whisper, and Discord.
You might even use some of these apps, but you should also know your way around the apps enough to know all their features.
“No parent would drop their kid off at the mall if they knew there were pedophiles and bullies and murderers-- so why do we allow them in our bedrooms without knowing they are there? And that's what we do when we allow kids to be quiet in their bedrooms and download whatever they want to with their apps,” said Webb.
5 Popular but Dangerous Apps All Parents Should be Aware of:
Dr. Steve Webb is the best-selling author of the book Education in a Violent World
1. SNAPCHAT - This super popular app allows users to send photos and videos that disappear after they're received. Why parents should worry: Some kids are using the app to send racy pics because they believe the images can't be saved and circulated. But it turns out that Snapchat pics don't completely disappear from a device and recipients can take a screenshot before an image vanishes in the app, allowing the image to be used for eternity in blackmailing or bullying campaigns. The app also shares the geographic location of users.
2. YOLO (You Only Live Once) This app allows users to communicate over Snapchat anonymously. Why parents should worry: Because there is no way to identify the sender unless the sender chooses to reveal their own identity, this app provides an opportunity for bad behavior and wholesale cyberbullying that can be devastating for victims - triggering despair and even suicide.
3. TIKTOK - An app for creating and sharing short 15-second music videos. It encourages users to express themselves creatively through video. Why parents should worry: Thirteen is the minimum age, but there isn't a real way to validate age so any child can download the app and view explicit content posted by others. Also, more troubling, all accounts are set to public by default so strangers can use this app to contact and communicate with your children at home in their bedrooms while the kids are surfing social media sites.
4. WHISPER - Whisper is an anonymous social network that promotes sharing secrets with strangers. It also reveals a user's location so people can meet up. Why parents should worry: Whisper lets users set up anonymous accounts to make their messages or confessions overlap an image or graphic (similar to e-postcards), which other users can then "like," share or comment on. While it allows for creative expression, it can also take personal content viral. The app also shows a user's location. Although the app is geared toward older teens and adults, younger children are finding their way to it.
5. DISCORD - Initially created for gamers to talk while they're playing, Discord has morphed into a place for anyone to explore their interests in subject-specific groups. Why parents should worry: It's had safety problems, including being at the center of at least one serious crime where an 11-year-old boy was lured across state lines from Mississippi to southern Illinois. Its private servers have a reputation as places where bad actors and cybercriminals can come together to communicate.
SOLUTION: PARENTAL CONTROLS
Consumers Advocate has a list of the 10 best parental control apps of 2021. When you scroll down this list, you'll see each app gives you the highlights of what it monitors so you can pick what best suits your needs. Everything from Norton to Bark and Net Nanny.
You have widespread monitoring options from putting time limits on games and apps, tracking calls and texts, content filters, even tracking your child’s location.
Webb says parents need to take action to protect their children.
“Play the games with your children. I take their headset and I start talking to the people they're talking to and they are friends. They don't like the intrusion, but that's my job as a dad,” said Webb.