(The Root) — For adults, the popular mobile app Skout can be a fun way to meet new people. Billed on its website as “one of the largest global mobile networks for meeting new people,” the app uses location-based software to connect members who are in the same general vicinity. Skout is similar to the Highlight app featured in a previous Tech2Go article, with chatting capabilities and the ability to exchange photos or virtual gifts.
And similar to Highlight, Skout also touts its safety, claiming that it’s up to the individual to contact someone in his or her area or respond to a request from someone who might be nearby. And up until recently, the app was also thought to be safe for teens, too. Skout had two separate and distinct communities for users ages 13-17 and for adults.
But as with anything else on the Internet, the potential for fraud is extremely high, and in the past couple of weeks, three separate incidents of alleged sexual assault have emerged involving adults posing as teens using the app. Even with Skout’s zero-tolerance policy and the dedication of a quarter of its staff to monitoring and screening, there was still no real way to verify people’s ages when they signed up.
Skout has since banned users under the age of 18 from using the app. But the verification problem persists. Just as there was no real way to verify the age of adults posing as teens, there is also currently no effective way to verify the age of a teen who may be posing as an adult to use the app. The majority of the users on Skout log in using Facebook, which “officially” doesn’t allow users under 13. But there is plenty of evidence that Facebook is having the same troubles, with estimates that as many as 7.5 million users are under age 13.
I am not a parent (yet), but I understand that as a parent, you want to respect your children’s privacy and give them some freedoms earned through demonstrated responsibility. But in this case, uninstalling this app or not downloading it in the first place may be in their best interest as well as yours, at least for now. Some things just weren’t meant for minors, and without better protections in place, keeping in touch with friends isn’t worth the risk.
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