Flirting App Under Fire, After Three Children Are Raped

Illustration for article titled Flirting App Under Fire, After Three Children Are Raped

Skout, a fast-growing and free flirting app for iOS, has come under fire recently, after it was discovered that a third child was raped by a man posing as a teenager in the app's separate section for 13- to 17-year-olds.

The NY Times reports:

In one case, a 24-year-old man was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Escondido, Calif. In the second, a 15-year-old girl said she had been raped by a 37-year-old man she met using Skout. In the third, a 21-year-old man in Waukesha, Wis., is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy.

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Skout's users are able to swap photos, exchange virtual gifts, and chat via instant message; users can connect with others nearby, by GPS.

"I'm disgusted by what's happened here," Christian Wiklund, Skout's founder, told the Times. "One case is too many. When you have three, it looks like a pattern. This is my worst fear."

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Mr. Wiklund explained the various safeguards Skout is said to have put in place to prevent the app from being used for any illicit behavior: the GPS feature is opt-in (it would seem these kids are opting in, to meet others of allegedly the same age); a couple dozen staff monitoring the community for inappropriate use or activity; and a "machine-learning technology - what it calls "the creepinator" - which monitors photos for nudity and checks chats for inappropriate sexual messages, profanity, spamming, copyright infringement and violent behavior."

The Times was told that tends of thousands of devices are removed from the service each month. Which might be reassuring, if only it were a little less vague.

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To his credit, Mr. Wiklund said that, upon hearing of the rapes on local news, he reached out to law enforcement to provide any help he could in the investigation. But cooperation can only go so far, and it's necessarily after-the-fact.

The questions is: Can dating sites and apps like Skout exist without exploitation? Probably not. At least not entirely. But they certainly can be made a lot safer. After all, not every dating site is rocked by a rape scandal like this one.

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And it's worth considering whether a designated youth forum might be counter to Wiklund's motives; doesn't a youth-specific area attract, other than youth, those who prey upon children specifically? Playgrounds are great for kids, but also for perverts and pedophiles. A virtual playground would seem to have a similar appeal. It's not like Skout's the only one in this predicament, either. [NYT]

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DISCUSSION

zacharyoberle
Zachary Oberle

Hey, I know what's a great idea! Let's give our 13-year-old kid a hand-held device that is permanently connected to the outside world with all the horrors it entails without ever monitoring it's usage or even asking questions about what our child does with it. Yea!!!

Idiots.

Don't blame the kids for these tragedies, they don't know any better. Don't blame the app makers, it isn't their responsibility. Don't even blame the rapists, there will always be another sicko in the world. Blame. The. Fucking. Parents.

I can see giving your kid a phone. I get it. Convenience, reassurance, even safety. Fair enough, but why in the hell would you give them a smart phone? So they can be cool? So they'll quit bitching? Tough shit parents! Your kid got raped and it is your fault. You gave them unlimited and unmonitored access to the American public at large. Do you not understand what that means? You might as well have just dropped them off in a particularly seedy part of your city and waited to see what would happen.

I have the utmost sympathy for the victims of these crimes. No kid deserves such a thing to happen to them. However as much as I feel for the kids I feel shock, anger, and disillusionment towards their parents. Parenting is hard. Sometimes you have to deny your child certain things in order to protect them. That's how it works. The Internet is not a nice, safe, or nurturing place. It is a fantastic resource and, like a public library, can be useful to and appropriate for children under supervision. The key word in that sentence is supervision.

As rapidly as the concept of personal accountability is eroding in the USA it should still be quite plain that the makers of Skout are not the ones to blame here.