28 August 2015
Great for staying in touch with friends, surfing the web, taking photos and playing games, smartphones are an essential part of life for most young people.
Though smartphones can make life a lot more convenient and more fun, they do have their dangers. Some of the apps available for smartphones can make it easier for strangers to contact you online. And, although some of these people will just want to be friends, others could be planning to groom and sexually exploit you.
How can smartphones be dangerous?
Smartphones themselves aren’t dangerous, and unless you give out your number to people you meet online or other people you don’t really know, strangers shouldn’t be able to contact you out of the blue.
However, as soon as you start downloading apps like Whatsapp, ooVoo and Snapchat, it makes it easier for strangers to contact you. A lot of the older people that will get in touch on social networking apps will pretend to be younger than they are, and because you don’t know them and can’t see them, there’s no way for you to know who they really are.
What happens when strangers contact you via your smartphone?
In a recent case in Manchester, a 10-year old girl was contacted on ooVoo by a man she’d never met. At first, he told her that he was 11, though there was no profile picture to confirm it.
After she replied to a few messages, he started to talk more about sex and sexuality. He asked her to expose herself to him and sent her inappropriate photos and videos. Even though she deleted him from the app, he kept getting in touch, calling her and sending her messages even though she had stopped replying.
As well as being upsetting, cases like this can leave young people very vulnerable to exploitation as some older people they contact online will try to meet them in real life, even if the young person doesn’t want to. This can put them in serious danger and make it more likely that they’ll be affected by CSE.
How to stay safe online
When using apps on your smartphone, never talk to people you don’t know, never give out any sort of personal information and don’t tell anyone you meet online anything that could identify you.
If someone you meet online starts asking you to do things that you’re not comfortable with, stop talking to them and tell someone you trust straight away.
Most apps let you change your privacy settings to stop strangers contacting you. Just go into ‘Settings’ and raise your privacy level so that only friends and contacts can get in touch.
If you’d like to find out more about staying safe online then check out our other popular blog posts. Or, if you’re worried about something that has happened to you and have been affected by CSE, call The Rose Project on 0808 800 1037.