SAN FRANCISCO -- The mobile flirting app Skout plans to reopen to teens as soon as Friday, according to a source familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak publicly for the company.
Skout shut down its service for 13- to 17-year-olds last month after three adults pretending to be teenagers contacted youths on Skout and sexually assaulted them in three separate incidents.
At the time, the San Francisco company said it would not give teens access to the app unless it could keep them safe from sexual predators.
“They've put a lot of effort and emphasis on how to keep kids out of the adult population and vice versa,” the source said.
Skout has also made it a priority to weed out underage users while the service was shuttered, he said.
In addition, Skout has added more people to monitor the teen forum, he added.
Skout could not be reached for comment.
The assaults on two girls, ages 12 and 15, and on a 13-year-old boy alarmed parents and safety advocates, and underscored how tough it can be to keep children safe on a new generation of mobile apps.
Internet-related sexual crimes against youths are relatively rare and incidents such as sexual assaults are actually declining. But safety experts say mobile apps can make teens vulnerable because they combine profile information about users with GPS information from the users' mobile phones.
"They have to adopt serious safeguards if they are going to serve the teen market," said privacy watchdog Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Skout was originally created as a flirting app for adults, and users had to be 18 or older to sign up. The app finds strangers nearby with whom a user can swap messages, photos and virtual gifts and make plans to meet up.
But so many of the app's users were teens — about 15%, by the company's estimates — that last year Skout opened a separate forum for them. The company says it used a combination of automated screening and human monitoring to police the teen forum.