Police warn parents about apps attractive to 'bad guys'

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HEWITT, Texas (KWTX) Hewitt Police are warning parents about several social media applications they say shouldn’t be on children’s phones.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

While technology can help police solve crimes, Chief Jim Devlin says it can also create them.

"Just like any other technology, the criminals and the bad guys are going to find a way to abuse it and use it to their advantage,” said Devlin of phone apps.

After the recent controversy surrounding Snapchat’s new location feature “Snap Map” which can tell people exactly where you are when you use the app (unless you turn-off access to location services or put the app settings in “ghost mode”), the agency decided to research other apps which might put a child’s safety at risk.

“We found four that were pretty concerning,” said Devlin.

The first was Houseparty, a video group chat app specifically designed for teens where friends, and friends of friends, can see the chat and take secret screenshots.

"Two and three people that may be connected with one of the people inside that video chat, ya know, could be a bad guy,” said Devlin.

Also rated “T” for teens is Omegle, which sets up a one-on-one video chat with a total stranger.

“We found some videos online that showed people naked when they opened up the app to shock the stranger,” said Devlin.

The app website reads: “Omegle: Talk to strangers!”

"Since the evolution of the internet it was always 'don't talk to strangers,' even before the internet it was 'don't talk to strangers,' here…you're basically now inviting strangers to talk to you,” he said.

The dating app DOWN advertises: “The secret way for you to get down with people nearby!”

“It’s kind of a horrible app for the kids,” said Devlin. “You basically check off whether you’re ‘down’ for casual sex, or you’re down for dating,” he said.

Hot or Not isn’t new, but still concerning, Devlin said.

The app can rate 13 to 17 year-olds based on their appearance.

“There’s a lot of self-objectification of the kids by putting a pic up there,” said Devlin. “Those are the teen years, those are tough years, and then you have this on top of that, they don’t need something like that.”

While both Hot or Not and DOWN are rated “M” for mature, there’s no way to verify if you’re 17 or older.

"The idea of people getting on there for ill intent is pretty bad, we know it's happening, so let's just cut out the middle man and get rid of these apps and don't use 'em,” said Devlin.

Devlin doesn’t believe the apps were created with bad intentions, but says they make it easier for people who want to do harm, to do it.

"The problem is that we're finding that a lot of the research that we're doing...the bad guys, the pedophiles, they're finding out these apps as well, and they're using them to their advantage,” he said.

These apps should only be for adults said Devlin, and it’s the adults who need to make sure their tech-savvy children don’t get taken advantage of.

“This is their life, this is what they do, parents…you need to pay attention,” said Devlin. “Take the phone, check it, look at what’s on it.”

Hewitt PD hadn’t come across any of these specific applications through crime investigations yet.

Devlin says he hopes they never do, but it’s up to parents.

“Approve your kids’ apps and follow your gut instinct-if it doesn’t look right or feel right, question it,” he said.