The Washington Post: 1,500 instances of 'unwanted sexual approaches' uncovered in App Store reviews of random chat apps

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What you need to know

  • A report from the Washington Post claims that it found more than 1,500 complaints of unwanted sexual approaches in reviews of random chat apps on the App Store.
  • The Post used an algorithm to scour the reviews of 6 random chat apps, more than 130,000 in total.
  • Many of the complaints involved behavior towards children.

A report from the Washington Post claims that analysis of reviews of six 'random chat apps' in the App Store uncovered more than 1,500 complaints of unwanted sexual approaches, many targeting children.

According to the report via 9to5Mac, the Post used a machine-learning algorithm to identify App Store reviews which reported unwanted sexual content, racism, and bullying.

The Post sifted through more than 130,000 reviews of six random chat apps, all but one of which were ranked in the top 100 for social networking by Apple earlier this month. The Post manually inspected the more than 1,500 reviews that made mention of uncomfortable sexual situations.The report notes of the app Monkey, which is the 10th most popular in the social networking category on the App Store, 2% of all iOS reviews contained reported "unwanted sexual behavior." The Post notes that despite this, the app is approved for users aged 12 and above. Other apps investigated were Yubo, ChatLive, Chat for Strangers, Skout, and Holla. The report claims that a staggering 19 percent of the reviews of ChatLive mentioned unwanted sexual approaches.

The Post notes that of the apps examined some "have been available on the App Store in some cases for years and are among its most popular." The Post reports that a former Apple executive claims that its practice has been to not monitor user reviews of its apps. According to the report, an Apple statement said:

"We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for our customers to get apps and we take all reports of inappropriate or illegal contact extremely seriously... If the purpose of these apps is not inappropriate, we want to give developers a chance to ensure they are properly complying with the rules, but we don't hesitate to remove them from the App Store if they don't."

The report states that the aforementioned 'Monkey' had its age rating amended to 17 and older in the wake of the investigation.

The nature of random chat apps, of course, leaves all users vulnerable to being exposed to totally uncensored and unregulated content of any kind. An argument could be made that people who use these apps knowingly run the risk of exposing themselves to this kind of thing. However, if, as in the case of ChatLive, nearly 1/5 of all reviews reported unwanted sexual approaches, then surely Apple needs to take a good long look at just how it can better manage and regulate the situation.

If the report spurred Apple to re-examine the age rating of an app like Monkey, perhaps an immediate solution to part of the problem would be to re-assess and raise the age limit on all apps of this nature. This at least might help reduce the risk posed to children. A more permanent solution, as offered in the report by Apple's former director of App Store review (2009-2016) Philip Shoemaker, would be to permanently remove these apps from the App Store.

Apple recently removed 181 vaping apps from its App Store over health concerns, proving that it is not shy of taking blanket action against apps it deems potentially harmful to its users.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9