With nearly 1 billion users, WhatsApp is now the single most used messaging app surpassing Facebook, Skype and others. Surprisingly, 50 percent more messages are now being sent using WhatsApp than traditional SMS text messages.
Of some concern is the fact that WhatsApp is extremely popular with teens as it is a way to message their friends privately without showing up in their text message history. Of greater concern is that WhatsApp has recently upgraded with end-to-end encryption, which ensures complete privacy for messages sent and calls made.
The important question for parents is: Why do teens need so much privacy? If they are going to such great lengths to hide their messages, then parents should be appropriately concerned.
No age restrictions on signup
Although users have to be 16 to join, there is no enforcement mechanism for the age requirement, and younger teens use the app simply by fudging the date when they enter their birthday.
Customizable photos or video clips
WhatsApp is designed to send customizable photos or video clips to anyone in a user’s contact list, providing the perfect platform for sexting and sharing inappropriate photos.
No adult content restrictions
While Facebook, YouTube and other familiar networks impose strict limitations on posting inappropriate content such as nudity or pornography. With the exception of a vaguely worded request to label inappropriate content, WhatsApp provides no such limit on adult content.
Online predators often use a technique called “grooming,” where they identify and target vulnerable or unprotected teens on “safe” platforms like Facebook. Once they’ve established a connection, developed a rapport and made the naive teenager feel comfortable with their new “friend,” they suggest moving the conversation over to a more private messaging platform like WhatsApp. Here, the discussion often devolves into something inappropriate or becomes exploitative. WhatsApp is even more attractive to predators because it allows users to share their contacts and even their location with other users.
WhatsApp does not require users to set passwords
This is a feature that could present a unique danger to teens. If someone gets a hold of a teen’s phone, they could send messages to anyone that appear to be from the teen.
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