Parents warned about friendship app for teens

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 09 Feb 2017

"Someone asked me for nudes." That – in addition to "someone stole my identity" and "someone bullied me" – are reportable options for Yellow, a smartphone app advertised for ages 13 and up to make new friends with a swipe-right, swipe-left format for liking or not liking someone. 

More than 7 million people have downloaded the app, which prompts users to submit identifying information, including their cellphone number, name, birthday, gender and profile picture. 

According to the app's guidelines, users are not free to determine the age of other users they will be in contact with. 

For example, people under 18 cannot be in contact with people above 18 through the app. 

But users can lie about their birthday – it never gets verified – when they sign up so they can talk to anyone of any age. 

Some parents, like Miranda Keller of Keene, said they are cautious of any app that requires children to submit their personal information. 

"Our kids have to ask us for permission before they can download any app on their tablets and we check them often to make sure they didn't download anything without asking," she said. 

"We let them have games, but nothing that would ever connect them to other people. I don't know why they even make apps like that." 

According to its website, the app was created to help children who have trouble making friends. 

"We understand at Yellow that some young people are facing and dealing with some difficult issues in their lives, and want to meet and share some of these challenges," according to the website. 

"But it's important to have a Yellow community that promotes safety and wellness, which is why it's not OK to make posts that promote eating disorders, and other forms of self injury such as cutting. Any encouragement of others to participate in these behaviours or make fun of people with such difficulties will result in posts being removed and accounts being closed." 

Local organisations aimed to protect children from predators disagree with the need for such an app. 

Children's Advocacy Centre of Johnson County executive director Tammy King said with the increase in technology-facilitated crimes, Yellow gives online offenders yet another way to target youth with somewhat anonymity. 

"Online offenders are typically very patient and very thorough at building a profile of young people that are in some way vulnerable to an attack," she said. "For example, if the offender can get the child or young person to share a photo and he/she can see that the child is overweight or suffers from acne, he/she might really target in on telling that child how beautiful they are using the app. If a young person has desired to hear this, but never has, they become vulnerable and take the bait. 

"They might use sports, music or other means to get a child's guard down. This is not an app that the Children's Advocacy Centre would ever recommend. Parents need to research these apps and remember it is their job to parent. 

"That means protecting your child, even if it makes you temporarily the mean parent in their life. It is our job to love them enough to make the decisions that keep them safe." — Cleburne Times-Review/Tribune News Service 

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