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Skout suspends teen community after child-rape charges

@CNNMoneyTech June 13, 2012: 3:34 PM ET
skout

Skout created a community for 13- to 17-year-olds about a year ago, after the company noticed underage users in the 18+ section.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Flirting app Skout has suspended its teen community, following a report of three child-rape allegations stemming from the use of its service.

Skout founder and CEO Christian Wiklund announced the suspension in a blog post Tuesday. "We are extremely sorry about this, but we don't believe we have any other choice," he wrote.

The post and suspension came alongside a New York Times report about three separate cases in which three men are accused of raping minors they met after posing as teens in Skout's community for 13- to 17-year-olds. The alleged victims are 12, 13 and 15 years old.

Wiklund told the Times he was "disgusted" and that the situation is his "worst fear."

The company -- whose free iPhone app bills itself as a place to "Flirt, Friend, Chat" -- said in its post that it opened up the teen community about a year ago after noticing underage users in the 18+ section.

Skout also said that more than 25% of its staff is dedicated to "community management," and that it screens for suspicious or inappropriate content.

The Skout app allows users to share their location, but Wiklund's post noted that the feature is opt-in and provides "general rather than specific location information."

But Wiklund admitted "these measures aren't enough. In recent weeks, we've learned of several incidents involving a few bad actors trying to take advantage of some of our younger members."

The under-18 community shutdown will continue, he wrote, as Skout works to "build better safeguards" including age verification. The company is also working with a risk management advisory firm to boost its current security measures.

Wiklund didn't give a specific timeline, simply saying "we hope to have the community back online soon."

That sparked the ire of Skout's young users, who are learning the hard way that putting important connections solely in the hands of a single service can be fraught. Companies can revoke access in a blink for any reason.

Skout's post about the suspension drew more than 800 comments by midday Wednesday, almost exclusively from anguished teens decrying the loss of their connections.

"I understand this, but skout is the only contactbi [sic] have with my boyfriend right now," one user wrote. "This is a HUGE inconvinience [sic] to me! How am I supposed to talk to him ... This is not right!"

Another expressed skepticism that the teen shutdown would fix the problem: "This is just going to make underage users say that they are 18."

Many comments complained that the shutdown is "unfair" to the majority of Skout users: "There's creeps on Facebook who take advantage of people but do you see mark zuckerberg shutting down FaceBook [sic] to the under 18 community?" To top of page