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Skout dating app suspends service for teens amid rape allegations

The company says it is updating its protections for users under 18. Adults allegedly used Skout to contact minors to sexually assault them.

June 13, 2012|By Michelle Maltais, Los Angeles Times

Skout, a smartphone location-based dating app, has temporarily shut down its services for teens amid a series of rape allegations involving its underage users.

"Until we can design better protections, we are temporarily shutting down the under-18 community," founder Christian Wiklund wrote on the company blog.

In the last couple of weeks, three men ranging in age from 21 to 37 have been accused of posing as teenagers on the app's teen forum and allegedly luring boys and girls ages 12 to 15 to sexually assault them, according to a New York Times report.

"After working with law enforcement on a few troubling incidents in recent weeks, we have decided that this is the right step to ensure the safety of all of our users," Wiklund said in a prepared statement.

The men, all currently facing criminal charges, allegedly used Skout to contact minors.

Skout, which touts itself as the largest location-based dating app, had more than 5 million subscribers in 2011. Originally targeting adults, the company started a separate service for 13- to 17-year-olds last year after kids started using the app.

Safeguards that Skout said it had put in place included proprietary technology referred to as "the creepinator," which checks for nude photos, sexual messages, profanity and other inappropriate activity.

Wiklund said in the blog post that more than a quarter of Skout's staff is dedicated to actively monitoring and screening to keep the adults out of the kids' pool. Under its zero-tolerance policy against inappropriate and suspicious behavior, Skout bans more than "tens of thousands of devices each month," according to the statement.

During what Skout is calling a "temporary closure," the San Francisco company said it would be testing and updating safeguards for its minor users.

"We know how much teenagers value Skout, and we apologize for this disruption of service, but we hope they will understand that we are acting in the best interests of the community," Wiklund said in the statement.

michelle.maltais@latimes.com

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