New Apps offer more anonymity - Good or NotSoGood

Hot on the heels of my last blog on the BeeTalk app, it seems that not a week goes by, where great new apps are appearing. Great that is, if they are used in a responsible way. By both children and adults. Unfortunately most of these apps also have the potential to used in a negative way so today I’ve brought you 3 of the newest with the potential to become your kids latest craze. They say good things come in threes or have I just made that up? In fact just found another one while researching so I’ll include it in post. Four for the price of one. What price says Wayne. If only..

Hmm. Anyhow, let’s take a look at these new smartphone Apps and just what parents need to be aware of. As usual I’m not charging for this sort of valuable information so please feel free to share this blog, or ask your School to get in touch about my Parents/Educators or Pupils/Students sessions on being safer online or protecting your Online Reputation.

If you’ve been following my blogs or recent tweets, you’ll know there’s been an increase in the development of apps which allow and aid information to be shared more anonymously, with many users gravitating towards such apps which offer aspects of anonymity. But it’s worth remembering, we have seen in the past, with Apps like Snaphack, and amazing emerging mobile forensics, content which we think we are sharing anonymously can still surface online.

So lowdown on lastest..

Once downloaded this app allows users to create and send messages, which when viewed, disappear. It has a UI (user interface), which offers ‘Screenshot’ protection, which alerts users if a recipient has attempted take a screen shot and offers users
"End-to-end encryption, which is an uninterrupted protection of the confidentiality and integrity of, transmitted data by encoding it at its starting point and decoding it at its destination". Enough of the tech jargon thanks Wikipedia

With the Confide app, text is blocked out and can be seen only when you slide your finger over the screen.

According to ‘Confide’ their app enables you to ‘Say what you want, honest and unfiltered’. The website encourages you to ‘Go off the record with self destructing messaging’. Messages disappear after they’re read, ensuring all of your communication remains private, confidential and always ‘off the record’.

Currently Confide is only available on IOS - but will be coming to Android soon.

In order to function WUT needs access to your Facebook account. How it works - Download it to your Smartphone and once set up and synced with your Facebook friends list WUT allows you to pretty much send out anonymous messages to any of your Facebook friends without them knowing who the message has come from.
Your friends also need to have WUT downloaded in order to receive the messages but if it becomes popular that will happen. No prizes for guessing who this could be mis-used. WUT messages are silent so your childrens phone would not even vibrate/message tone when they receive messages on this app.

Popcorn Chat
Popcorn messaging allows you to chat privately with other users in a 1 mile radius of your Smartphone. The idea behind the app, according to the description on iTunes, is to ‘immediately discover what people around you are doing – converse with others and live events, meet new people, and share meaningful thoughts amongst the local community’. Popcorn goes on to rave about its suitability for ‘school campuses and dorms, concerts and conventions, visiting new cities, or just getting through a boring day at the office’.
Bet your Boss (and parents/teachers and anyone who works with kids) will be happy to hear this. Just so we’re clear, it also encourages children in its iTunes App description to use it to ‘Chat at school when you are bored in class’.
Geosocial app development at its most responsible. Maybe not. Big marketing brands take heed.

Another interesting App concept. Telegram is similar to SMS but more flexible users can send photos, videos and documents to your phone contacts, who also use the Telegram app. It also offers the facility to create groups for up to 200 people.

So basically Wayne you’re telling me it’s like ‘What’s App’?. Well not exactly. According to the Telegram website this cloud based service is heavily encrypted and offers users the flexibility from several devices including desktops. Telegram goes on to say on their website FAQs that ‘Telegram is more secure than mass market messengers like WhatsApp and Link’.

Ok so your probably saying ‘What’s the difference’. Well unlike other messaging apps, the Telegram App allows users to set up ‘Secret Chat’.

Secret Chat includes a ‘Self-Destruct Timer’ which ‘removes any message sent using this feature from both devices’ within a timescale of 2 seconds to one week.

This is the way technology and the way that our young people communicate is evolving. I keep saying it and will continue to. As parents, educators and practitioners working with children and young people, you need to be aware. You don’t need to know every app, every platform or how everything works. But you do need to have an understanding. It’s time to get involved.

BeeTalk - The new Kid on the Block?

Hello and Merry New Year people!. I come to you as the bearer of news on the latest new App to hit IOS and Android. Some might say it’s the new kid on the block.. Then again every new Smartphone App coming out has that potential. Or at least has an opportunity for Facebook to offer to buy it for a mere 3 Billion dollars. Small change I hear you say ☺. Aaaah, wishing I could of come up with an idea like that… 

Sooo - I hear you say, stop ya foolin around Sucka. What the heck is ‘BeeTalk’ Wayne? Well Parents, Educators, Teenagers and anyone else who cares to listen or read my blog, it’s a new App which is pretty much Snapchat, Viber and What’s App all rolled into One. It’s got an interesting little function called ‘Shake’ - where, as the name suggests, you shake your phone and it suggests new friends! As the App is currently targeted at the Asian market the closest person in my shake (that kinda sounds weird) was 9974Km away. 

