SnapChat: An app where users send one another photos, videos, or direct messages. Users can also create “stories” where their photos or videos will last for 24 hours. Users take a photo or video, choose how long it can be viewed, and send it to the recipient(s) of their choice. Once a photo is viewed, it is permanently gone and cannot be retrieved. Snapchat does not filter user’s private messages and deletes all unsaved messages, photos, and videos after they are opened. The only way to save a photo is screenshotting the image before it disappears or by clicking “re-play” within 30 seconds to view one more time before the photo disappears permanently. It is virtually impossible for law enforcement to retrieve any CSAM before it is automatically deleted from SnapChat’s storage.
TikTok: An app that allows users to stream and create 15 second videos on any topic. The app allows users to use popular music, sound bytes, and recordings of other users in their videos. Often on TikTok, predators use grooming tactics like gaining a child’s trust and respect by praising that child for their talents or by pretending to be another child. A predator may coerce a child into posting explicit content, use the child’s trust as a way to start an inappropriate relationship, or convince the child they can “make them famous”. TikTok creates suggestions based on the content the user views, their age, third party data, and search history.
Instagram: Instagram is a video and photo sharing app owned by Meta [Facebook]. It allows users to post photos and videos, make short videos with music and sound bytes called “reels”, message anyone [followers or non-followers], create 24-hour long picture or video “stories”, and send secret messages that automatically delete in “vanish mode”. Instagram bans full nudity and videos or photos of sexual acts, however they do allow what many would consider pornographic images. As long as body parts aren’t completely exposed, parts of the explicit photo are slightly covered, Instagram usually allows these photos. For example, a nude person can be shown wearing sheer, see-through clothing or be covered with small articles of lingerie and this is permitted. Also Like many apps, Instagram suggests advertisements, posts, users to follow, and features a “Made for you” suggestions page.
Yik Yak: In an article titled, “The 12 Most Dangerous Apps for Kids: A Parent’s Guide” for Bark by Haley Zapal, Yik Yak is described as, “One of the most dangerous messaging apps for kids of the past decade [that] has recently made a resurgence. Yik Yak is an anonymous chatting app that lets users within a five-mile radius read publicly posted messages. When we say anonymous, we really mean it: Yik Yak has no user names, no handles, no real names, and no photos.” Bark also explains how Yik Yak can be used for sharing sexually explicit language, spreading rumors, and for bullying.
Roblox: Roblox is a videogame that can be accessed by users around the world. Bark reports it’s popular among young children ages 5-12 and very similar to Minecraft in many ways. Roblox is a game, but users can create and share games, photos, links, and other content within the game. Violence is simulated within this game. Adults can easily access children through messaging within Roblox and through the content they create and publish on the platform.
Yarn: Bark’s “The 12 Most Dangerous Apps for Kids: A Parent’s Guide” by Haley Zapal describes Yarn as “a reading app, but definitely not one you want your kids downloading. Yarn tells stories via fake text messages (it looks like you’re in iMessage reading a friend’s thread) that are either scary or sexual. Some of the titles you can access include “Send Nudes?,” “He’s Watching Me,” “Serial Slasher,” and “Sexting 101.” In addition to text messages, you can also watch short videos on a variety of topics. Sometimes, they’re even in the form of TikToks. You can also listen to audio clips kind of like an audiobook or podcast.”
Kik: Kik is a messaging app, also rated by Bark as one of the top 12 most dangerous apps for kids. Bark also states it “has almost no redeeming qualities”. Bark is a messaging app that allows people to use chat rooms. Predators can easily find kids, join chat rooms with children, catfish them, and use this app for predation. If your child needs to message someone, there are many safer avenues that are much easier to filter safely where they are not openly exposed to anyone.
OnlyFans: OnlyFans is an app that allows users to create content and allow their “fans” to subscribe. Creators earn money when their fans pay for subscriptions and purchase content. OnlyFans openly allows nudity, pornography, and is popular for adult film actors, celebrities, and sex workers to sell content on. Fans can subscribe monthly or use a pay-per-view subscription. Although the app is for adults 18+ in the U.S., OnlyFans has had trouble with age verification, CSAM distribution, and child exploitation. Children were accessing the app by moving past the age verification as it only requires a photo and a photo of a valid ID to be approved. In addition, creators who are 18+ need only to have their ID approved and then they are free to post child sexual abuse materials. The app claims to filter content to ensure no CSAM is distributed, as it violates their guidelines. However, CSAM can easily fly under the radar especially when the subject of the content is a teenager made to look adult. It’s also common for OnlyFans creators to purposefully make themselves look younger or even child-like, further promoting the sexualization of children and making filtering content even more difficult.
