The pandemic continues to impact how children and young people use online spaces. Now more than ever, it is essential to understand new and emerging apps, games and platforms that can present online risks to children.  

 We are particularly concerned about the surge in the use of ‘friend-finding’ Apps, as authorities have previously warned during the pandemic that around 300,000 online offenders pose a threat to children in the UK.  

A recent report from EUROPOL also warns that a ‘sharp increase in the amount of self-produced indecent material’ could lead to increases in child sexual exploitation online.  

Friend Finding Apps Explained

Many will be familiar with the function of ‘swiping right’ and ‘swiping left’ – found in popular dating apps, including Tinder. The premise is simple: swiping right expresses interest in chatting further and swiping left moves to the next user. In any case, this function is based on finding others to chat with.

Wink App – ‘Make New Friends & Chat’

The Wink App has seen a surge in downloads since the start of the pandemic. It’s linked directly with Snapchat, allowing users to exchange profile information. Once a user has exchanged their details, their conversations continue on Snapchat.

Age Verification:

  • Google gives Wink a ‘parental guidance’ rating  

  • Apple gives Wink a 12+ rating  

  • Wink’s Terms of Service require users to be 13+ but there is no effective age verification

  • Users input their date of birth, but if it shows they aren’t old enough (under 13), they can then re-enter a fake date of birth

How it works:

  • Users create profiles on the platform that will link to their Snapchat account (linking their Bitmoji (avatar/character)

  • Users see a ‘swipe interface’ where ‘swiping right’ expresses interest, and ‘swiping left’ displays the next available profile

  • Profiles can be filtered by age and country but at the time of writing, not by precise location

  • Users can play games that link them with other users

  • Gems (which are the in-App currency) can be earned by logging in, sharing the app or playing games  

Safety and Privacy:

  • There are limited privacy and safety settings. Users cannot restrict who can contact them and there is no option to make an account private, but they can block and report users

  • Wink users often include sexual themes and references to alcohol and other drugs. To address this, the platform uses technology to scan for inappropriate images

  • Ineffective age verification means users may not be who they say they are  

  • The reward feature aims to create habits and is designed to hook users  

Hoop App – ‘Make New Friends’

The Hoop App has also reported a surge in users since the beginning of lockdown restrictions. This platform also directly links to Snapchat, allowing users to exchange usernames and ‘make new friends’, allowing conversations to continue on Snapchat.

Age Verification:

  • Google gives Hoop a ‘parental guidance’ rating

  • Apple gives Hoop a 12+ rating

  • Hoop’s Terms of Service require users to be 13+ but there is no effective age verification

  • Users are not asked to input their age

How it works:

  • Users can access the platform using their Snapchat account – which pulls across their Bitmoji, although their username remains private  

  • Anyone can add userand search by location and age

  • Personal information such as age and location can be added to your profile

  • The App has its own diamond currency allowing users to spend ‘diamonds’ to request ‘chats’ with other users. It costs ten diamonds to ask for a Snapchat username  

  • Users can earn diamonds by promoting the App, watching videos, playing games or taking surveys  

Safety and Privacy:

  • The platform may include sexualised themes and references to alcohol and other drugs

  • Anyone can add userand search by location and age

  • ‘Age gating’ means adults can’t see profiles of users under the age of 18, and vice versa, but users can edit their age at any time 

  • Ineffective age verification means users may not be who they say they are  

  • During testingafter we blocked a user, they did not show in our ‘blocked’ list  

  • The reward feature aims to create habits and may hook users  

  • Users can report photos but NOT other users 

Our Advice

  • Engage young people in a conversation – about keeping safe online and who they would talk to if someone made them feel uncomfortable online
  • Check that they understand what they should do if they see something online that upsets or worries them
  • Talk about the importance of blocking and reporting inappropriate behaviour to keep themselves and others safe online
  • Use our resources below to plan your conversation
  • You can report online grooming, exploitation and abuse to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) by clicking here.

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