Popular apps kids and teens are using and the risks to be wary of

Gen X and Millennial parents grew up in the times of Facebook and Instagram. But when it comes to the latest social networks, trends and apps their children are using, they may be in the dark about which apps are trending and what they do. Avast, a leader in security and privacy, provides insights for parents into platforms their children may be using, what data the networks and apps can share, to which audiences, and what privacy risks there may be.

It is essential that parents and guardians are informed and up to date on the platforms, their children are currently engaging with. By being aware of the apps their children are using parents and guardians can have conversations with their children and provide guidance and advice on protecting their privacy, staying safe, and on a respectful engagement with others.

What apps are kids using and what are their risks?

Below are apps children may be engaging with that parents might not be aware of. Avast shares background on the sites and advice on how to keep children safe whilst using these.

Connected2me

What is it?: Connected2.me is a global messaging platform for mobile or PC, with 40M+ registered users over the age of 13. Users are acquired by viral growth. It has an anonymity feature that is not available in other messaging platforms, which allows communication without revealing users’ identities, making it a very enticing app for children.

What to be wary of: Users speaking to each other on the platform have the decision if they would like to reveal their idenity or not, so a child could be messaging someone they don’t know. This can be problematic as they could be subjected to online harassment.

Hoop

What is it?: Hoop, which can be used on mobile or PC, encourages users 13 years and older to make friends and connections by looking at millions of profiles of other Hoop users from their own country or worldwide. Users can send friend requests to the profiles they like and then invite them to connect on other social media platforms.

What to be wary of: Currently, there’s no private account option for this application which can draw unwanted followers and even potentially stalkers. Anyone can add anyone else to follow. You can block accounts, but you’ll need to monitor who is deciding to follow you. To use the Hoop app, users must include their age, gender, photo, and country.

BeReal

What is it?: BeReal is a mobile app that aims to show people’s daily reality – at a different time every day, BeReal users are prompted to take an unfiltered picture of whatever situation they are in at that moment. When notified by the app, users have two minutes to take a photo with their front and back camera and share it with their friends’ network or other BeReal users. The app is designed for users 13 years and older.

What to be wary of: BeReal users should take extra care with the settings of each image. When posting a photo, users are asked to turn on/off geolocation and select whether they want to share it with the whole BeReal community or just their circle of friends. The Discovery of BeReal displays pictures to users outside their friend group and is accessible by any user of the app. A real-time location can be easily misused for stalking or profiling.

Telegram

What is it?: Telegram is a globally accessible freemium, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging service accessible to mobile and PC users, advised for users 16 years and older.

What to be wary of: As this service is typically not monitored by parents and guardians, children can use this to send explicit messages and, in some cases, there have been instances where children will source illicit substances through the service.

Telegram has become known as a source for conspiracy theories and extremist groups, who have been known to spread fake news which can be harmful. At a time when they may be innocent and vulnerable, being subjected to these extreme messages could be damaging.

Discord

What is it?: Discord is a communication platform for mobile or PC that was originally used by gamers 13 years and up who wanted to chat while playing games in different locations.

But it has expanded in recent years to include communities that convene around a range of topics. Users can communicate on Discord via voice, video, or text and it also facilitates group activities together, like playing games or watching movies. Discord is organised by “servers,” created by users, some of which require an invite and others of which are public.

What to be wary of: As mentioned earlier, as some “servers” are public, there have been instances where minors have been in contact with adults who have found them on these public “servers” and have sent them private messages, as private message functions are often not regulated. These adults had asked minors for inappropriate explicit content, and sometimes even asked minors for things like their family’s home addresses.

Avast Threat Labs had also discovered a Discord server where minors were selling and buying malware. This particular malware was used to hack other accounts to undertake mischievous activity on the victim’s account. Researchers notified Discord who later took the server offline. The minimum age to be on Discord is 13, but it’s an all-ages platform. That means some servers include not only adult conversations but sometimes other adult-only content.

Twitch

What is it?: Twitch is a live streaming service for people aged 13 and up. Teens have found that it provides opportunities to express themselves, find friends, and join communities of like-minded people. Twitch Creators, also called “Streamers” or “Broadcasters”, can be watched live doing things like playing games, making art, cooking, and hosting talk shows.  

What to be wary of: As it is impossible to moderate live-streaming content, children may be exposed to explicit commentary. Streamers can also be prone to cyberbullying and harassment as twitchers are able to remain anonymous.

TikTok

What is it?: TikTok is a short-form video hosting service for users 13 years and up. It hosts short-form user videos to entertain or inform, and durations can be from 15secs to 10 mins.

What to be wary of:  TikTok can be dangerous for children as the videos that are shown on the children’s For you page, which is a page with video content that sends through suggested videos to fit the accounts algorithm, meaning they can be exposed to inappropriate content.

The videos aren’t predetermined, so that means they could have access to explicit content. Users can also make anonymous accounts that can leave your child prone to cyberbullying.

How can parents take charge?

In order to educate parents and guardians on how to improve their digital literacy so they can help their children more safely manage their digital lives, Avast has shared a set of top tips for staying safe online that every parent and guardian should refresh themselves on.

Lead by example

Before you rush to implement the technical advice below, spend quality family time together online to help you identify the content your children are accessing. Explain what personal information is, how sensitive data can exist online for a long time and the risks of talking to strangers. Also, instill the idea of respectful engagement with peers, online and offline.

This goes both ways; parents always want to think the best of their children, but in fact, they are still growing and can be insensitive and hurtful to others at times. It’s important to have open conversations with children, teach them positive values and to treat others well.

Children also should learn to recognize and speak up when they aren’t treated well, particularly online. Above all, create an atmosphere where children feel comfortable coming to you if they encounter something online that makes them feel upset or threatened.

Get to know the social media platforms your children are using

Social media is increasingly a part of children’s lives. Some apps like BeReal allow users to share their location coordinates with high precision. Don’t forget to check the app’s specific privacy and security settings, and do this together with your child so you will be aware of the settings. For example, the ability to set the account to private and only allow known users to access it, or the additional information the app collects like location and off-platform data.

Update your software

Having comprehensive antivirus software, like Avast One, goes without saying, but one of the most important things you can do to keep your children safe online is to regularly update that antivirus software across all your devices. If you don’t download the latest update when they become available, your devices are open to attack due to the latest security gaps.

Be aware of phishing

It’s vital to make your children aware of phishing scams and how to spot them. They may be targeted through gaming or social media. Tell them not to give out personal information and to avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown senders.

Use a password manager

Teach your children to set strong passwords for every login and website. A strong password should be long and complex, consisting of special characters, numbers, and lower and upper case letters. Using a separate password manager or one included in a secure browser is also easy to set up and will significantly mitigate the risk of hacking.

Stephen Kho is a cybersecurity expert at Avast.