HOOP: HOOP is most easily described as a dating app for children and teens. Protect Young Eyes’ App Report on Hoop explains it like this: “HOOP connects with Snapchat, shows you Snap profiles of other users, and allows you [to] connect with them or swipe away to the next Snap profile. Once they’ve exchanged Snap info inside of Hoop, the rest of the conversation happens in Snapchat. There’s no chat in Hoop, and location information isn’t included — though some users put it on their profile image or bio. Teens earn points for logging in daily, sharing their Snap, getting Snap friends to join Hoop, and taking surveys.” They also include in their report that the profiles are public, there’s no private account options. Users get rewarded with points for sharing Snapchat usernames with strangers. The app reviewer for Protect Young Eyes came across multiple racy photos, of what appeared to be teenage girls, in their review and shared, “While the majority of the profiles are appropriate, there are profiles that are not. I came across these inappropriate profiles after about 10 minutes of use (for reference: search preferences were set for any gender, any country, and no filters on age or location; the first picture, my age was set at 13 and for the second and third, my age was set at 30). Adults can use the app with age verification and will be shown adult profiles. However, Hoop has made it extremely easy for predators to create a fake child's profile to access children; all they need is a fake photo and a made-up child’s bio and they can have access to whatever age group they might pretend to be.
Wink: Wink operates extremely similarly to HOOP. Wink is designed for kids and teens to meet other kids and teens to then connect on Snapchat and can be used by adults as well. The same dangers and risks as Hoop are very much at play with Wink. It’s easy for predators to use and catfish children with.
Among Us: Among Us is a mystery game where 4-10 players play a “Mafia” style game as animated people in space-suits. The game is made up of multiple rounds where players try to escape the secret killers and the secret killers try to kill enough before the game ends. The game play is not the issue, instead it’s the chat feature. Certain language is censored, but the chat filter is easy to work around. The game lets anyone with the app play with anyone of any age, so adults can very easily chat with children. There is a setting where only people with a password can join a game so kids can potentially play with players they know only, but certain steps must be taken for this.
Discord: Bark’s review of the app explains it best. Also in the “The 12 Most Dangerous Apps for Kids: A Guide for Parents”, Haley Zapal writes, “Discord is a huge place for teens to hang out and talk about gaming… It’s a messaging platform that’s very similar to Slack, and features chatrooms, direct messaging, voice chat, and video calls. Users can join different “servers” and within each server are different “channels.” Think of these like chat rooms. They can be for anything, from huge public video game servers to small, private groups of friends. So, why is Discord so dangerous? Because it can expose kids to all sorts of inappropriate content, from hate speech and porn to bullying and online predators. Bark’s 2021 annual report found Discord consistently in the top five platforms for bullying, suicidal ideation, body image, and more. And even though it’s popular among teens, Discord is used by more than just kids, which means that adult content on the app is rampant. It can be easy for kids to get involved in a Discord server and make “friends” and then be influenced by sketchy adults.”
Omegle: Omegle is an app designed to let users video chat with strangers worldwide. It pairs two people up anonymously via video chat — and that’s about all it is. There’s not much the app does, or can do, about filtering users or content. People can share live video of pornographic acts, nudity, and explicit behaviors in real time. Users can also save videos and screenshots of their encounter. This app is very easy for predators to use and extremely dangerous for children.
Twitter: Twitter is an app that allows users to share 280 characters at a time with their private audience or publicly. Users can also share photos, “re-tweet” (or share other people’s posts), and message one another. Unfortunately, like Instagram, Twitter is a go-to source for pornography.
Be Aware of “Vault Apps": Vault Apps are apps disguised as others. For instance, a person can download a vault app that appears to be a calculator or a news app, however when you open the vault app, it will actually take you to secret photos, other apps, or other content. Typically, vault apps require a password to open and some will take photos automatically if a password is denied. This is an easy way for kids to hide conversations, inappropriate photos, or apps they aren’t allowed to have.
Vetting Apps: When you’re vetting apps for your children, think of the following questions:
Does my child have to lie about their age to access this app?
Is this app rated for kids?
Can porn be easily shared on this app?
Is there a chat option?
Has this app, or apps like it, been proven to increase depression, social media addictions, harmful behaviors, suicidality, eating disorders, poor body image etc?
Does the app automatically make profiles public?
Is there a way to make private profiles?
If my child’s profile is private, can other users still see their name, photo, age, or location?
Can my child receive messages or message requests?
Does this app have chat rooms?
Is this an app an adult can easily pretend to be a child on?
Would this app be ideal for a predator to use?
Can people find out my child’s information if they’re on this app?
Does my child need this app? Is there a safer way they can connect with friends that I can easily monitor and filter?
Can photos and videos be shared?
Can my child access links sent to them and be taken to an outside website?
To view Bark’s “The 12 Most Dangerous Apps for Kids: A Guide for Parents”, visit: https://www.bark.us/blog/hidden-social-media-apps/