What parents need to know about the WhatsApp Messenger

What parents need to know about the WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp allows users to send unlimited videos, images, texts and audio messages to other WhatsApp users for free for a year. After the first year of use, it charges. $0.99. WhatsApp has been around for five years and has 450 million users. It is the most popular messaging app on smartphones, beating out Facebook messenger, according to OnDevice Research.

Here's what parents need to know about the WhatsApp Messenger:

* WhatsApp's license agreement requires users to be age 16 or older. Terms of Service specifically state that "the WhatsApp Service is not intended for children under 16. If you are under 16 years of age, you are not permitted to use the WhatsApp Service."

* Common Sense Media says it should be used only by those 16 and older and while the app itself does not promote inappropriate content, it enables teens to send and receive unmonitored messages.

* It allows group messaging, which can get dicey when it comes to kids.

* There are some privacy concerns, including that there are no passwords or user names for using the messaging. That makes me concerned that someone else could send messages pretty easily as someone else if they have any access to their phone.  "There is no extra layer of privacy protection, so teens should remember to keep the general password on their phone private," Common Sense Media warns. That said, a bonus could be that it's easy for parents to check and monitor the app.

* On the flip side, WhatsApp states in its Terms of Service "we do not collect names, addresses or email addresses, just mobile phone numbers."

* Users can share location and share contacts with other users. The app sends message to user's phone contacts encouraging them to start using WhatsApp. So even if your child is not on it, they could be getting pressure to join from friends and the app itself.

* There is no advertising on the app.

* The WhatsApp FAQ includes how to recover deleted messages. It's worth reviewing that if you have a teen using the app. Even though WhatsApp says that "conversation history is not stored on our servers" and  "we cannot retrieve any deleted messages for you" there are ways to get it back, and messages can live on via screen shots and the like that are not mentioned. Good reminder that nothing on the internet ever truly disappears.

* Facebook recently bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said plans to focus on growth and doesn't anticipate trying to aggressively grow WhatsApp's revenue until the service reaches "billions" of users, according to CNN. The focus on growing the already very popular app indicates that it is not going away anytime soon and in fact will only gain in popularity, so parents need to be aware. In an earnings call on July 24, Zuckerburg likened the service to Facebook itself circa 2006, before moneymaking features such as public pages were added, reports Bloomberg.

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