Skout, which offers a social networking app for iPhone and Android devices, has suspended temporarily access to its teen community, after three cases of alleged rape involving adults posing as teenagers on the network were reported.
The app helps users to flirt, find a date, or discover new friends "at the local neighborhood bar, at a concert at Madison Square Garden or on a bus tour in Barcelona."
Skout said in a blog post on Tuesday that it had set up its teen community for people aged under 18 about a year ago after it found a number of underage users were entering the community meant for people older than 18.
In each of the alleged rape cases, the men are accused of posing as teenagers in a Skout forum for 13 to 17-year-olds, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
A 15-year-old Ohio girl said she had been raped by a 37-year-old man, while in another case, a 24-year-old man is accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Escondido, California, the newspaper said. In the third case, a 21-year-old man from Waukesha, Wisconsin, is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy.
"We actively monitor and screen to ensure that the two separate communities for users 18+ and for teen users are kept distinct and that behavior is age-appropriate," Christian Wiklund, founder and CEO of Skout said in the blog post.
Skout in San Francisco said it uses proprietary technology that continuously monitors activity on the network to identify users whose behavior appears "unusual, inappropriate or suspicious." Users are banned for inappropriate or suspicious behavior, and Skout's location-based apps provide general rather than specific location information, giving each community member the choice to decide if, when and where to meet in person.
"However, it's become clear to us that these measures aren't enough," said Wiklund, as in recent weeks, the company has learned of several incidents involving a "few bad actors trying to take advantage of some of our younger members."
Skout plans to keep its under-18 community shut until it can design better protections.
The company said it was working on building better safeguards, including mechanisms for age verification, and is partnering with a risk management advisory firm to strengthen its current security measures.