That being said - this App can’t be dismissed. It has in abundance many of the features we socially connected individual’s love to use. 

Another interesting aspect it provides is that each user has their own QR Code, which can be shared on Facebook. Once scanned, that user can then be added as a friend. 

The BeeTalk features have similarities to the above including SnapChat. Explain Wayne. Well I’ll try to, as straightforwardly as possible. 

You add the person you wish to chat with
Once they accept you as a friend, you can then send them a message
Starting a chat by clicking on the users profile
This opens up a chat
Nothing different about that I hear you say with a sigh of relief.. well here’s the thing.. 

From here is a clever little option BeeTalk call ‘Whisper Mode’. 

Once in ‘Whisper’ mode, you have an option to type your message, then attach a time during which the message can be viewed, just like Snapchat, with an associated time limit. But as well as sending photos and doodles you can also send your location Creepy some of you may think. Not at all sure we’re all sharing our location via these Apps nowadays. But better to know this App has this feature. 

(By the by, BeeTalk also allows users to send what it calls ‘Stickers’ between users and download new ones as they become available. Nice little touch). 

Now here is my predication on this App. After spending a little time testing it out, I can see the attraction, particularly within the Teenage User market.

As I mentioned, this App is being marketed mostly to the Asian market. However we all know it’s a small world on the Interwebs. It’s highly likely it will be adopted here. 

This App has so many features the teenage user would love. Especially the Whisper feature, where messages, photos, doddles, and even location are deleted after a set time. 

It only takes this App to be downloaded by one teenager in School for it to spread and, given the features which it currently offers users, I can see this happening very quickly. It’s one to watch and one which parents, teachers and those who work with young people should be aware of and checking if their young people are using it. In the hands of the wrong user this App could potentially cause harm to self or others and should be Handled with Care. Kinda like the car you’ve just insured your 17 year old to drive. 

Take care online and talk to you soon.


The Unsupervised Playground - Cybersafety

Over the past 2 months we’ve been on the road speaking to hundreds of Parents and Young People on Cybersafety, online reputation and parenting in a digital world.
First of all - a big thank you to all the Schools who hosted them and the Parents who attended the sessions. We salute you! Coming out after a hard days work, on cold dark nights. ¬¬ Judging by the comments left, you found it worthwhile, with many parents asking for further support.
I’ve now seen at first hand the validation of what we originally believed to be the case – Parents who attended, welcomed the opportunity to learn more about what is happening online, how to build resilience in their children and reduce vulnerability whilst online and are very open to support and assistance on keeping their kids safe and encouraging them to use technology wisely.
An even larger percentage of parents are hoping kids figure this out on their own.
This wont stop them buying their kids the technology for Christmas. Unfortunately it will stop them making good and informed decisions on their children’s digital life.
Now, I’m not having a go at parents. I’m a parent myself and know how hard it is sometimes to find time to do everything our kids need. It’s a difficult job and we’re the first generation of parents to deal with this. But the problem of largely unintentional mis-use and unsafe use of technology by our children and young people is increasing and they need the support of mature adults to guide them in today’s increasingly digital world.
Children today are freely joining Social Networking Sites, exchanging information, connecting and sharing and developing relationships - ‘38% of all 2 year olds have used a tablet device’ (Ofcom, Media habits of Parents and Children, 2013). Early education and intervention is crucial. Children are exploring the Internet from an early age - the chances of them coming across something which may upset them is high – research has shown us that Children don’t have the resilience to cope with things which they see and experience in an online environment.
So this Christmas, if you’re going to buy your kid the devices they want and love, at least get to know the basics - awareness of risks and benefits, safety and privacy settings and attempt to get involved and have conversations with your kids about the latest trends/apps they’re using. Under your guidance children will learn to use technology for creativity, education, fun and exploration and teach us parents on the way.

Selfie – Yet another New App Parents Need to Know About?

Apologies in advance Parents. It seems there isn’t a week goes by where you don’t have to try to keep up to speed with yet another social media app your kids may start using. Ain’t technology great ☺. Well, my good Parents out there, the latest kid on the block in terms of Apps is Selfie. I hear you say what the *** is Selfie?
Well for those of you who don’t know what the term ‘Selfie’ means, I’d better start there. Cue, our friends of Wikipedia

‘A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone’ (smartphone).

And in our children and young people’s world ‘selfie’ is an everyday term for imagery they take of themselves and send to their friends and post out into the public domain.
Did you also know that in August 2013 the term ‘selfie’ also made its debut in Oxford Dictionaries Online’s quarterly update, where it is defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website, reinforces the extent of it’s use to us adults doesn’t it?. Moving swiftly on..

