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What is Ask.fm?
(Golden, CO – October 9, 2013) District Attorney Peter Weir is warning parents about a popular new social networking site called Ask.fm. The District Attorney’s Child Sex Offender Internet Investigations (CHEEZO) unit has had over 30 inquiries about the site in the past month, from parents, teachers and children. While attractive new apps and social networking sites are part of today’s technology, this particular site poses significant risks to children.
There have been several reports of suicide by teenage victims of cyber-bullying in the last year. Each was linked to Ask.fm.
Ask.fm is set up in a question and answer format in which users interact by inviting others to ask or answer anonymous questions. Ask.fm is popular because it’s new on the technology scene and also because it offers an anonymous channel for teens to communicate with friends or strangers without their parents’ knowledge. That very anonymity is dangerous. It allows cyber bullies and sexual predators to pick their victims behind a veil of secrecy.
When a user signs up they open a page which has a URL. That URL can be cut and pasted onto the teen’s FaceBook or Instagram pages, providing direct anonymous access to the unsuspecting teen. Upon signing up extensive personal information on the user is published on the site. Anyone signed up can see the information, including photos or video, making it a likely tool for child predators as cyber-bullies.
“Technology is here to stay. While generally a valuable tool with many advantages it also comes with inherent dangers. Our children don’t envision the risks they are taking by providing their personal information when they create a profile on a social media site,” said DA Peter Weir, “It is our job as parents to supervise their activities by taking an active roll in their online conduct and choices.”
The Latvian-based social media, site creates a web and mobile space where people create profiles so that anyone, not just other members can ask and answer questions. The site has over 60M users in 30 different languages.
The messages exchanged between teens can look like typical school yard he-said she-said drama. But it can also be hurtful, critical and threatening. Unsuspecting teens exposed to malicious anonymous postings including cyber bullying, sextortion or pornography.
The Ask.fm site provides no way to report offensive comments or threats. There is no censorship or cyber accountability and they offer only limited privacy settings or identity controls.
“Kids generally just want to hang out with their friends and goof off without being watched by their parents. But left to their own devices they may find their way into trouble and then be afraid to report what they find,” said DA Investigator Mike Harris, “Investigations in cases like these are very difficult. Because the communication is anonymous, and because it involves a foreign-based site, when we believe a crime has been committed, identifying a suspect or making an arrest may not be possible.”
The District Attorney’s Office recommends these tips for parents:
-- Be vigilant in talking to children about their online activities. Children are naïve by nature and do not understand the risks they may face.
-- Remind children that they should never talk to, chat with, or text anyone that they do not know in person.
-- Regularly explore your child’s cell phone, looking at their apps as well as websites they have visited and communications shared.
-- Be sure your child understands that if they receive an alarming or disturbing message, they should immediately tell a trusted adult.
If you have questions or concerns about cell phone or Internet safey please contact your local law enforcement agency or the First Judicial District’s CHEEZO unit at 303-271-6766, Helpful information is also available at www.CHEEZO.org.