Apple has booted three dating apps out of the App Store on the advice of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The three apps, all created by the same developer, allowed kids to sign up under the age of 13.
Several people reportedly face criminals charges for contacting kids through the apps.
The apps in question, FastMeet, Meet24 and Meet4U, have also been removed by Google. In a complaint letter sent to Ukraine-based developer Wildec, the FTC wrote that:
The apps allowed users to search by age and also to track other users’ locations to find people nearby. According to the FTC, it was “able to search for other users by age and location to find users near our location who indicated that they were as young as 12 years old.”
In doing so, it violated the FTC’s COPPA Rule. This requires companies collecting personal information from children under 13 to post clear privacy policies and notify parents.
Wildec will reportedly be allowed to resubmit its apps to Apple and Google if it makes changes to the three apps. This means immediately removing any personal info for kids, and implementing other safeguards intended to protect minors.
The problem of grooming online
The report does not accuse Wildec of setting up the app for predatory criminal reasons. Nonetheless, there is a massive problem with online messaging and dating services being used to groom kids.
For example, according to U.K. children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Instagram is the biggest platform for child grooming. If one of the biggest websites on the internet has a problem with grooming, then there’s plenty of opportunity for this to happen on lesser-known (and therefore policed) apps.
The FTC published an accompanying letter for parents, warning them about certain dating apps.