Dark Apps: Sites parents need to know about

Published: Oct. 31, 2016 at 7:48 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2016 at 1:59 AM EDT
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Some apps are dangerous. They are not what they appear to be on the surface. (Source: WOIO)
Some apps are dangerous. They are not what they appear to be on the surface. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Parents need to be aware that truly dangerous apps exist and, believe it or not, are readily available to children.

Dr. Kathleen Stansberry is an Assistant Professor with Cleveland State University who is an expert in the field of social media, apps and the internet.

"Parental involvement with media activity is something that should be well ingrained their entire life. Limits should be set early," Dr. Stansberry advised.

But before you listen to her as an expert she's also a parent.

"My son, my 7-year-old in particular, we spend a fair amount of time online but we do it together," she said.

We went to Dr. Stansberry to ask what new technologies are out there that parents need to look for on their kid's phone, tablets and computers. Our first topic, apps that are actually hidden vaults. We found one called Calculator Plus, but it is absolutely not a calculator. It's a false front that once you open the app, you need a password, from there you have access to files in which to hide pics and videos.

"That would be a huge red flag that there's something going on that my child doesn't want me to be aware of, or doesn't want anyone to be aware of. And it's natural to want privacy but to actively go through the process of hiding something, that's not going to work," explained Dr. Stansberry.

The next type of app and website of concern is the continued popularity of anonymous chat sites, which also have app versions. What started with Chat Roulette has exploded into sites like Omegle. When you search Omegle on Google you might be surprised what its tagline is, "Talk to Strangers!".

"I feel like, didn't we tell our kids our entire lives not to talk to strangers?" questioned Dr. Stansberry as she shows us around the site.

The concerning part about an app like Omegle is there is no sign up, no email address to register to, no phone number meaning no real way to track back who's posting what. You click and instantly start texting a complete stranger.

For a demonstration with the professor we used the internet version of Omegle and in a split second we were connected to a stranger who said she was a 21-year-old woman. In seconds she was telling us to look her up on another anonymous app kik. There, we find a pic of her, or who she says she is and she tells us she's glad we texted and she's bored.

"So this seems innocent enough," we said to the professor.

"Probably not," Dr. Stansberry replied.

The next question, "I'm assuming this is going to go a different direction?"

"I imagine," stated the professor.

And then again in a matter of second she directs us to a third app, to see another pic. When we click on that, we get a pic of a half-naked woman in a t-shirt. And this is clearly heading down a different path.

So we asked Dr. Stansberry, "That conversation that happened so quickly what does that say that you?"

"It shows out how easy it is to first, go from site to site. So it's not enough to talk about one dangerous site, or dangers apps. It's not one location. It's that your phone and your computer and the web in general facilitates a lot of interactions. A lot of them are good. A lot of them are not," warned Dr. Stansberry.

In defense of Omegle on its homepage at the very bottom in small print is this warning: Parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist you in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. And then they provide a link to some of the products available.

Bottom line according to Dr. Stansberry parents need to have a working relationship with their kids and the types of media their using before you just hand them a phone for the first time.

"It's a conduit into a massive amount of people. So just as you wouldn't, I don't know, send your kid into a crowded auditorium full of people and say 'ohh go make some friends' and not monitor them, you can't do that with a phone either," she explained.


According to Dr. Stansberry there are two devices and apps parents can use for protection. First parental controls:

"Parental control tend to be more related to maybe making things not available or you can, there are apps, so you can have the phone shut off or you can only use apps for a certain amount of time," the professor said.

And there are things called nanny controls:

"If a child downloads a new app, maybe you can get a ping on your phone or an alert. So you are actually connecting your phone or your technology with your child's."

The apps and the kids are getting smarter, and parents have to try and keep up.

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