Skout Overhauls Security, Reopens Social Network For Teens

July 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

By Lora Kolodny

Mobile social network Skout reopened its service to teens Friday, after a nearly monthlong shutdown following the rapes or assaults of three teens by adult users who connected with them via Skout.

Skout CEO Christian Wiklund shut down the service after reports of sexual predators using it.

CEO and founder Christian Wiklund said the need to protect Skout users, especially minors, gave him no choice but to temporarily shut down the teen part of the company’s service. but it has been hard to keep them away. Skout has been blocking 2,000 teen attempts to sign up on the still-active adult service each day, Wiklund said.

Scott Weiss, a general partner at Andreesen Horowitz and a board member at Skout, says he is proud of the way Skout has responded and notes that other companies survived and thrived after crises. Hotmail, PayPal, eBay and Facebook all recovered after criminals abused their “people-connecting and world changing” technologies to perpetrate theft, fraud and assaults, he said.

While Weiss could not go into detail about all of the changes made and the “groundbreaking technology” Skout incorporated to improve its overall safety, the investor did note that the new Skout for teens requires users to log in with Facebook Connect, thereby “social proofing” their identities.

The theory is that a user who has built up a presence on a major social network is less likely to fake their identity on a new one. Those who do try to fake it will set off alarms. any profile that does set off an alarm is blocked. The mobile device used to create an apparently fake profile can never use Skout again.

Skout also removed its geo-location features from the teen community. it previously allowed users to learn who lives nearby, filter lists by location, and see who was online at or beyond a half-mile radius. Skout for adults remains a “flirting app” with geo-location features enabling easy, real-world meetups. but Skout for teens is now more of a pen-pal app.

Wiklund plans to hire a chief privacy and safety officer and create a safety-specific product team, while ramping up the number of community managers and bots or other technology that can review profiles for red flag behavior or content. he would not say what impact the shutdown had on revenue. The company makes money through mobile ads.

The founder of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, Stephen Balkam, who reached out to the company to offer advice and insight in recent weeks, says Skout took perhaps the most dramatic measures he’s seen to respond to a crisis.

Still, he warns: “There should be no false sense of security, even with all the safety measures in place. It’s very important for parents and educators to understand and communicate this to their kids.”

(Correction: Skout for teens previously allowed users to see who was online at or beyond a half-mile radius. an earlier version of the story said in the sixth paragraph that it previously allowed users to see who was online within a half-mile radius.)

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