Like many of us, you probably have memories of singing along to your favourite tune with hairbrush in hand as your makeshift microphone or strutting around your bedroom perfecting your air guitar skills to arena rock anthems. As with everything these days, there’s now an app for that!
Musical.ly is a fun new way for people to connect through the enjoyment of music, but with it comes some important online safety considerations, particularly for children.
Musical.ly is a social networking App (Application) whereby the primary function is to allow a user to create, share and view videos that are up to 15 seconds in length. The videos generally depict the user lip-syncing to popular songs and are looped over and over for the viewer.
As this is a social networking site, the user creates a profile with personal information however there is currently no identity verification. It is free to use and as of May 2016 had 60 million users. It can be accessed on smartphones, tablets, laptops and iPods and requires an internet connection.
Some key features of Musical.ly to be aware of include:
• The ability to direct message other users.
• Links with other accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
• Requires access to the user’s device including GPS location of the user.
• By default, no privacy settings are in place, these need to be set by the user.
• BEWARE! At the time of writing of this article, a Musical.ly account CANNOT be deleted. This is confirmed on the website whereby they state they are working on this feature for future availability. This is highly unethical and is certainly not due to any technical considerations but rather a strategic financial business decision.
At its core, Musical.ly is not the first app of its kind. Similar video based apps such as Vine and Snapchat have existed for a number of years. Musical.ly however, specifically aims to appeal to children and they have gained real popularity with this age group. As with the many of these apps, they are popular for a period of time and are quickly forgotten when something new comes along.
The content that is created and exists in this app can be highly sexualised and can contain language and concepts not appropriate for children.
At its core, Musical.ly is not designed to, nor does it possess functionality to create an environment that is directly dangerous or unhealthy for our children. This being said, as it is a social network with the purpose of connecting users with other people, children and adults can share various forms of personal information. It can also expose children to inappropriate content that others create.
Potential issues you should be aware of as a parent or carer:
• Exposure to over sexualised content and concepts
• Exposure to inappropriate language
• Being encouraged to create sexualised and inappropriate content whilst miming songs and mimicking artists
• Sharing personal information with millions of strangers
• Bullying/exploitative behaviour
The age requirement for this app is something that even Musical.ly is unclear on. In one paragraph of their terms it outlines that Musical.ly is not for those under 13 years of age. In the same paragraph it goes onto state that “by using the service you confirm that you are at least 18 years of age”.
As with any program used by our children it is our decision, not the company’s, as to when and if that program is used within our families. The age requirement placed upon a user by a company does not necessary indicate the suitability for our children.
From my years of experience, the privacy rule of thumb is that nothing can be guaranteed as private once it is sent, shared or posted online. Musical.ly does have two privacy settings though, with options to share your posts to either your nominated contacts or to the general public (everybody). Should your child happen to use this program it is highly recommended that the tightest privacy settings be put in place.
• This program is not a necessity for our children to use.
• Unlike other apps, a Musical.ly account CANNOT be deleted once created at this time. Ensure username and password is held by a parent as this will be needed to delete the account should the option become available in the future.
• It is a social networking site connecting users to over 60 million people.
• The program may turn out to be a fad but our children’s online information and videos will be permanent.
• Content can be highly sexualised and language used can be foul or aggressive.
• Never believe that ‘ALL’ kids are using this app.
1. Have rules regarding content, language and time are made clear.
2. Put privacy settings in place.
3. Monitor the activity as best you can via spot checks, conversations with your child or monitoring software.
4. Trust your instincts if you feel something is not right.
5. Delete the account if it is causing issues within your family
While apps like this are designed primarily for enjoyment and social interaction, it is always important to be aware of the realities of the online environment. In my time as an undercover detective, I became acutely aware of the dangers that exist online through the actions of criminals.
I say this not to generate fear or discourage the use of technology, but rather to encourage parents and carers to stay informed about the all aspects of the digital world our children live in. Having all the facts enables you to make informed, balanced decisions in relation to your child and technology.