Predators are using Musical.ly app to target young kids

App lets users create lip-synced music videos

DENVER -- Law enforcement is warning parents about a popular new cell phone app predators are using to target young kids.

It's called Musical.ly and allows users to create and share their own lip-synced videos.

"It's really fun to make Musical.ly [videos] with your friends at like a sleepover," said 12-year-old Sydney Bregman.

Bregman and her group of friends who attend Cherry Creek Dance are obsessed with the app.

"You can follow a bunch of people and then, like, look at theirs and like it, it's like a moving Instagram," she further explained.

While the app seems fun and harmless, lead investigator Michael Harris with the Jefferson County Child Sex Offender Unit also known as "Cheezo" said it also comes with some serious risks.

"We are getting complaints now that kids are going, 'hey somebody is talking nasty to me about my video,'" he said. "Their intent is just to show and try to be the next pop queen or pop star, but yet they're not setting their privacy settings right so anyone can look at these videos."

Harris recently went out to Edgewater Elementary in Jefferson County where at least twenty third graders received inappropriate messages from predators on the app.

"You can correspond, and that's what scary," said Harris.

Bregman said she had her own bad experience with a group of friends while using the Musical.ly sister app Live.ly, which allows users to live stream to people all over the world.

"It was surprising 'cause we weren't like, expecting it because we were all at a sleepover on a trampoline," she said. "Somebody was talking about like, really inappropriate things about girls. We told a parent, and we still like, live streamed, but we blocked them."

Online safety advocate Chris McKenna who runs a blog called Protect Young Eyes said that's not the only concern with these apps.

"It has a dark side because it allows people to upload their own content," he said.

McKenna said parents should make sure their accounts are private to stop predators from messaging their kids.

However, even with a private account, he said you can't control what comes up when your child searches for videos, which can sometimes be pornographic.

"Those images and video formats are hard to remove from a young person's mind," said McKenna.

He also notes that only children over the age of 13 are supposed to be using the app, which is why he's urging all parents to look past the fun and monitor this app closely.

"The distance between awful and awesome when it comes to technology is just one click," he said.

Musical.ly provided Denver7 with the following statement:

musical.ly prioritizes the safety of our users and strives to ensure that all musical.ly users can enjoy our application without abuse or threats from any other user. We take appropriate measures to expeditiously remove offensive or inappropriate content from the musical.ly app. When a user flags content as inappropriate, it is removed from the platform within 15 minutes. Users can set their account to private to ensure only the friends they know can follow them. In addition, messages from friends are clearly identified from unknown senders so users can tell who is contacting them and can decide whether to engage. Our users can also block any other user from contacting them and they can report abusive users or communications to us through the application. We are also implementing machine-learning technology to scan messages to block spam and inappropriate content.

How to make a musical.ly account private

To make an account private, go into Musical.ly settings and click on the following three items:

-          Only friends can direct.ly me

-          Hide location info

-          Private account

Once these settings are turned on, kids can only share video's and receive messages from pre-approved people. 

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