The popular social networking apps in Apple’s App Store are now the subject of over 1,500 complaints and allegations of unwanted and unsolicited sexual advances, many of which have targeted children. According to the Washington Post, this is in stark contrast to what the company continually markets its App Store as – a safe and trusted place.

Random chat apps are at the center of complaints about a number of popular social media platforms. These apps bring strangers together in video conversations, and many consider these digital communication venues as dangerous, particularly for children in an environment in which the level of protection they are afforded from adult predators has come into serious question.

The Post’s investigation and findings

The Washington Post, in its effort to uncover App Store reviews that include reports of unwanted sexual content, bullying, and racism, used a machine learning algorithm that poured through over 130,000 reviews of half a dozen chat apps. All of these apps, with the exception of one, ranked in the top 100 by Apple in November for the social networking category. In addition, The Post manually evaluated over 1,500 reviews that mentioned unnerving sexual situations.

According to The Post’s investigation, the 10th most popular social networking site in Apple’s social networking category – Monkey – had 2% of its iOs reviews consisting of reports of unwanted sexual scenarios. Yet, this app was approved for use by 12-year-olds and older. The investigation also looked at other apps such as Chat for Strangers, Yubo, Holla, Skout, and ChatLive. Almost 1 in 5 of the reviews on ChatLive included unwanted sexual situations.

Apple’s position

Apple asserts that it takes all reports of illegal or inappropriate sexual contact on its apps extremely seriously. It claims to have created an App Store that is a safe and trusted place for customers. The company says that it reviews 100,000 apps every week through a combination of human inspection and software analysis. According to Apple spokesman Fred Sainz, the company seems to lean toward giving developers a chance to comply with the rules properly as long as the purpose of the apps is not inappropriate. However, as Sainz states, “we don’t hesitate to remove them from the App Store if they don’t.”

Danger of random chat apps

Random chat apps are different from traditional social networks. The latter often connects people who already know each other. Random chat apps are designed to bring people together in digital space who have nothing in common, including their interests, age, etc. The app quickly brings two people together in a video call with a single tap. Then, those two individuals are matched with another person. The process repeats, with additional persons added. Some people use the app as a vehicle to find a romantic connection. Many young users view the app as a way to avoid being lonely or to simply pass the time for entertainment purposes.

Apple’s former director of the App Store review – Philip Shoemaker – has stated that in his opinion “these [random chat apps] have to go.” According to Shoemaker, chat roulette apps were not permitted when he was with the company.

According to someone with knowledge about Apple’s guidelines, random chat apps such as Holla, Monkey, ChatLive, and Chat for strangers are permitted because they utilize certain safeguards, including some measure of content moderation.

According to Apple’s website, it promises to pull down apps that contain content deemed over the line, particularly when children are placed at risk by the content. It also specifies pornographic material in particular for removal, which certainly would include child pornography Internet crimes.

However, according to Shoemaker, the company does not read App Store reviews to properly determine whether it is keeping to its standard. Apparently, the company does not utilize a bot to scan through the reviews, which, according to Shoemaker, if in place, would result in “a lot more apps getting pulled off the store.”

Another problem that is prevalent with many of these apps, even those with age restrictions of 17 or older, is that kids find a way to log on regardless. For instance, The Post found that an iPhone containing the profile of a nine-year-old encountered no barriers or restrictions in downloading adult apps. Although developers establish age guidelines for their apps based on Apple’s age rating guidelines, Apple has the power to change the age ratings on these apps if it so chooses.

Other unwanted behaviors reported

Unwanted sexual behavior was not the only troubling experience investigated by The Post. Other reviews involving racism and bullying complaints were also uncovered. Black users were reported to be the recipients of racial descriptions when connecting with random strangers. A number of users on various social networking apps such as Holla, Yubo, and Monkey also suffered ridicule by others just for fun.

At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we provide intelligent and aggressive representation to clients charged with various types of Internet crimes, including those involving allegations of child pornography. We serve clients throughout Tennessee, including against charges that reach the federal level. Our service area includes Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Seymour, in addition to Bristol, Greenville, Kingsport, and Johnson City. To set up a consultation with one of our experienced Internet defense attorneys, give us a call today at 865.280.3686 or complete our contact form.