So now we know the background to this Wayne, please tell us about this new App which our kids might perhaps start using. Ok. So in a nutshell, this new App Selfie, according to their website, allows users to ‘take selfies and have a little fun’. Users launch the App allowing their camera to start. They tap the screen and it captures the ‘selfie’. They then have 3 options to choose how long the selfie should last - 4 Hours, 3 Days or 2 Weeks.
Users also have the option from the App to view Selfies, which are expiring and also look at their friend’s selfies. Tip for Parents, keep having your conversations with your kids about who constitutes a ‘friend’. From playing with the App today it does not look like there is any sort of facility to share on the Selfie to other social network platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. This being the saving grace, that they can’t be sent. I predict this will change. ,If, but more likely, when the app becomes popular. Which will be soon. Will keep you posted.

What does SnapHack Mean for Snapchat

If you are one of many waves of people (8 Million Unique Users as of May 2013, sending 350 million snaps per day) who have already jumped all over Snapchat, well you’re going to want to prick your ears up. If you’ve have been living on some distant planet and have never heard of Snapchat, that great source of all information,  Wikipedia, will explain; ‘It’s an app which enables users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings and send them to a controlled list of recipients’ (Remember People, controlled being the important word here). Users set a time limit for how long the image is available for, and viola, the image is removed from the Snapchat servers. Thank you, good people of Wikipedia, for that overview.

Now enter Snaphack.   I hear you say, ‘What the heck is Snaphack?’ Well for 99p here in the UK, you purchase the app and Snaphack allows you to save all photos and videos sent through Snapchat without informing the person/s who sent them.

Yes Sir. They Won’t Know.

Now here’s the thing.. For it to work and Save, you need to open images or videos via the Snaphack app. If you’ve ever needed a reason not to be sending embarrassing images or stuff you would not want others to see, you should consider how you are using Snapchat, now that Snaphack is kicking about.

Because you just don’t know who is using it.

If you send something which you later regret, once the recipient opens it, via Snaphack, they can view it permanently.

Word is, there is also talk that an updated version of Snaphack has already been submitted to Apple – this version allows Snapchat recipients to forward the saved images to friends!.

You Have Been Warned…

Note to all Snapchatters: Purchased the app this morning for review and since writing this blog tonight it’s gone up to £1.49. Methinks this may be to do with the sheer volume of people downloading it?. Probably.

Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2013

I wanted to get a quick blog post out, in relation to the recent report, by Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (2013) and share some of the findings which stood out in this latest research .

For a start, some good news. I hear us parents say, can there be such a thing with all this fast moving technology and everything going on online? Updated research shows that ‘the number of children who own a mobile phone is going down, as youngsters reject basic handsets and increasingly turn to tablet computers to access the Internet’. Well, now that children are moving towards tablets, as opposed to mobiles, imagery and text on a tablet is much more visual than on a mobile so it’s a lot easier for parents to spot something untoward in what our children are viewing. Unlike smart phones, tablets can’t be hidden in pockets. They can however be hidden under beds and in coats. But they’re still more visible.

Another very interesting finding was that compared to last year 12-15s are much less likely to say they have a social media profile on any device (68%, down from 81%). Now I’m no statistics genius but as it’s highly unlikely that children are deleting their social networking profiles, this may be that many children now feel they are not able to freely admit that they have a social networking profile due to negative media attention on the use. This concerns me and says we need to find innovative and positive ways to safeguard children online, to replace the ‘safety talks’ currently employed.

The report also found that 18% of 12-15s say they know how to change online filters or controls. One in 4 parents (24%) of 5-15 year olds users are concerned about cyber bullying while one in 7 (14%) said they were concerned about their child cyber bullying somebody else.

Now anyone who has seen me speak on these topics or read any of my recent blogs will know my take on this. As a parent myself, I think we need to do and can do more to educate our young people on responsible and positive use of the internet, technology and social media - but it’s not all about the kids. As parents we need to become more aware of the changing landscape of technology and how we can help our children navigate through it more safely and use it to their advantage.

Many parents feel overwhelmed; they feel they can’t catch up with children’s technology skills. But there is a way forward. Our children can help us learn. Getting involved in their online life, using the tools -parental and safety software and setting boundaries is a good start. Let’s get started we can all make improvements in Cybersafety

Long Arm of the Law tightening on Acceptable Use

Social Media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, have for many businesses, organizations and public figures become the all important communications tool. Quick, free and with unimaginable reach.  However again recently, close to home in Northern Ireland, we’ve seen that comments which we post on social media platforms such as Facebook can and do come back to haunt us. And this time the posts are not from children and young people but in one particular instance a ‘mature’ adult, of nearly 3 score years, holding a position in public office.

