In the last few weeks we have been made aware of enormous amounts of usage of the app "Yubo" happening again after it had disappeared off our radar for a while.
In early 2018 an app called Yellow - rebranded itself quietly as Yubo.
There were very good reasons for this name change to be made following hundreds of parental complaints, a deserved reputation as a Tinder for teens ( and tweens) , the developers had described their own product as a ‘virtual flirting app” , included a direct link to Snapchat with all the disappearing sexting and bullying that that offered, had children’s feeds filled with sexual content and predator followers , it had issues with location GPS software pinpointing user’s locations, and had accrued warnings from the FBI , The Australian Federal police and more law enforcement agencies across the globe.
It is worth noting Yellow had come into existence a short time after Tinder raised it’s age rating to 18+.
The YUBO rebrand was supposed to usher in a swathe of new security protocols, more moderation, a general improvement on its performance , and a strong hope everyone forgot about the righteous mess that Yellow had been.
Did that happen? Well, sort of.
And what changes were made? Some.
And how substantively have these changes effected the safety of your child if using this app? Not much.
What it is and how it works?
Yubo is free. And available for Apple and Android devices.
With over 20 million users, Yubo is continuing to collect users.
Age ratings on App stores now reflect the need for a more mature audience , focusing on the 17+ recommendation, rather than the 12+ Apple, and Google previously rated it at.
But, as with all age recommendations – it’s still completely possible to lie about your birthdate.
Yubo has divided its members into two sections, in effect accepting that while its age rating is 17+ there will still be younger users signing up.
There are now two sections within the app.
To access the complete version a user must be over 17+.
There is a section for tweens b/n 13-17, where older users out of this age range cannot interact with this group. This age range must have parental permission to use the app.
This is described by the app developers in text from their website. www.yubo.live.
Individuals under 13, are not allowed access if they enter a correct date of birth.
There is still no definite way to prevent younger users lying about dates of birth, or older user replicating that behaviour.
Yubo is trying.
It must be said that Yubo gives every appearance of trying to protect their younger users.
The developers provide this statement within their website, outlining the steps they have initiated since the re-brand. The Safety Guides are comprehensive and worth looking at.
It’s still not quite working that well, good intentions and all.
In order to sign up
An individual must provide a name, gender, date of birth, a mobile number, a recognisable image, and initially a location to allow the app to “match” the individual with people near to them. The app stated that dates of birth will not be published – though an age will, and a mobile phone number is required to proceed.
Only real images of an individual’s face can be used.
Trying to substitute a non-facial image will attract the attention of the moderators. There is nothing to stop someone using a digital picture of a friend, or copying an image from the internet, for use as a profile shot.
The final step in signing up is a verification code. Once this has been sent to the supplied phone number, the user is offered a series of profile shots of likely looking individuals within their area.
Like Tinder, a swipe to the right registers an interest and adds the individual to the users contact list, a swipe to the left consigns that would be friend to the dumpster.
None of these improvements offer any kind of guarantee that a younger Yubo users will not be matched, or connect with an individual claiming a false age.
It is still simple to use a false image, and a false date of birth, and any child with a smart phone will be able to complete all the steps necessary to join – without any input from their parents.
Specifying the gender of the friends a user is hoping to find directs this app into the dating arena instead the purported friendship arena. While this alone isn’t necessarily bad, it opens the door for a teen to be pressured into sexting, or meeting up for the purpose of a date. While on Snapchat, friends tend to be people known to the individual user, and even then the pressure to sext is still considerable.
Yubo however can takes this pressure to another level by exposing a teenager to people they don’t know, and are anxious to please. There are numerous reports of requests for nude photos almost immediately after a connection has been swiped.
When you consider the stranger danger lectures we give our children, and tell them not to post photos of themselves online to a stranger, Yubo opens the door to absolutely anyone nearby.
This app matches users using the location feature. It uses a phones GPS to do this. This is a default setting, and the user must deliberately turn off this feature within the app to stop their location appearing.
Validation and judgement
Social media sees many teenagers associating high numbers of followers with popularity. Self- worth and follower numbers are being increasingly connected.
Yubo is one of those apps that facilitates this need for popularity.
And this is a concern. Some teenagers will lose their judgement in pursuit of online followers and this can lead them to be less careful than they should be. Information and personal details such as phone numbers and other social media addresses are often exchanged in chat sessions.
Yubo is asking young people if they want to be in a friendship or a romantic relationship based on a profile picture, offering judgement of worth based on an image. This is not a positive app for any individual with self-esteem issues, nor a message that should be reinforced.
You cannot make a Yubo account private.
The nature of the app is to connect strangers based on gender preferences, age and locations. With a full privacy function enabled the app would be unable to be used.
The best steps to take are to hide your city, and block and report any users that repeatedly harass you.
It is also possible for screen shots and clips to be copied by other users without your knowledge. Yubo states this clearly in its terms and conditions.
If your child is a user of this app and fits into the 13-17 age category, inappropriate content is still common, as are requests for naked images.
