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SINGAPORE: As a teenager who uses live-streaming apps, she was alarmed to find her year-old niece watching disturbing content on one such app one day: A person stripping in front of the camera. The year-old also came to know of a girl around her age who was asked to take off her clothes while using one of these apps. She alerted the programme Talking Point to such activities on these apps, fretting that her niece may not know that online stripping is wrong.

Live pornography, however, is not the only thing taking place on these streams. And these apps, which let users broadcast whatever they are doing in their private space — whether it is idle chatter, singing or just their homework — are growing in popularity. Globally, internet videos will command 80 per cent of consumer traffic by , according to forecasts from Cisco Systems. In China alone, almost three-quarters of the million Chinese watching videos online are live-stream users. That means their viewers, teenagers or otherwise, are not only watching but also spending on them. As Talking Point discovered, after monitoring the popular sites for two weeks, there is more to the world of live streaming than meets the eye.

Watch the episode here. In Singapore, the top grossing live-streaming networks are not Facebook, Instagram or YouTube but apps like Bigo Live, 17 Live and Uplive, which boast features such as social networking, live video chats and trivia games. These apps have a recommended minimum age limit, for example above 17 on Bigo Live and 17 Live. On apps like YouNow and BeLive, however, it is 12 years old.

Live-streaming teenagers such as Kyra Yew, 18, and Ryan Francisco, 19, typically spend about three hours on such apps every day. They see live streaming as a means to expand their social circle, be part of a community and, sometimes, meet up in person besides online. They have, however, also had nasty encounters online. For example, one guy exposed his genitals to Ms Yew, and a couple showed themselves having sex. So what are the streaming companies doing? M17 Entertainment said its technology can monitor content that users post, while BeLive — with about , registered users, of whom 60 per cent are Singaporeans — has a team moderating the content.

BeLive chief operating officer Ken Ang is not surprised that nudity and sexual acts occur occasionally. Mr Ken Ang. Most of the parents Talking Point spoke to were not aware that such apps existed, and many were troubled when they found out what the teens were exposed to on the live streams. You have people from all over the world who can access you … in your private space. Live-streaming host Jo Ann Chen advised teenagers to be streetwise.

Ms Chen, who is in her 20s, learned how to protect herself especially because live streaming is her full-time job. Ms Jo Ann Chen. She started last year and has a fan base of over , viewers, making money from the virtual gifts they buy for her. These gifts, from students as well as working adults, range from a few cents to a few hundred dollars and can be redeemed for cash.

Ms Chen did not divulge her income from cashing out these gifts but disclosed that some of them may come with requests. Some people would ask her to dance, for instance, before they send her something. Former technology journalist Oo Gin Lee, who runs a public relations agency now, said he would be very cautious if his three girls, two of whom are teenagers, were to start using live-streaming apps.

While live-streaming technology is neutral, there is cause for concern, he said, drawing a comparison between these apps and sex webcams in the past, whereby the audience could pool their money for the woman to do things such as strip. It can set screen time limits, lock their devices and block apps until he grants an approval request.

Although parents could forbid their children to use live-streaming apps, the youngsters could find other platforms that are harder to monitor. The alternative? An honest discussion with them about precautions they could take, for example restricting location services. Watch this episode of Talking Point here. New episodes every Thursday night.

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