Local News

New app allows teens to stream their lives to strangers

Posted July 23, 2015 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2015 6:56 p.m. EDT

— Experts are warning parents about a new, popular app that allows children as young as 13 to live stream from their phone, potentially inviting millions of strangers into their lives and bedrooms.

Unlike picture posts to Facebook or 140 characters on Twitter, YouNow allows teens to live stream and chat with strangers for hours at a time with one push of a button.

About 75 percent of the users are between 13 and 24 years old, according to the company. People from all over the world stream more than 50,000 hours of video every day on the platform, which allows users to get likes and comments in real-time from strangers.

“It's a good way to get your 15 minutes of fame,” said Eva Ray, 15. “Usually I just put the app on, broadcast while I'm doing everyday stuff, like playing video games, out on a walk. It's a cool way to meet new people.”

Eva’s father, Tom Ray, says he trusts his daughter to use the app responsibly but admits he is a little leery about her broadcasting her life to strangers.

“Like any parent, I’ve got some reservations with what's going out,” he said.

The live videos are categorized by hash tags on the side of the screen, and that's what raises some eyebrows. The "sleeping squad" shows live video of people sleeping, many of them teenagers.

“I think that’s really weird, actually,” Eva said.

Some viewers have made her uncomfortable, she said, but she just blocks them.

“There are weird, creepy people out there. There's no way you can completely prevent them from getting to you,” she said.

Thomas Ray, no relation to Eva or her family, manages educational programs at the Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh. He says he's especially concerned because viewers can send live chat messages to the broadcasters.

“It's terrifying,” he said. “A pedophile could literally groom a young person through an app like this by communicating with them, encouraging them to do things online and ultimately even to meet outside the cyber world.”

A YouNow spokesperson told WRAL News that the company monitors the feeds and shuts down inappropriate behavior. YouNow's rules and community guidelines forbid nudity, sexually explicit behavior, violence, harassment and other behaviors.

"Trust is a core value of YouNow, and we are committed to the safety of our community," the company said in a statement. "YouNow has a multi-layered monitoring system that addresses safety concerns and works to make our community as welcoming as it can be. 24/7 live moderators respond to any issue flagged by the community or detected by our automated systems. In addition, any user can not only flag another user, but completely block them."

"Our broadcasts are monitored 24/7, and any user who is reported not to have met our standards is quickly disciplined," the company added. "If you are a parent, please visit our Guide for Parents, and for more information on what is and isn’t acceptable, visit Community Standards & Site Rules."

Thomas Ray says parents have to take control and explain to their kids what's public and private, and not just a one-time talk. “We as the adults have to help them make decisions, good choices, and that means constant engagement,” he said.

The Poe Center for Health Education works to keep parents up to date with what's popular with their kids and offers a workshop to help parents start those conversations.