Washington Post analysis of iOS chat app reviews found more than 1,500 reports of unwanted sexual behavior, some of it directed against children.

The paper says that Apple continues to make the apps available on the App Store because the company does not read or analyze customer reviews, and so remains unaware of the problems…

The Post said it analyzed the reviews of six popular random chat apps.

More than 1,500 complaints of unwanted sexual approaches, many targeting children, have been made against popular social networking apps in Apple’s App Store, in contrast to what Apple prominently markets as a “safe and trusted place,” according to a Washington Post investigation […]

Using a machine learning algorithm to identify App Store reviews containing reports of 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.

About 2 percent of all iOS reviews of Monkey, ranked 10th most popular in Apple’s social networking category earlier this month, contained reports of unwanted sexual behavior, according to The Post’s investigation. Despite that, the app was approved for users 12 and older. The other apps included in the investigation were Yubo, ChatLive, Chat for Strangers, Skout and Holla. At least 19 percent of the reviews on ChatLive mentioned unwanted sexual approaches.

That inappropriate behavior takes place in such apps shouldn’t surprise anyone: these are all ‘random chat apps’ – those which randomly connect you to a stranger in a video chat. The problem, argues the piece, is that Apple fails to monitor user reviews and will thus remain unaware of how they are being used.

The random chat apps examined by The Post have been available on the App Store in some cases for years and are among its most popular. Apple’s practice has been to not monitor user reviews, according to a former Apple executive.

Apple didn’t comment on this but said that it did act when alerted to such problems.

Apple says it reviews 100,000 apps a week using a mix of software and humans. “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,” Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in a statement. “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 age rating on Monkey was raised to 17 and older this week after inquiries from The Post.

Since it’s pretty obvious how some will choose to use stranger chat apps, it does seem a no-brainer for Apple to assign an adult rating to them so they are labeled as unsuitable for minors. But Apple’s former head of App Store reviews thinks the company should ban them altogether.

“In my mind, these have to go,” Phillip Shoemaker, who was Apple’s director of App Store review from 2009 to 2016, said of the entire category of random chat apps. He said “chat roulette” apps were banned during his time at the company.

Others agree, saying that unwanted sexual behavior was the norm in such apps.

Some watchdog groups like Protect Young Eyes say parents have been complaining to Apple about these apps and their propensity to connect sexual predators to underage victims. Police task forces have warned parents and teachers about the apps in presentations at schools around the country.

“If you knew there were predators at the mall or park, you wouldn’t drop your kids off at the mall and say, ‘I’ll be back in nine hours,’ ” said Ed Peisner, founder of the Organization for Social Media Safety […]

“I haven’t ever had a situation where it feels innocent and appropriate for kids,” said one of the experts, Christine Elgersma, senior editor of parent education for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on how children use media and technology. “These are set up really to have sexual encounters for the most part.”

Apple recently took the decision to remove all vaping apps from the App Store.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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