Don’t get caught in The App Trap – The Daily Standard

Posted: January 25, 2020 at 8:45 pm


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Friday, January 24th, 2020

By Leslie Gartrell

CELINA - A former Internet Crimes Against Children task force investigator and internet safety expert wants to help empower teens and educate parents about current trends and online risks.

Scott Frank worked in law enforcement for 36 years, including time with the Ottawa and Wood counties sheriff's departments and as a DARE resource officer. He joined the ICAC in 2006 and was a "chatter," someone who would pose as a 15 year-old or younger to draw out predators.

For 10 years Frank said he was subjected to "the worst of the worst." He felt firsthand the bullying that teens experience and the pressure predators and others push onto teens for illicit material.

"That's kind of the catalyst for where I am now," he said.

Frank is a motivational speaker and founder of the Digital Empowerment Project. Since 2017, he has followed his passion to empower teens to make safe and healthy choices online and to educate parents so they can support and guide their teens by covering everything from the dark web to online empowerment strategies.

It's important that kids and adults alike slow down and think about what they're downloading and what they're accepting when it comes to apps and terms of service agreements, he said.

Some apps, such as the popular video-sharing app TikTok, include stipulations in their terms of service that allow them to profit from user content, even if a user's account is private. Users automatically give permission to the app once the terms of service are accepted, and they can't reconsider afterward.

"By submitting User Content via the Services, you hereby grant us an unconditional irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide license to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit, and/or distribute and to authorize other users of the Services and other third-parties to view, access, use, download, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit your User Content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented," the terms of service reads.

The terms of service continues, reading "You further grant us a royalty-free license to use your user name, image, voice, and likeness to identify you as the source of any of your User Content."

TikTok, which belongs to China-based ByteDance, agreed to pay $5.7 million last February to settle allegations that it illegally collected personal information such as names, email addresses and their location from children under the age of 13, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the commission in a children's privacy case, according to the FTC.

Frank mentioned the After School app, a popular app among teenagers that touts itself as a "private message board for your school."

The location-based app is a digital message board that allows users within a certain geographic area, such as a high school campus, to post anonymous comments. While the app has several filter options to keep underage users from seeing explicit content, it doesn't stop users from anonymous bullying or gossip.

Frank noted users have to be able to verify that they are students at a given school to use the app by linking their Facebook to the app - a way to vet and discourage parents, teachers and other adults from using it. After School will then give 20 names and ask a user to correctly identify 10 that go to school there.

However, Frank noted these two apps aren't the only ones with questionable private policies, terms of service or vetting requirements.

"We spend so much time focusing so much energy on one app, but it's almost always the same for other apps," Frank said. "I want parents to be aware of all apps because they all have similar terms of service."

Most apps these days have voice over internet protocol, or VOIP, capabilities, he said. VOIP is a technology that allows a person to make voice calls using a broadband internet connection instead of a regular phone line, which means kids and teens who use apps with VOIP can send and make calls without their showing up on a phone bill.

In addition to VOIP capabilities, many apps also request location services to be turned on, which allows apps and websites to gather and use information based on the current location of the user. Snapchat, for example, uses location services for a "Snap Map," which shows where a user and their friends are on a map. Users can enable "ghost mode," which will turn off location services and take them off the map.

He went on to say the most popular apps teens use are often the most dangerous. Predators keep up with trends and flock to popular apps and social media that teens use.

Frank said he's had parents who believe the best strategy is not to allow or greatly restrict access to the internet. However, Frank said kids and teens will find ways around restrictions.

"If a parent is limiting access, kids will circumvent it," he said. "The internet is here to stay."

Frank said he doesn't want to scare students or parents when it comes to the internet and apps. Rather, he wants parents to have an honest conversation with their kids about what they're up to online. Open lines of communication can empower children to be responsible with their social media use, he added. While his first strategy for parents is to recognize and avoid risks, he also wants teens to invest their time, inspire others and impact their future.

Screen time is an often overlooked issue, Frank said, so he encourages teens to evaluate how much time they're spending online and scale down how much time is spent doing mindless tasks. Instead of endlessly scrolling through Twitter, their time could be better invested by researching what they want to do after graduation or looking into new hobbies.

Teens can also inspire others online, Frank said. Everyone has the opportunity to be kind, so students should embrace it and be kind and respectful when they post online or on social media.

Frank said kids and teens often forget the internet remembers everything. While they may not be posting or sharing anything inappropriate, their posts can send unintended messages to colleges or future employers.

"Google doesn't forgive and Google doesn't forget," he said.

Instead, kids and teens can impact their future by treating their online presence as a portfolio. He encourages everyone to Google search themselves and see what comes up. If it's unsatisfactory, Frank said teens should consider posting what they would want to see when they Google search themselves. He also strongly recommended teens start using LinkedIn as soon as possible and purchase and use a web domain in their name.

How to go:

Former investigator Scott Frank will talk about protecting children from digital predators.

WHEN: Sunday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Alethia Christian Church, 7190 Fleetfoot Road, Celina

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Don't get caught in The App Trap - The Daily Standard

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January 25th, 2020 at 8:45 pm