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Jott: No Data Plan, No Problem – What Parents Need to Know

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In the past, we’ve suggested that parents give their child an iPod Touch instead of an iPhone if they believe their kids are too young to be texting or going online whenever they like. It’s the best of both worlds: your kids get to take advantage of educational apps without the possibility of talking to people they don’t know. But the new texting app, Jott, may change that.

Jott is a messaging app that uses Bluetooth to allow users to chat without a data plan. It’s limited to a one hundred foot radius and it’s taking off within junior high and high schools. Jott does a lot to try to encourage kids to connect with their classmates and if you’re an adult, you have to know someone’s username to add them or already have them in your contacts. Unfortunately, Jott’s system can be easily manipulated to work for predators. When you set your age to be between 13 and 17, the app will automatically suggest schools in your area that you can join. Once you’re in a school, you can swipe through everyone else who joined it on Jott and start sending friend requests. Now, if you actually are a teen, this makes a lot of sense. But if you’re really much older, this is a way to throw a wide net and see how many targets you can catch. A predator could join a school, friend everyone there, then leave that school, join another, and start the process over again. Most of the kids they contact may ignore them but sadly, odds are, some will accept.

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Jott is clearly trying to skirt around the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The app’s terms of service require that users be at least 13 years old but their niche is kids who don’t have a data plan. 51% of high school students and 46% of middle school students have a data plan so while that still leaves plenty of teens to direct their app at, there are even more potential users in the under 13 age range. If you try to enter an age below 13, Jott will alert you that you are too young to use the app but then it just puts you right back where you started: with a screen asking you to make an account. Like many age-restricted sites and apps, Jott says that it’s for teens but doesn’t do anything to prevent younger kids lying about their age from getting in.

Jared Allgood, the CEO and Co-founder of Jott, sees the app as “the equivalent of passing notes in class but for the digital era” but it certainly isn’t that simple. It’s just too easy for young children and adults on Jott to get around the rules. And because Jott’s niche is kids who don’t have a data plan, predators using the app know that if they get a message from a child, there’s a decent chance they’re within one hundred feet of their target. If a parent decides not to get their child a data plan, it may be because they aren’t ready for one yet. But that concern doesn’t appear to be a factor for the makers of Jott.

Parents, this is what you need to do:

  1. Ask your kids if they’ve heard of Jott.
  2. Ask your kids if they’re using the app.
  3. If they are, and they’re under the age of 13, they shouldn’t be. Delete the app.
  4. If they are 13 or older, share with them what you’ve learned. Explain how the app can be misused and remind them only to accept friend requests from people they actually know and go to school with.

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