As if there isn’t enough ick in the world. Now, the government is warning parents about three dating apps that pedophiles had been using to contact children. You might not believe it but the apps allowed children under 13 to create dating profiles. Not only could sexual predators contact children through their profiles, they could also search by age and location. If that’s not scary enough for parents, the apps also collected users’ real-time location data so sexual predators could find nearby children, some as young as 12.
Thankfully, the apps have been removed from Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. Keep reading for all the shocking details, and learn how to control your kids’ online activities.
How kids’ dating apps work
FastMeet, Meet24 and Meet4U were created by Ukraine-based company Wildec. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to Wildec that said the company appeared to be violating both the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the FTC Act.
To create an account, FastMeet, Meet24 and Meet4U required users’ dates of birth, email addresses and photographs.
“In testing of Meet24, FTC staff was able to search for other users by age and location to find users near our location who indicated that they were as young as 12 years old,” according to the letter sent to Wildec.
The letter went on to say, “the ability to identify and communicate with children – even those over age 13 – poses a significant risk to children’s health and safety.”
The FTC said several individuals have faced criminal charges in the U.S. for “communicating or attempting to communicate with minors via Wildec’s apps.”
Last month, a 36-year-old man from upstate New York pled guilty to attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. The man thought he was talking online to a 13-year-old girl through FastMeet. He set up a meeting with the girl, who turned out to be an undercover New York State Police investigator.
The FTC told Wildec that in order to be compliant, the company must immediately remove personal information about children, seek parental consent before allowing minors to access its apps and eliminate features that allow users to search for other users who are minors.
How to monitor your child’s online activity
If your child has any of these apps on their phone, delete them immediately. You also can set your kids’ devices so they must get parental approval before they can purchase any apps.
A great way to make sure your child is safe while online is by using parental control apps and browser plugins. You can find and assess several of them on Apple or Google Play.
Depending on that app and which device you’re monitoring, you’ll see things like SMS and texts, deleted texts, screenshots, photos, website history, call log history, GPS location, social media activity, app usage and more.