Most have heard about the App “Girls Around Me”, but have you also heard aboutSkout, Highlight, Banjo, Grindr, Sonar and Kismet ? These are the newest and biggest Social Discovery Apps that are trending with our youth and young adults. All these Apps utilize the GPS chip in all smartphones to silently transmit a user’s location to those who maybe nearby who are friends, friends of friends, have similar interests or may even include complete strangers. When another user is close by and has signed into the same social discovery App, not only will the App alert you to this fact, but it will also allow you to communicate with one another via text messaging and automatically send personal information to the other user which may include your:
- First and/or last name
- Relationship status
- General location
As you can imagine, as these social discovery Apps become more widely used to automatically share the above noted information with others, so too will the predator start using these same Apps to their advantage as well. In fact, this week the owners of the teen flirting App “Skout”, suspended its under 18 social discovery service given that very recently three youth aged 12, 13 and 15, were targeted by sexual predators (who were posing as teens) used the App to locate and sexually victimize their intended targets.
Many who develop these social discovery Apps are not putting enough thought into how the information placed into them can be used against a subscriber. Given that these Apps are very popular with our youth and young adults, it is very common that they may not apply the same “critical thinking” (specific to social discovery information sharing), as an adult when using such services, which could then lead to sexual predation issues.
Given that social discovery/location is a relative new technology, we have to remember that developers are still working their way through all the privacy and security nuances that these Apps inherently provide as a byproduct of such technology. Our youth and young adults however, don’t read the terms of service and warnings about sharing information. Youth just want to push the download button, flash up the cool trending App, and start using it right away to interact with others on-line especially if that App is free, which many of these current social discovery Apps are.
As always, knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. As parents, guardians and caregivers, we need to talk to our kids about the concerns surrounding the use of social discovery Apps given their inherent dangers. The technology is in its infancy, so I would suggest that you advise your kids to wait a couple of years to allow it to mature before using such Apps. However, with everything that the Internet and Social Networking have to offer, this may be a difficult challenge to overcome. Arming our children with the real information about the concerns surrounding social discovery Apps however, can go along way in keeping our children safer.