Well, yesterday’s ‘who wants it/who needs it app’ was about death. Today’s is about sex. Namely, Skout, “a flirting app” that’s run into some trouble that Andreessen Horowitz may not have anticipated when they plunked $22M into the venture a few months back.
To date, “three men have been accused of raping children they met using a mobile app designed for flirting between adults.” (Source for this post: NY Times)
Skout had “tried” to do the right thing, blah de blah de blah.
Had set up a special teen site, blah de blah de blah.
Had all kinds of security in place, blah de blah de blah.
Has now shut down that special teen site, blah de blah de blah.
And the company is, of course, officially “disgusted” that their innocent ol’ flirtation service would be used for something other than innocent ol’ flirtation. (Shocked, I’m shocked…)
In truth, if it hadn’t been on Skout, these predators – who “posed as teenagers” and then went on and variously raped a 15 year old Ohio girl, a 12 year old California girl, and a 13 year old Wisconsin boy – would have figured out some other place to meet their prey. Which might have spared these victims and created others. Still…
These times around, it happened on Skout, which:
…startled managers…because they thought they had adequate safeguards in place.
Founder Christian Wiklund has now suspended the teen service while they try to improve their safeguards.
Personally, I don’t really see how you can improve safeguards to the degree that no bad things ever happen through social networking sites. Until there are advanced biometrics, facial and voice recognition, spy drones everywhere, kids – lonely kids, screwed up kids, unhappy kids, (naively) adventurous kids, (naively) curious kids – will way, way, way overestimate their own maturity and judgment, and will get snared by evil-doers – lonely evil-doers, screwed up evil-doers, unhappy evil-doers, (nastily) adventurous evil-doers, (nastily) curious evil-doers – who will have no problem assuming the persona of a teenager to get what they crave. All the security controls, all the parental warnings, in the world won’t stop bad things from happening.
…even when sites monitor for sexual predators and evict them, the predators often simply move to other social networks. In 2009, after Myspace said it had successfully removed 90,000 sex offenders from its site, more than 8,000 of them immediately popped up on Facebook.
Skout did have a number of security practices in place already: parental controls, an opt-in GPS feature that is only accurate to the half mile, and monitoring for “illicit behavior.”
It also uses machine-learning technology — which it calls “the creepinator” — to monitor photos for nudity and check chats for inappropriate sexual messages, profanity, spamming, copyright infringement and violent behavior. Mr. Wiklund said Skout removed “tens of thousands of devices a month” from the service.
Copyright infringement? To flirt with?
“Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’”*?
Although they’re not jumping app at this point, Andreessen Horowitz is keeping a gimlet eye on Skout.
“I thought we were doing a lot, but obviously we have to do better,” Mr. [Scott] Weiss [partner] said by phone on Tuesday. “This is a five-alarm fire. The entire company is re-evaluating everything it’s doing.”
Yes, and five-alarm fires do have a way of screwing up big pay-offs in $22M investments.
Meanwhile, I did feel compelled to check Skout out for my non-flirtatious self.
Skout connects you to other users nearby or continents away, in more than 100 countries, whether you're looking for new friends or activity partners.
Activity partners? Are we talking pals who can sleuth out possible copyright infringements together, or – let the squeamish avert their eyes: incoming f-bomb – are we talking about fuck buddies here?
Life is short, you are busy and people are having fun without you right now. So start Skouting and find your party, anytime, anywhere.
Trust me, at my age, I well know that life is too short. And, yes, I’m quite sure that people are having fun without me right now. Some of them are no doubt people I’d actually like to be having fun with.
But I don’t know…
Aren’t there enough ways – both actual and virtual - to find activity partners and/or your party already, without adding another? How many more social networks do we need out there? And, gee, what’s so different about this one?
Guess I’m just an unimaginative old cranky crank. (Oh, my aching demographic.)
And Skout is probably one of the “better ones.” At least they state, flat out in boldface:
Sex with an underage person is rape.
It does not matter if that person lied about their age. It's rape and you will go to prison.
And they did close down their teen site, which is likely giving Facebook pause in their quest to get more youngsters FB’d up.
Skout also asks the Big Question:
Is Skout going to save the planet?
And they answer it for themselves:
What I wonder about all this energy and capital that’s going into products and services that not only don’t save the planet but, arguably, will end up making it worse.
I know, I know, there’s no stopping any of this – at least not until we get more biometrics and drones in place.
Still, I’d feel better about the planet if a few more of the best and brightest, the most entrepreneurial and creative, the most young and energetic, were more interested in saving the planet than making money and getting laid. (But I guess some things never change.)
*Copyright Hank Williams, 1951.