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Mappen App - Hot New App with Potential Safety Issues for Kids

Apps and Games Friday, April 20, 2018

Mappen - "Make Something Happen" is a social media application available on iPhone and Android devices. It is rated 4+ in Apple's App Store. The 4+ age rating will mean very young children, who are too young for Instagram's 13+ app, will want to sign up for Mappen. Paradoxically, Mappen's privacy policy explicitly states, "Our Services are not intended for children under the age of 13, and we do not knowingly collect any personal information from such children. Children under the age of 13 should not use our Services at any time." A Mappen representative told me, "we tell Apple what is in our app and their system sets the rating."

Mappen is essentially a location sharing app. Mappen describes its core purpose this way: "See where friends are and meet up. Mappen is the simplest way to know what your friends are doing and get together with them."

Privacy Issues 

When your child installs Mappen for the first time, they are asked to turn on their device's location services to run in the background even when they are not actively using the app. This way, their "friends," the other Mappen users your child is connected to, can see their GPS location on a map 24/7. If you choose to set the app's location services to only track when the app is in use, you are not able to post updates to your status - which is the whole point of the app, or at least why a kid would want this app in the first place. The app does let you toggle off GPS tracking but only for a limited time, up to 8 hours, and then it will reactivate.

Mappen also wants to know ALL your child's contacts. If your child chooses not to add them, Mappen will remind them relentlessly that they are not connected to their friends. Your child can add users individually, but most kids would find this too laborious. I read Mappen's privacy policy, if your child becomes a Mappen user, here is the kind of information Mappen will collect from them and what they will do with it (spoiler alert - they are using your personal information for targeted advertising):

"When you use our Services, we may collect your personal information...That information may include, among other things, your full name, email addresses, age, birthday, password, phone numbers, schools attended or attending, device identifiers, and other information you provide. We may also collect information from your user profile, including, among other information: photos, usernames, gender, geographic information, likes, interests, bio, country, character names, email addresses, and contact information for and links to other websites. Depending on how you access our Services, we may also collect device identification information, including MAC address and IP address. If you choose to connect your mobile device contacts or address book with our Services, we will collect, synchronize and store your contacts or address book information. We may collect the phone numbers and names of your contacts to enable you and your contacts to connect and use our Services...We also use your information to communicate with you about your inquiries, our company, and related news, as well as to send you promotional emails, surveys, newsletters, or notifications...We may use your information for generating web analytics to compile user information for marketing purposes, advertising, conducting marketing analysis, providing you with recommendations for products or services based on your profile, and promotional material planning and distribution. In particular, we may use your information to deliver and target advertising."

If your child desperately wants this app, I'd suggest reading this excerpt from their privacy policy to them and ask them if they really want to share all their personal information with hundreds of companies.

Location Services

Mappen advertises their app as, "Safe sharing ...Only friends you add can see you on the map. Add friends you know IRL (In Real Life) and you can stop sharing at any moment." How does Mappen know that your child's friend they know IRL? They don't. Even Mappen knows it is dangerous to share your whereabouts with a stranger. There is no way for Mappen to regulate or moderate your child's "friends" on their app. Your child can accept a request from ANYONE that wants to connect. If you have been to my parent seminar, you know that children accept online connections with complete strangers all the time because the stranger looks like a nice kid their age. Of course, the profile picture and username could be completely fabricated. Mappen does not verify the true identity of the people who use their app - no social media app does for that matter. After your child is connected to another user on Mappen, Mappen will notify you when they are geographically near you and suggest you two and meet up. 

In-App Voice Calling

Mappen has a VoIP (Voice Over Internet) calling feature. "Our VoIP calling feature lets you call your friends to finalize plans. This works over Wi-Fi, even if you don’t have a cell connection," says Mappen. This means your child could make "phone calls" to another Mappen user without knowledge. Your child's Mappen calls will not appear in the phone's call history. Additionally, your child could make calls on their iPad or other WiFi-only devices.

Cyber Safety Cop Recommendation

Based on Mappen's privacy issues, sharing of the user's GPS location, our recommendation is this application is not safe for children. It is our recommendation that sharing your whereabouts 24/7 is not a good idea for anyone, including adults unless you are using an app like Life360 within your family unit.

Parent Action Plan

1. Password protect your child's app store so they are unable to download this app and others like it.

2. Talk to your child about the danger of talking to strangers online. Discuss the risk of arranging an in-person meeting with a stranger, regardless of how "nice" they seemed online.

3. Get educated and stay on top of your child's DIGITAL WORLD

I wish I could say the Mappen app was the only app you need to worry about. It isn't by a long shot. Technology is a moving target, and the typical parent is too busy to follow every development. I have resources for you:

  1. Attend a Parenting in the Digital World seminar near you.
  2. Request information on how you can host a parent or student talk at your school.
  3. Get the book I wrote for you, Parenting in the Digital World: A Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Safety.
  4. Subscribe to my newsletter, if you haven't already.
  5. Follow my articles on Facebook and share them in your network. Share internet safety with your friends.
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