Skout Suspends Teen Flirting App After Sexual Assaults

PHOTO: Skouts website, a popular mobile flirting application, is seen here.
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Skout, a popular mobile flirting application, has suspended its service for teenagers after it was linked to three sexual assaults in recent weeks, causing developers to re-evaluate its security measures.

The separate sexual assaults involved two girls, age 12 and 15, and a 13-year-old boy. All were allegedly victimized by adults posing as teens.

"For now, we believe that there's only one thing we can do: until we can design better protections, we are temporarily shutting down the under-18 community," founder and CEO Christian Wiklund said in a statement posted on the company's blog.

The mobile networking app, which was originally intended for adults, launched an offshoot for teens last year after developers realized teens were using the adult version.

Despite the additional security measures the teen version touted, the application has shown it needs more safety controlls, Wiklund said, adding that he takes the assaults very seriously.

His team is "working around the clock to build better safeguards," including an age verification system, he said.

Current safeguards in the teen community include only revealing a user's location down to a half-mile radius. More than a quarter of the 75-person staff at Skout works on "community management," including making sure that the teen and adult groups remain separate and their behavior is age-appropriate, Wiklund said.

But the three recent cases show that more needs to be done, said the company.

In the first, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a 37-year-old man she met through the application. Police said the girl believed the man was a teenager and agreed to meet up with him since he said he'd give her a ride to see her boyfriend in Kentucky.

In another case, a 12-year-old girl from Escondido, Calif., was reported missing by her mother. After searching the girl's phone, police found her in the bedroom of a 24-year-old she met on Skout.

And in the third case, a 21-year-old man was arrested after he was allegedly spotted performing sexual acts in a Wisconsin park with a 13-year-old boy he met through the application.

Wiklund said he was shutting down the teen version of Skout without notice.

"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 in his blog post.

Users online said they were not pleased with the decision.

"Why would you make all of us suffer for what only a few people did? Some of us were making friends that were becoming important to us and now we have no way of contacting them due to this unfair decision...Please take into consideration that even though this was done with good intentions you'll be doing more harm then [sic] good," a user named Hayden wrote.

Another user said Skout should have given "us a little warning of sorts before shutting down" and said he worried he had lost contact with people he "really liked."

The social networking app, which works on iPhones and Android devices, is one of the largest mobile networks for meeting new people, according to its promotional material.

In April of 2012, Skout secured $22 million in funding from the powerhouse tech venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, whose clients include Foursquare and Air BnB.

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