A website designed for teenagers to find others their age to meet up has been accused of hosting paedophiles due to a lack of age and identity checks.
Rencontre ados, 'teenagers meet up' in English, is technically designed as a “free meet up site for young people aged 13 to 25 years”.
However over the past few days internet users have been criticising the site, saying it hosts paedophiles.
On Sunday (August 20) an internet user on X (formerly twitter) with the username Kroki said she managed to create a fake profile, saying she was a 13-year-old girl, and before long was contacted by “a beautiful mature man (a quality daddy)”.
Une copine me parle d une appli dont elle a entendu parler avec sa môme. On connaît pas.— Kroki (@LaKrokiPasNet) August 20, 2023
Je me dis tiens...
Je vais aller jeter un œil.
Appli réseaux sociaux entre ados.
J'ai un profil de 13 ans sans photo.
8 demandes d'amis.
5 dm dans la demi heure.
J'ai envie de violence pic.twitter.com/2i2i2n9r89
Kroki went on to say she received eight friend requests, five within 30 minutes, despite saying she was 13 and not posting a photo.
Des ados qui veulent se faire des potes.— Kroki (@LaKrokiPasNet) August 20, 2023
One was from a man who said he was not 24 years old, but was using the app version of the website because he “is only interested in younger girls for precise reasons”.
When French news website sudouest.fr created a fake profile for a 13-year-old teenager called Clarisse, complete with false photo, the profile received 20 friend requests within a few minutes, 10 of which came from people aged over 20.
Twelve men then sent the profile explicit messages, such as “you are sexy”, “I like kids” and “I want to suck your breasts”.
Even worse, the news site noted, was a man who wanted a Skype call, stated he was over 50 years and then when the Skype call was refused, said he wanted to “caress” the teen in the profile photo.
Banned from Apple app store
Rencontre ados is not a new site or app, and this is not the first time it has made the news. The concept, a place for young people to meet other young people on a site with public profiles, a themed discussion forum and a private messaging system, was thought up in 2006.
At the bottom of the web version, it says it is illegal for minors to sign up without the permission of their parent or guardian, and that it is illegal to provide false information.
However, there are no identity or age checks when creating a profile. Although users can signal or block users they think have fake profiles, the site said these users can continue to “use the site normally, just other members will be aware of [their] particular status and are therefore free to contact [them] or not”.
The app version has been blocked from the Apple store, as it does not meet the latter’s regulations. Rencontre ados said it was told by Apple it would have to hide all the profiles of those aged 18 years and younger, which it refused to do.
Meanwhile, in 2019, French newspaper Libération criticised the site, saying it was full of men making sexual proposals to underage girls.
The site’s creator, Thomas Master, defended his decision to welcome people aged up to 25 years old on the site, saying adolescence no longer ends at 18 given young people were living with their parents for longer.
He also said that he needed the advertising revenue [generated by inclusion of the upper age range] as “no one will pay for advertising space on a site where there are only minors”.
Since Kroki’s tweet on Sunday, things have changed slightly on Rencontre Ados. Some of the comment functions have now been blocked and an option to filter who can see your profile has been added.
The site told the French public service media Franceinfo that five years ago it tried to limit interactions between adults and minors, for example stating those aged 18 years and over were forbidden from contacting those under 15.
However there was a backlash from users saying it was “paternalistic” and so the ban was lifted.
The site has also said it is looking for moderators - a change from 2021 when French newspaper Le Figaro contacted Mr Masters after creating a fake profile of a 13 year old girl.
Mr Masters said at the time that he could not hire full-time moderators as advertising revenue was only €2,000 a month.
He added: “If a problem must come up, it will come up, whether on the streets or elsewhere. Parents are right to worry about whether their children can come into contact with paedophiles”.
Read more: Youth group gives web safety warning
Call for age controls
PHAROS, the online French government website that invites people to report illicit online content and behaviour, told Franceinfo it is “well aware” of rencontre-ados.net.
Since the site was created, 409 alerts have been registered, with 129 filed in the past 24 hours.
It has been illegal in France to sign up for social media sites if you are under 15 since July 7 2023, and social media sites have been encouraged to set up age checking procedures. However it is difficult to apply a French law to a company registered elsewhere.
Rencontre ados is based in Belgium.
France’s children’s minister, Charlotte Caubel, told Franceinfo that it is a “government priority to ensure children’s safety”.
She said, “The aim is not to ban certain sites as we know all too well that will push children, teenagers and adults to use other sites. The aim is to regulate them”.
Un site de rencontre pour ados accusé d'être un repère de prédateurs sexuels ➡️ "C'est une priorité du gouvernement d'assurer la sécurité des enfants", affirme Charlotte Caubel, secrétaire d'Etat chargée de l'Enfance. "Le contrôle de l'âge est une priorité." pic.twitter.com/gHaNesgHRW— franceinfo (@franceinfo) August 22, 2023