Mobile Apps: The traps you should know about

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We live in amazing times, where there is quite literally an app for everything. Some apps are great time savers, some help you to solve problems, others are there for a bit of fun, and some, like games, can become quite addictive, so you need to be careful with managing your time.

Whilst there are some amazing apps available, it is critical to understand some important details regarding your privacy, the information that you provide the app and other traps.  We encourage you to have fun and explore, but you need to have a knowledge and understanding about where things will take you.

Let’s be honest here, how many of us read the conditions, or check out the developer, before we download an app? It is possible for anyone to make an app these days. I expect things to improve with the new privacy laws in Australia, but it could take some time for these improvements to filter through and take effect.

It’s not all doom and gloom; we just want you to be aware so you and your family can make better decisions.

 

Before you download an app, scroll down and check out the information they provide and request:

Information requested:

Besides the information provided by the app, how much information is the app requesting from you when you sign up.

Under the new Australian privacy laws, apps should not request more information than is legitimately required for the app to function.  A consent form should be the first thing you see when you go to download, advising you what information will be collected and why.

Data should not be collected just because it could prove useful to the company or developer in the future. This type of data collection has been an issue with many apps collecting data, and using it to target advertising, or on-sell it to other developers.

There should be an opt-out for certain data; sometimes, you might see a “skip” button, for example, when an app asks to access all your friends, lists etc. Some apps will require this access to work, but it should be clearly stated, so you can make the choice whether to download or look for an alternative.

Always read the information provided about the app before you download.

 

Free vs. Paid:

Nothing is ever really free; in exchange for an app, you give up data, and with free apps, you are more likely to be faced with in-app advertising and offers to make further purchases.advertising

 

We highly recommend purchasing the paid version of apps to protect your family from some of this advertising

An interesting aside is that it has been shown that Apple iOS users are more likely to pay for an app than Android users.  At the recent Google developers conference it was noted that although there are now more than DOUBLE the number of Android users (around 1 billion vs. 470 million iOS users), the iOS users spend DOUBLE the money on apps.  I find this interesting, as the security on Android phones is still more susceptible than the iOS system, so parents should definitely be prepared to pay if they are using Android phones (i.e. Samsung etc).


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In-App Purchases:

In-app purchases are offers made during game play, for example to purchase extra moves, add-ons, theme changes etc.  These can add up to substantial costs, particularly in the hands of young children.

Put a passcode on your phone, and don’t allow your child access to your passwords for purchasing and downloading, to help prevent nasty credit card shocks.


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Advertising:

These are offers to purchase other games or go to other sites, which pop up during the use of the app.  These offers  are often disguised to look like they are part of the app itself.

 

Third party apps:

Where possible, only download apps from your platform’s official store (i.e. Google store or iTunes).  Third party apps often contain malware and viruses, which may enable access to information such as passwords, bank information, and contacts. Many of these third party apps are available via social platforms such as Facebook (e.g. Candy Crush Saga, Farmville, and so on).

 

Appropriateness:

What is important is for parents to ensure that their children are using age-appropriate apps.  Recently, I have had enquiries from parents with children as young as 7 wanting to be on Instagram and Snapchat.

 

My question to you is, why?  The usual answer is “because their friends are.” I am always astounded at that response, because I know that every single parent wants to keep their child safe, so allowing them to access platforms which are full of adult content and expose them to risk, is completely against their own desires as parents.

 

Please don’t give into peer pressure. I don’t mean to sound harsh; however, the responsibility starts with us as parents/carers and role models.

Look into the app and make decisions you are comfortable with. Be prepared to accept and address possible consequences of its use, which may include exposure to pornography and adult material, contact by unknown people, geo tracking, and cyber bullying.

 

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I know how appealing many of these apps are, with great visuals and fun experiences, but let’s start at the start:

1.      Check the age limits for the app.

If you have set your tablet and phone settings correctly for your child to use, they should not be able to download material which is outside their age bracket.  Every child has a different level of maturity, but this doesn’t make an app right.  The number one thing we teach our children if we ignore the rules, is that rules do not matter.

Instagram:

States you must be 13 to use the app, so if your child isn’t 13, that should really be enough.

Snapchat:

Age limit is also 13, but if you enter a date of birth under that, it will send your child to Snapkidz, which is a downgraded version of the app, and much safer to use.  Personally, I think it should be rated a bit higher, as there is a lot of sexualized content, drug references, and profanity. Certainly not the place you want your 10 year old.

Kik Messenger:

Age limit is 17+ due to adult content, unrestricted access to web, and frequent/intense/suggestive themes.  Last year, in Australia, a police report indicated that Kik was the number one app used by pedophiles to groom children.

Tinder:

Rated 17+ – this is the “hook-up” app that allows your teen to vote on people nearby, and if they “pass” them and the other person does the same, they can then connect, chat, and meet up.  Frightening in the hands of the young and dangerous due to the GPS locator built in. Children as young as 10, have been reported to be using Tinder as a dating app.
Other apps which are not suitable for children include Chatroulette and Omegle.

Have a look at your child’s devices and go over the apps they are using, and use this as a great way to start a conversation about safety.

 

2.      Check the information being requested

The majority of these apps will ask to scan your address book, to connect you with people you know.  These people have not given permission for you to share their data, so you should not allow this feature.

It is recommended you disable the ability of an app to scan your address book, in order to protect your contacts.

 

3.      Discuss the apps your children are using

Speak to your child regularly about the apps they are using, and look for safer alternatives when an app is not appropriate.

Safechatapp and Securekidschat are a couple of potentially suitable ones that have recently come on the market.

Be aware that on the majority of apps no one is “checking I.D. at the door” – so there is no checking mechanism, except for telling the truth when you download.

If you decide to allow your child to use apps which are outside their age group, then I urge you to have an agreement with them that you can regularly check their messages. If they don’t want to show you, or start deleting, then that could be an alarm bell that they are indulging in chats and behaviours which they know would not be approved.

 

Childhood is such a short time of our entire lives; there is no need to infiltrate our children with adult themes and adult material – they will get there soon enough.

 

4.      Avoid App addiction

Try to monitor the amount of time your child spends using apps.  There are increasing cases of “app addiction” surfacing.  Recently, in the UK, a woman was found to have stolen £1000 from her disabled mother, all in order to continue playing.

This kind of game play is considered by some as effectively “grooming” your child for future gambling problems.

 

5.      Research you app developer

Look at the developer of the app, and the other types of applications they have made (if any), and do a little research.  If an app developer has developed many adult content apps, there is a good chance that advertising on other apps they produce may include these games.

If you are interested in how the new regulations affect apps and app developers, click on this Better practice guide for mobile developers link

 

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DISCLAIMER *please note the writer has no affiliation with any of these apps and they are purely shown as examples of what is out there.  Any information provided in this article is for general information purposes only.  No representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability are made in respect of any information contained within this article.  Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.    In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of any app mentioned in this article..

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Please be aware that the information is made available for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You must exercise your own due diligence before implementing any recommendation and/or purchasing any product. Judith-Rose Max and Happy Parenting are exempt of any and all responsibility associated with misuse or your own interpretation. Do not delay seeking medical or professional advice. You acknowledge and agree that the above warnings and disclaimers shall apply to all content and that you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing.
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