Yellow, a.k.a. “Tinder for Teens,” earned a reputation as a playground for predators and pedophiles when it was released in early 2017.
Now re-branded as Yubo - just in time for the festive season (?!) - the app boasts a new feature that encourages kids “to create live video rooms with up to four friends and an unlimited number of watchers.”
What could possibly go wrong?
It’s 11 am on the first Monday of the summer school holidays, and 14-year-old Emily is in her bedroom, still in her PJs. The grainy livestream shows the bored-looking Year 8 gathering her long hair into a bun, when a male “watcher,” aged 16, asks her - quite matter-of-factly - to take her shorts off.
16-year-old Dave - who looks closer to 12 - is in the bathroom of his home in suburban Adelaide, naked to the waist, cavorting for two female “watchers” whose images are captioned with the words “Rate me please.”
Azme claims to be 16. She’s chatting animatedly to an avid audience of strangers about “my first time with a girl.”
Back in Emily’s bedroom, Will, who is 17, simply types “Strip.” Another boy, this one sporting a Snapchat puppy filter over his face, echoes the demand. There are now 13 “watchers.” Emily raises her shirt.
Welcome to Yubo, the app formerly known as Yellow.
Plenty of ink has been spilled about Yellow, aka “Tinder for Teens,” since its debut earlier this year.
Last week, Yellow was re-branded as Yubo. What’s in a name, you wonder? We did too. So took the opportunity to revisit the app - which now claims 15 million worldwide users - and see how it’s evolved since its release in early 2017.
Within weeks of its release, Yellow became the object of widespread fear and loathing among parents, educators and cyber experts, who condemned it as a thinly disguised hook-up app for schoolchildren and a happy hunting ground for predators.
Yubo continues in that same dubious tradition - and then some.
The App Store will tell you Yubo may contain “Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity.” But cyber experts maintain these themes are Yubo’s main attraction, especially on the new live video feature, which encourages users to “create live video rooms with to four friends and an unlimited number of watchers.”
The original app was launched just after Tinder announced it was prohibiting under-age users. (Coincidence? We think not.) For users aged 13 to 17, Yellow’s “friends” feature worked, and still works, in much the same way as Tinder does for adults. Users create a visual profile - no words, just images - and then share their location to browse images of other users in their area, swiping right for “yes” and left for “no.”
Matches can then privately chat and access one another’s Snapchat and Instagram profiles.
Users under age 17 require permission from a parent or guardian to set up an account. It’s a point the app’s developers stress in their new Parent Guide. What they don’t explain is that “parental confirmation” consists of a new user ticking a box. Age verification itself is a matter of self-report. If you say you’re 13, or 16, or 17 - then you are.
On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog
As for the “unlimited watchers” of Yubo’s child-users broadcasting live from their bedrooms, there’s no way of telling who they are. The app preserves their anonymity. It all adds up to a perfect storm of potential abuse, cyber experts agree.
Brett Lee is a former undercover detective who assumed the fictitious identities of both male and female children to locate and arrest online child sex offenders. He has slammed the app “poison for children.”
“I know only too well that those seeking out children online will go where they know they can connect with and groom potential victims,” Lee explains. “Yubo fits this mould perfectly. This app is nothing short of dangerous and can produce no positives in the life or development of our children.”
A Family Zone Cyber Expert, Lee points to a catalogue of Yubo’s dangerous features:
- It enables anybody to create an account with no identity verification
- It is not monitored or moderated
- It offers no security or privacy functions that actually help
- It is marketed directly to children
- Its sole purpose is to connect strangers for friendship or relationship
“Anything that allows kids to connect with strangers is dangerous, regardless of what the app says,” agrees Cyber Safety Solutions’ Susan McLean, also a Family Zone Cyber Expert. “Live streaming yourself to the world is stupid - and we know online predators love online streaming.”
McLean advises parents who plan to give their kids devices over the holidays need to take action well before Christmas morning. “Set parental controls first - and if you don’t know how, find out,” McLean urges. “And don’t allow under-13s in the iTunes store at all.”
A federally certified eSafety specialist with an extensive background in online safety, McLean insists parents need to “be aware of what apps your child has and what they do. Talk early and talk often. Being an active participant in your child’s online world is a huge protective factor.”
Lee agrees. Yet if one of your children is using Yubo, don’t assume the worst, he cautions. Most kids will be drawn to the app for perfectly innocent reasons: curiosity, and a desire for popularity and affirmation.
McLean and Lee strongly endorse Family Zone’s parental control solutions as an essential first step to protect kids from online risks. With Family Zone’s Mobile Zone app, parents can block Yubo and other risky apps, set screen-time restrictions and set up age-appropriate routines and calendars. For more, visit familyzone.com.au today.