Skout says it’s safe for teenagers to use it again

Skout chief executive Christian Wiklund (right)[/caption]

On June 12, multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault of minors caused Skout to shut down its teen forum. Now the community is back online, with new controls that the founders say will help protect the children using the service.

Skout is a service that lets its users find and chat with other people nearby. It’s got a playful brand, with a home page that invites people to “find your party, anytime, anywhere.” It’s been successful, attracting one million new members every month and securing $22 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz in April.

Until June, the company had two separate communities, one for 13 to 17-year-olds and another for adults. But after allegations of sexual assault surfaced, Skout shut down its teen community.

According to the New York Times, a 13-year-old-boy sent nude photos using Skout to a 21-year-old man posing as a minor. The two met in a park and were found performing sexual acts, police told the Times. In another case, a 37-year-old man chatted with a 15-year-old girl on Skout before meeting her and raping her. In the third case, a 24-year-old man is accused of raping a 12-year-old girl he met in Skout’s teen forum. Charges have been filed against all three accused, the Times reported.

After the Times report broke, chief executive Christian Wiklund published an apologetic explanation of the community suspension, a post that garnered over 3,000 heartfelt comments, many of them outraged that the service was being taken away from them.

Now those teenagers should be happier, as the community is back, with new age controls.

“We can never guarantee that our system is 100 percent bulletproof,” Christian Wiklund, Skout’s founder, said in an interview with the New York Times. “It never will be. What we can guarantee is that the service will be much, much safer than before.”

The new system relies on Facebook for age authentication. Facebook’s terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old, although it doesn’t verify the ages that people report — and teenagers are certainly capable of lying about how old they are.

Also, Skout will not allow teenagers to chat with other Skout users who are within 100 miles of them, which might limit its usefulness for hooking up with boyfriends or classmates. It will also prevent users from seeing exact location data on teenagers.

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