June 15, 2012
Social App Skout Shuts Down Teen Access
Derek Walter for redOrbit.com
Social app Skout suddenly shut down a component of its service targeted at teenagers this week. The move comes after three sexual assaults were connected to teens using Skout´s flirting/meet-up service that was directed at 13- to 17-year-olds.
The social service is designed for meeting new people. This has led it to be a popular hub for those who want to flirt or make other connections with people they have not previously met.
While much of the app was geared for users 18 and above, there was a section for teenagers. It was part of a successful run for Skout, which was humming along nicely until this week. For example, over 15 million people have downloaded Skout. There are users in 100 countries that exchange about 500 million messages per month.
However, three sexual assault allegations stemming from individuals who connected on Skout in Ohio, Wisconsin, and California prompted Skout Founder and CEO Christian Wiklund to shut down the service until further privacy controls are put into place. The founder said the current privacy situation was “inadequate” in retrospect, and pledged not to re-start any kind of service for those under 18 until stronger privacy safeguards were put into place.
The move came with an announcement on the company blog about the need to make the rapid change.
“We will not compromise the safety of our community, and right now, our concerns are too significant to simply stand by and do nothing,” Wiklund said. “We are working around the clock to build better safeguards, including mechanisms for age verification, and we´re partnering with a leading risk management advisory firm to strengthen our current security measures. We hope to have the community back online soon."
The move was met with considerable criticism from teen users, many who complained in comments and forums that the immediate closure meant they had lost contact information for those they were in touch with.
Wiklund posted a follow-up response to try and address the criticism. He argued that while the closure was a major inconvenience, it was a necessary step to ensure that safeguards were in place.
“I am deeply touched by all the responses here, and understand the pain the temporary suspension is causing. Rest assured, we are working around the clock on this. While we are making good progress on building new features that will enhance Skout´s safety — we are not quite there yet. Please, bear with us and hang in there!” he said.