Teen Sexting App Has Gained Popularity Amid Pandemic
A Valley dad is warning parents about a sexting app he believes has just blown up in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The app is touted as Tinder for teens, but internet crimes experts said a lot of really young kids are using it.
“What I ended up learning was daunting, I mean probably fairly inappropriate to talk about some of the things I’ve read,” said parent Travis Rawlings.
Paradise Valley father of three Travis Rawlings said he thought he had it all figured out when monitoring his kids’ phones.
“We check what we use. We check Facebook, we check text messages, we’re checking phone calls,” said Rawlings.
But last week, he said an unsuspecting little yellow icon got his attention.
“There was an app called Yubo, Y-U-B-O that was just pinging the phone and I didn’t know what it was,” said Rawlings.
Yubo markets itself as a social live-streaming app but others tout it as a “Tinder for teens,” resembling a dating app.
“You can decide whether you want to swipe left or right. This is engaging kids to have secret intimate lives,” said Rawlings.
Rawlings said his son started using the app around the time his school went remote.
“COVID has caused a lot of social breakdowns. Kids are meant to be social, and the only way they can communicate is through apps right now,” said Kathleen Winn.
Winn, who runs a Valley organization against sex trafficking, said YUBO is also increasingly becoming a breeding ground for child predators. She cited a case in Florida where a 28-year-old man used it to meet a 13-year-old girl for sex.
“Young people being preyed upon to send inappropriate content,” said Winn. “Back to idle hands, we have teenagers at home with nothing to do with technologies available to ultimately have them secretly create relationships; we have no influence over them.”
Winn has advice for parents.
“You wouldn’t just let your kids walk out the front door and not know where they are. The same goes for online,” said Winn.
The company released the following statement:
Yubo is appalled and very concerned to learn that a young person may have been abused after meeting an adult on our service. We take this very seriously, and we have already reached out to the local law enforcement agency to ensure the alleged offender faces the full force of the law.
Yubo has for the past 3 years made the prevention of child abuse of any kind its key priority. We use both technical and human resources to prevent such behaviour, especially the grooming and targeting of young people, and when detecting it, we report it immediately to law enforcement agencies in every country, including the US.
So what can parents do?
Whether it’s Yubo or some other app it is recommended to make sure your child is not using apps with messaging functions and to be wary of “secret” apps that are disguised to look like something they are not. For example, an app that looks like a calculator that actually hides photos, videos, other files and browser history.
It can seem like a second full-time job keeping track of not only what’s on their phone but what they’re doing with it.
Several sheriff’s offices have warned about apps to be aware of—like LiveMe , Whisper and Monkey—that predators can and have used to reach children.
There are also apps out there, like one called Bark, which lets you monitor different functions on your kid’s phone.
Also, there’s a chance the law enforcement agency where you live offers free sessions for parents and students to learn about online safety.
Here is a list of apps to watch out for:
- Plenty of Fish: A popular free dating app and website that encourages chatting with strangers. It allows users to browse profiles based on location.
- HILY: A dating app where users can browse photos, engage in chats, send private videos and more. Based on the GPS location of a mobile device, strangers can arrange to meet up locally.
- Zoosk: A location-based dating app and website similar to many others. The app is available in 80 countries and utilizes a ‘carousel’ feature which matches users with random strangers.
- Mocospace: A free social networking and dating app. Users can connect with strangers worldwide via text messages or voice calls.
- Best Secret Folder: Specifically meant to hide photos and videos. According to app store descriptions, it features password protection, decoy videos and alarm settings.
- Monkey: A live video chat app that connects users to random strangers worldwide, offering group chat and private message options. It claims to be rated for ages 12 and up but has “mild sexual content and nudity.”
- MeetMe: A dating social media app that connects people based on location. Users are encouraged to meet in person.
- WhatsApp: A messaging app that allows texts, video calls, photo sharing and voicemails with users worldwide.
- Bumble: Similar to Tinder, but requires women to make the first contact. Law enforcement says kids and teens can create fake accounts and falsify their age.
- Live.Me: A live-streaming app that uses geolocation to share videos. The sheriff’s office said users can earn “coins” to “pay” minors for photos.
- Ask.FM: The sheriff’s office said this app lets users ask anonymous questions and is known for cyberbullying.
- Grindr: A dating app geared toward the LGBTQ community based on user location.
- TikTok: An app popular with kids lets users create and share short videos. Law enforcement said the app has “very limited privacy controls” and users can be exposed to cyberbullying and explicit content.
- Snapchat: One of the most popular social media apps in the world, Snapchat lets users take and share photos and videos. The app also lets people see your location.
- Holla: This self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app lets users meet people in seconds. Law enforcement said users have seen racial slurs and explicit content.
- Calculator+: Police say this is one of several apps that are used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history.
- Skout: A location-based dating app that is supposed to prohibit people under 17 from sharing private photos. However, police say kids can easily create an account with a different age.
- Badoo: A dating and social media app where users can chat and share photos and videos based on location. Police say the app is supposed to be for adults only, but they’ve seen teens create accounts.
- Kik: Police say kids can bypass traditional text messaging features using this app. Kik “gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime,” the sheriff’s office said.
- Whisper: An anonymous social network that lets users share secrets with strangers. Police say it also shows users’ location so people can meet up.
- Hot or Not: The app lets users rate profiles, check out people in their area and chat with strangers. Police say the goal of the app is to hook up.
- Yubo: Users can make new friends using their Snapchat and Instagram accounts. Like Tinder, users can swipe right if they see someone they want to connect with, or left if they’re not interested.