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Teen cyberbullying grows with 'anonymous' social chat apps

Taylor Armerding | March 25, 2014
Apps like Yik Yak, Whisper and Secret offer teens online anonymity, but experts say parents need to remind kids that the promise is bogus.

But Rebecca Herold, CEO of The Privacy Professor, said that would likely put only, "a tiny dent," in its use by pre-teens through late teens. "Cyberbullying is a 24x7 problem," she said, adding that so far, app developers, citing both a lack of consumer demand or any legal requirements, "have done absolutely nothing meaningful to build in any types of security or privacy controls."

She said recently when she spoke to a group of app developers, one told her, "there are no laws requiring us to include security or privacy, so we sure as hell aren't going to waste our time creating something that app users apparently don't want."

Herold also said that while there are tools available for parents to limit the use of TV channels or websites, "similar types of technologies for mobile apps are simply not being done yet, to my knowledge."

Meanwhile, kids are savvy enough to get around geofencing of the school grounds. There are plenty of other gathering places, from playgrounds to boys and girls clubs and buses to and from school or athletic events."

"Kids will always be able to get around it," Cleary said, adding that if the developers really wanted to restrict an app's use, they could charge for it, "and that requires a parent with a credit card to pay for it."

"The boundaries of the digital communities are not dependent upon where the participants are physically located," Herold added. "It is also a problem throughout the entire day, not just at school or school-sponsored events."

Theresa Payton, former White House CIO and CEO of Fortalice Solutions, LLC, said she thinks the Yik Yak promise of nation-wide geofencing was, "a savvy move and shows that Yik Yak has a social awareness and conscience."

But she said parental involvement is more likely to curb cyberbullying than efforts to block it through technology. She said the best defense is for parents to have a "digital talk" with their children before they start using mobile devices.

"There will always be an app that's new and hot that everyone is talking about that your tweens and teens will gravitate towards," she said. "I would give them three rules that are very easy to remember: The first two are the 'Grandmom rule' and the 'Bad Guy rule.' Tell your kids to ask themselves if anything they do online would embarrass their Grandmom or give out information to a Bad Guy."

The third rule is one cited by every other expert as well: Remember that anonymous doesn't really mean anonymous. Payton, author of the recent book "Privacy in the Age of Big Data," said, "digital truly is forever. Just because you cannot see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist in a screen shot, database, the Library of Congress, which stores all tweets, or even the 'Wayback machine,' which captures pictures of the Internet each day as part of history."


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