I was speaking at a parent seminar this week and one of the parents specifically asked me about the Skout app. I promised to check it out, so here it goes. This isn’t intended to be a full review, but rather an answer to the question of whether it is safe for teens.
“Meeting people can be tough. Skout can make it a little easier.” That’s the tagline from the “about” page on Skout’s website.
Skout is an app that functions pretty much as its tagline sounds – it’s an app that facilitates meeting people nearby. How it is being used is slightly different. It seems that Skout is ideal for flirting with strangers, then converting that in-app flirting into a real life meeting. That is reportedly how people are using it. It has also been used by predators to find and target young users, according to some reports.
Skout has been around for a few years, and back in 2012 it made some changes that were designed to make it safer for teens (the app is rated 12+ in the iTunes App Store, indicating that it is safe for teens).
It’s easy to assume, based on even a single report of App X called Event Y, that App X is unsafe. We review apps in the hopes of letting parents know which are safe for kids and teens, and what parental concerns might be raised by their use. We decided to do an experiment to see how easy it would be for an adult predator to pose as a teen, despite the app’s explicit attempts to make it safer for teens.
This morning, I downloaded the app, used my true age at sign up and included a picture of myself in the profile. No problem. A couple of people checked out my profile (both looked like adults) but I didn’t respond.
I then asked one of my colleagues to download the app and register as a 16-year-old boy with no profile picture. He did so and within 2 minutes, a 13-year-old girl started chatting with him. That is bad news.
The site allows users to be anonymous to other users, and one would hope that for teens using the app, that is the case. According to Skout’s Safety Awareness Center:
“For those under 18, we strongly recommend that you only chat and meet with people within your age group, people you already know or with whom you have established a trusted online friendship where that person’s identity has been verified by other friends.”
That is good advice. I hope teens are taking it. The reality could be different.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.