A popular smartphone app used by millions of people every day is now causing concern among Internet security experts.
Tinder, a social networking and dating app, allows people to connect with others based on their geographic proximity and age. If two people indicate they like each one other, they are allowed to communicate via in-app messages.
Internet security expert Scott Driscoll said some messages, however, may contain links to adult websites and possibly even prostitution services.
"What they're offering is a GFE, a Girlfriend Experience, or they're saying let's hook up for $125/hour or 125 roses/hour," said Driscoll. "Now, in online terms, roses can equal money."
Teens have easy access to Tinder, with the ability to download it for free from smartphone's app store. Tinder then connects to the user's Facebook account to collect the user's name, age and picture. Anyone 13 or older can use Tinder, but underage users can only connect with other teens under 18. There is, however, no way to validate a person's age.
In just minutes it is possible to create a fake Facebook profile with a fake birthday, giving underage teens access to older Tinder users. Driscoll created a fake Facebook page and Tinder profile as an experiment. Several Tinder matches came with messages containing links to X-rated websites, possible escort services and sex hotlines.
Some of the messages can seem innocent, but unknowingly texting a sex hotline number can have major consequences.
"Once you provide someone your phone number, then you can receive messages back that maybe aren't appropriate--in the state of Connecticut, illegal--when it comes to child pornography. And just the possession of one of those pictures, whether you ask for it or not, can be a violation of law."
Driscoll said parents should enable parental controls on children's phones so they can monitor which apps are downloaded. "We can sit down together, review the app, and say, 'Okay, this one looks like it could be fun or beneficial to your schoolwork, whatever. Let's get this one.' When they see a dating app, they can automatically say, 'We're not gonna get that.'"
Driscoll added that parents can disable all app downloads on their children's phones and require password approval for downloading any new apps.