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Amidst the seemingly countless number of iPhone applications released each day, it may seem odd that a playful little app called the “Ugly Meter” has created such a stir. Aimed for ages 9 and up, this 99-cent download uses facial-recognition software to assign a numerical score of a person’s relative beauty, or lack thereof (in this case, a 10 is the worst possible score). But while the app’s creators swear the critiquing is all in good fun, parents and online security experts fear that kids and teens could be misusing it for the purposes of cyberbullying.
"I can see that the guys who programmed it were having a bit of fun and all," Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, told FoxNews.com. "If you're 25, 26 or 28, this sort of thing could be quite funny or amusing. But in the hands of a 14- or 15-year-old, it could be quite the reverse, and particularly if someone is submitting someone else's photograph and then circulated that photo around school."
If such concerns seem a bit sensitive, it’s probably for good reason; tragic stories of cyberbullying continue to make front-page news and national headlines. Last spring, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself following a smear campaign by fellow classmates that utilized both social media outlets as well as traditional hallway chatter in portraying her as promiscuous. More recently was the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers who leapt from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate took to Twitter and subsequently posted a live video feed of Clementi in an intimate moment with another student.
Parents are taking notice. In fact, a new nationwide survey by Care.com reveals that bullying and cyberbullying now top parents’ fears for their children, more than concerns of kidnapping, domestic terrorism and suicide. The study reports: “In response to recent news coverage of teens being bullied or cyberbullied across the country, 75% of parents are now monitoring text messages and social media activity[…]Almost two out of three (62%) parents agree that increased use of texting, social media activity and the playing of more violent video games are resulting in meaner behavior among kids.”
And this is precisely where the “Ugly Meter” enters the conversation. With parents more mindful of just what exactly their children are exposed to via social media, apps, games and online videos, they fear such glib assessments as “you look like you ran a 100-yard dash in a 90-yard gym” – doled out by the “Ugly Meter” alongside a particularly high “ugly” rating – are nothing more than instant ammunition for bullies. As FoxNews.com reports, many have already called for Apple to intervene and pull the plug on the app, or at the very least make it unavailable to minors. So far, however, the “Ugly Meter” remains readily available, its impact (if any) in schools and playgrounds yet to be determined.
What do you think? Are parents and critics overreacting to a harmless iPhone app, or does the “Ugly Meter” pose a substantial threat as the latest tool for cyberbullying? Let dus know.