Examples are being made at the moment and the Ruth Patterson episode will be one of many.  Just last Friday we saw DUP Councillor Ruth arrested in connection to an investigation into ‘the sending of grossly offensive communications and other serious criminal offences in relation to intimidation and encouraging criminal acts’.  As charges were reviewed by the Public Prosecutions Service, in relation to comments about a proposed fictional ‘massacre’ at a (real) Nationalist March (try to keep up), Ms Patterson accepted responsibility and apologised for posting her views in the public domain. Ms Patterson’s ‘lack of judgement’ (her own words) again demonstrates the need for consideration before posting at all times, particularly for those in public office.

The PSNI responded to the incident with a statement warning the public of the dangers of misuse ‘ When a report is made to the PSNI regarding information posted on social media sites, officers will investigate and where a criminal offence has occurred, appropriate action will be taken’. This seems clear enough. Maybe some of our public figures missed the memo.

This and other recent events have again reinforced the fact that it’s not just our children and young people who can be impulsive, immature, thoughtless etc online.  Sadly many adults, including those in positions of public office, are falling victim to the propensity to spew private views and thoughts into ill thought-out (if thought out at all..) public posts. Online they merrily go and into the public arena.  Cue, authorities.

Note to self. Not a place you really want to be. Some Online Reputation Management anyone? You know who to call.

Provocative public speaking is nothing new. Especially not here in ‘Norn’ Ireland where emotive speaking wins votes however in the digital age public figures twitter posts and facebook comments are scrutinised and even the most well thought out and carefully crafted posts can be found wanting by the public. The press is jammed with cases of individuals and companies getting into hot water over inappropriate or negative online use. Twitter itself was scrutinised and found wanting by the public, due to it’s less than sensitive handling of the journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez rape and death threats case.  Perez’ tenacity has highlighted the torrent of abuse directed towards women online which previously had been tolerated. Arrests were made and the authorities reinforced the message that inappropriate and negative use can have serious repercussions to your reputation, employment, standing in the community and in extreme cases can lead to arrest, convictions and maybe even some jail time.

Police called on Twitter and Twitter called on Police. Ms Perez called on both.  Twitter to ‘get a grip’ and police to ‘step up’ in their dealing of these now frequent incidents.  End result – under intense media pressure, both are on high alert.

On a positive note, ‘Outing Your Troll’ is now the name of the game brave digital citizens are playing.  A recent example was the Mary Beard case where her young (20 student troll, Oliver Rawlings, was named and shamed as she retweeted his comments to her 42,000 followers. One follower kindly offered Mary the little lad’s mum’s home address in the wealthy gated-home area of Hale Greater Manchester. Oliver promptly apologised, left the country and is ‘recovering’ from the backlash on his parents yacht in Marbella. This unfortunately may not be an option in the fallout for most young mis-users.   But they can always dream.

Both Oliver Rawlings and Jack Riley, the young mechanic detained by police after subjecting Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy to rape and death threats were described as coming from ‘model’ families, and we are told that their comments were ‘totally out of character’.  Just normal young guys then, who happen to enjoy the sport of threatening female public figures with rape and violence. But to be fair, more likely, ‘normal’ young guys who thought they could get away with murder online.

Threats of sexual violence are increasing towards women in public office and even in towards those just expressing a strong opinion. But that’s another blog.

Examples are being made at the moment and will continue to be. 100’s of trolls were convicted last year.  According to the CPS over 1,700 cases were brought to court last year, although this represents only a tiny fraction of the abuse. You can look forward to 6 months in jail or a £5,000 fine under the Malicious Communications Act (1988) if convicted.

 Our friends McKinty and Wright Solicitors, Belfast, who keep us up to date on online legalities, point out that although prosecutions in NI will more usually be brought under s127 of the Communications Act 2003, the consequences are just as serious.  ‘A successful prosecution under this legislation will leave the individual with a criminal record and all that entails’ media lawyer Paul McDonnell tells us.  He cautions ‘In my experience, the PSNI is now much more vigilant in relation to policing potentially unlawful activity or exchanges on social media.  Members of the public are also increasingly prepared to explore the legal options available to them if social media posts stray into areas of defamation, harassment and breach of privacy.’ So there you have it, a disgruntled facebook ‘friend’ may now be seek legal representation, rather than slugging it out online.

Many digital citizens as well as the authorities are not willing to participate in or ignore the Free for All the Internet has become. Significant efforts by individuals, governments and organisations are being made to tame the ‘Wild West’ web and there will be casualties. So take care out there. Despite the cries of free speech, there’s little tolerance for abuse, ‘incitement’ and misuse at the moment online.  And who’s to say that’s a bad thing.  Isn’t it time more emphasis was placed on educating young people on positive online communication in our schools and communities.   And maybe a few of our public servants too.