Yubo is attempting to block by algorithm sexually explicit content, nudity and the more suggestive of the emoji’s but the process is not yet foolproof, and does little to limit the pressure some users have placed upon them. The Live chat and video streaming functions of this app, allow suggestive content through regularly . A cute message pops up on the stream warning that some things are naughty to share.
This is a nice idea, but it is unlikely to have much attention paid to it.
The only remedy is to report the offensive material to Yubo and hope they will act.
Standard practice for users that breach these behavioural guidelines is that Yubo will send them a polite message asking them not to do it again. Repeated offences have resulted in some individuals being banned, but these are not regular occurrences.
Blocking and reporting
This is one area where there is a noticeable improvement to Yellow, though the manner is clunky and could cause a blocked individual to react negatively. It is common to run into conflict with others on social media. Many platforms have made their methods of blocking individuals subtle. This not so with Yubo.
The removal of shared content is positive, but the complete severance of all levels of contact may pose problems should users have shared details across other social media platforms. Put simply, if you block someone – they’ll know immediately.
The advice Yubo provides about taking screen shots should be taken notice of. As all content will be deleted should an individual been bullied or sextorted through this app, without screen shots regaining the evidence will be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.
How to block and report.
Should a user need to block or report another user, the system has been simplified.
On the top left of the profile of the individual you wish to block is a flag button.
By tapping this a drop-down list of reasons to block or report is provided.
Select the most appropriate to report the user.
Current response times from the app are about 24 hours from the time the report was made.
No more Snapchat and Instagram links available.
One of the major issues Yellow fell afoul, was the ability for users to connect their accounts to Snapchat and Instagram profiles.
This had been a privacy disaster, especially when combined with the disappearing nature of Snaps, Snapchats Live map – providing more detailed information of the location of a Yubo user, and access to a user’s contacts. With over 80% of Yubo users possessing public Instagram accounts- this feature was also considerably risky, given Instagram is often more personalised than Yubo.
Snapchat itself was responsible for Yubo discontinuing the link with it, refusing to allow the Snapchat button to feature in the rebranded app. This is telling. Yubo had not seen this as an issue, yet Snapchat did.
As a result, links to Instagram and Snapchat are no longer functions of the app, though some Yubo users will still include additional social media addresses in their profiles.
A negative alteration – Live Streaming and Group live streaming
Unlike Yellow, Yubo offers a live streaming option.
Pitched as a way to have an online party with friends, users are invited to join by individuals in their contacts list. While it is not possible to join into a group live-stream without a direct invitation – it remains possible to WATCH the live streams of any account holder at any time.
There is no way of telling who these individuals might be, or to confirm if your live stream is being observed without your knowledge.
This needs fixing, and should be disturbing for parents.
In app payment options – let’s buy visibility
Another new feature is the appearance of the in-app purchase. Pandering further to the need for popularity and validation – you can buy more visibility for either a short period of time, or should you wish to fund it – though buying a permanent premium subscription to ensure a better place in the limelight.
Warning for parents
Yubo specifically states that once this additional exposure is purchased there is no option for refund. Even if you choose to close your account within the period of time you have paid for prominence there is no redress.
Within the Terms, Conditions and relating to Data protection
If you post anything offensive on the app, that in any way involves civil legal proceedings – you as the user are liable for any expenses incurred by the app as a result of your upload. This liability is something a user expressly consents to within the terms and conditions.
The app uses this fear of liability to extend the time it will continue to store a user’s data,
even after their account has been deleted for up to five years. This is stated as necessary to comply with legal requirements.
The app may change its terms and conditions of use at any time without notifying the users. The onus to research any alterations is on the user. Functions may be deleted or added at will.
The app offloads all liability to the users including damages incurred by Yubo
Your data is stored for quite a while, even if you have ceased to use the app. This is explained away as being necessary for security and legal purposes and for protecting the privacy of users and improving safety and security.
This may all be well and good, but an excess of five years is a long time for an app you no longer use to keep your personal information and use it as it sees fit.
And your data is stored offshore. Yubo is a French based app, and supplies no listings for where this data storage will occur other than it may be outside the EU, in America and/or other countries. All with different laws regarding data collection , usage and privacy.
Yubo’s developers have tried to avoid repeating the same problems they ran into with Yellow. And in some ways the focus on safety has improved security – especially the inability to link through the app to Instagram and Snapchat.
But despite the volley of new safety features introduced by Yubo, controls are still easily circumvented , and the same problems of inappropriate contact with strangers persists. Frequent unasked for nude shots still appear, as do request for nudes and other sexualised behaviour. While these are able to be reported, this still can’t be unseen.
The addition of public, live streaming chats provided adds a huge risk , and there are now requests for sexualised performances live, the inherent voyeurism of anonymously watching such live groups chats offers thrills for predators and the monetisation of popularity introduced by the app is damaging to self – esteem, and places teens in positions where their judgement can become questionable.
It is still, at its core Tinder for teens with sexting, bullying, sextortion all still rampant, in spite of the app’s best efforts.