Not only do children grow and change on a daily basis, the technological world that they live in moves as rapidly, if not more. Kids are technological sponges who will adapt and discard new technology before parents even know it exists. That’s why parents have to stay educated about potentially dangerous tech trends for teens and tweens - for instance, anonymous apps.
While the Internet has always offered anonymity to those who sought it, it used to take a little more tech savvy obtain it, and anonymity certainly wasn’t a marketed feature.
That's changed as these new apps put kids at risk to be cyberbullied by other teens and even worse stalked adult online predators.
They have the potential to intensify the drama and angst that already accompany teen life while taking away accountability for one’s own action on the users’ part. They also make it much easier for children to participate in inappropriate adult online spaces or allow pedophiles to mask their identity in a areas where others are assumed to be teens.
What Are Anonymous Apps?
The purpose of different anonymous apps vary, but what they have in common is that they allow users to shield their identity while using them. Most are some form of social media sharing, but they come in somewhat different forms: messaging apps, chat rooms, dating and location-based apps and “honesty” apps. Since many of these are free, that lowers the barriers for kids to obtain them. And as is often the case with free apps, many require access to a lot personal data and advertising.
The good news for parents is that since 2014 when these apps took off in popularity with teenagers, many of them have come and gone. But there are still plenty out there. Read on to see which anonymous apps parents need to worry about now.
These apps allow teens to receive “feedback” from others.
This feedback may or may not be solicited, and some apps are not moderated. And while the moderated ones pitch themselves as a self-improvement tool, anonymity takes away any valuable context that comments might have. And even when the feedback is positive, it can fuel a teen’s tendency to see themselves through the eyes of others.
- Sarahah - Though not originally aimed at teens Sarahah (which means honesty in Arabic) has become popular in middle and high schools. Users (and non-users) receive comments about them on a personal profile page. It is not moderated.
- TBH - Short for “To Be Honest,” this app is aimed at teens and college students. It is moderated, and supposed to be for compliments. Kids take polls and quizzes and questions about them may be sent to people in their contacts list.
- Ask.fm - In this platform aimed at teens, users can ask questions of others anonymously or not, but all answers are anonymous. Users can’t see who is following them and/or answering their questions. It connects with other social media platforms to invite people you know to follow you and potentially answer the questions about you.
- Curious Cat - Teens can log on through existing social media accounts but receive an anonymous identity with Curious Cat. They then ask their peers questions about themselves. There is also an option for live chat.
These apps look more like any other social media platform than the honesty apps that specifically are looking to generate personal feedback. Similar to online bulletin boards they allow for more general kinds of postings: Rants, personal stories, questions, confessions, etc.
- After School - Designed for teens, this app is moderated and has built in safeguards to help keep predators out. However, the problem is that since its anonymous online boards are based around individual schools, it creates a ripe atmosphere for cyberbullying and gossip.
- Whisper - Calling itself “the best place to discover secrets around you,” Whisper is popular with teens though it is not specifically marketed to them. Users post their secrets, which are then paired with an auto-generated image, though people can post their own images too. There are no profiles or followers, so there is a lower chance of bullying by people your child knows. However users can privately message the posters, which can open children up to contact with predators.
There are many apps out there for sending anonymous text and making phone calls. While having these apps on their phones may not pose a danger to your teens, there is no good reason that a teen should need these apps. However, the ones listed here are ones in which your teen might receive unsolicited messages.
- Nod - anonymous proximity messenger - With this app you can send a message to anyone else with the app in your general vicinity. This can make useful to cyberbullies in schools and sexual predators who troll for victims.
- Snapchat - While technically this photo-sending app is not anonymous (unless, of course, someone sets up a fake account), it is worth mentioning here. It has a disappearing message feature that can be used in cyberbullying and sexting. It also has a location-showing feature, and strangers can send users messages. Fortunately, both these features can be turned off.
These apps encourage connections of people within the same general area. This means there is more likelihood of real-world contact with adult online predators. Also, they can be used to publicize parties or other events. The good thing from a parent’s point of view is that because they take a certain level of critical mass of users to make them interesting they are not particularly popular in many areas.
- Viper - This app sends your post out to other users within a 5 mile area. The post disappears when you leave the area.
- Spout- There is no profile or even a handle required for this app that allows you to chat with people in geographic radius you choose.
Chat and Dating Apps
These are definitely not places appropriate for teenagers, but by the nature of their anonymity some teens are attracted to these online spaces.
- Antichat - Global chat room actually invites “grown up teenagers” to “meet up and hook up.” Yikes! Also has a self-destructing message feature.
- Scandal - Anonymous Chat Rooms - Similar to Antichat, Scandal, at least, doesn’t actually market to teens.