This is the kind of story I hate writing. Skout, longtime friends of Online Dating Insider and the dating industry, has had three occurrences of rape tied to the services in the last few weeks.
In After Rapes Involving Children, Skout, a Flirting App, Faces Crisis, the New York Times reports:
In the last two weeks, Skout has been used to connect adults and minors in three rape cases. In one case, a 24-year-old man has been accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Escondido, Calif. In the second, a 15-year-old girl said she had been raped by a 37-year-old man she met using Skout. In the third, a 21-year-old man in Waukesha, Wis., is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy. In each case, the men are accused of posing as teenagers in a Skout forum for 13- to 17-year-olds.
The company, which recently raised $22 million from top Venture Capitalists Andreessen Horowitz, has suspended the company’s service for minors as of Tuesday.
Women are raped by men they meet on dating sites more often than you would think. I’ve personally talked to 25 or so the in the past few years. What makes the crimes on Skout ultra-heinous is the age of the victims.
Skout does a lot to keep its members safe, but evidently not nearly enough. How many times does this have to happen before dating services implement stronger safety practices?
Solutions include background checks, identity verification, even getting verified by friends on Facebook would go a long way towards reducing the risk people face using social services.
And what about accountability? EHarmony is not liable for their RelyID identity verification service, so what good is it if you can hack it?
Don’t think for a minute that this is a one-time event for the mobile/local friend-finding and dating services. As more startups cobble together apps with varying levels of complexity and programming experience, bad actors will continue to exploit weaknesses in these systems.
Dating services are acutely aware of the friction visitors experience when signing up for their sites. Balancing ease of signup with gathering enough information is complicated. Less friction, you don’t get enough information from people to be useful when matching them. Ask for too much info, or the wrong info, and visitors will bounce without a second thought.
I know that Skout does a lot after a visitor becomes a member of their community. They throw thousands of people off the network every month. They key here is the “after”. Bouncing bad actors at the time of signup would be more beneficial, but has its own complexity and affect on the member on-boarding process.
As we’ve learned with Facebook over and over again, check the default setting on all mobile apps. Quite often the settings shipped with apps are far too permissive.
Do you think the plethora of mobile dating apps are secure enough? What about geo-fencing features? What level of granularity do users have? Can people easily expand and contract the radius of their current location based on their activities? Am I hidden until I’m visible, or visible until I’m hidden?
Dating services and singles and everyone else for that matter should know exactly what they are being exposed to with dating/mobile/social apps. If your privacy and personal security settings are not 100% clear or you simply don’t have a good gut feeling about a service, delete your profile and remove the app from your phone immediately.
Facebook and other services working with teen-agers are going to seriously have to re-think their business strategies. Just because you can make money off of kids doesn’t necessarily mean its a good idea. Just ask Skout.
My heart goes out to the victims.