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Social Networking App Helps Put Sex Offender in Jail [Exclusive Interview]

A sex offender was recently put behind bars for 20 years after engaging in sexually explicit chats and exchanging photos with two young teens. 

The 35-year-old man used a social media app called Whoshere on his iPhone to instant message the girls who used it via iPod Touch.
Social networking-cum-hook-up opps like Grindr have occasionally been in the news in sex assault cases involving minors. An iPod Touch was recently taken as evidence by police in a sex blackmailing case involving an 11-year old girl said to be chatting via an app with a person she thought was a 12-year-old boy.
Cult of Mac talked to Stephen S. Smith, co-founder myRete, the makers of Whoshere about the case involving his app and why perps and pervs should think twice when they use it.
Cult of Mac: Who’s your typical and/or target user?
Stephen Smith: The largest demographic is 20-29. A close second is teens. These two groups really ‘get’ and like the ability to meet and interact with people nearby and because of the free, *instant* text messaging. The reason I emphasize instant is that WhosHere texting is much, much faster than SMS. The result is users often have real-time conversations that go on and on. Any day a user logs into WhosHere, they will send an average of 40 messages.
CoM: How did you find out about the trial? Did you have any role in the proceedings?
SS: During the investigation stage, we were contacted by the Nebraska State Patrol. We provided them information that helped their investigation and ultimately help make the case. This was back in January 2009.
CoM: What was your reaction to the news?
SS: Honestly, we are proud that we helped put a very bad guy away.
CoM: The app is approved for ages 12+, what’s the appropriate use for teens of the app?
SS: The appropriate use of the app is the same for any age. Be nice and enjoy yourself. The analogy we use is this; behave how you would on Main Street. In WhosHere, you are in essence in a public place. Conduct yourself accordingly, which includes don’t give out personal information to people you don’t know.

And if you are not nice…results and features will be automatically removed and your account may be suspended or canceled.
CoM: What kind of feedback have you had from parents?
SS: We very rarely hear from parents. Probably less than five times in nearly three years. Social networking and texting is what teens do. I think parents understand this is as natural to a teen as riding a bike. 

On a related note, from the start we reached out to law enforcement for guidance on best practices. We were the first in the “Chat with People Nearby” space on the iPhone.  While there were parallels to be gleaned from web properties, to a degree we had to write the book a bit on this space. And, somewhat literally we did.
We were eventually asked by the FBI to put material together on location-aware social networking. We provided them our best practices and recommendations. I understand they have incorporated that into a program they provide to schools.
CoM:You mentioned that it’s a bad idea to commit a crime using the app — why?
SS: Well, WhosHere, and any location-aware app, knows your location. And that is usually where you live or work. So committing a crime via a location-aware app is just dumb. 

If contacted by law enforcement with a subpoena, we will cooperate. The first three pieces of information they get are the user’s publicly available profile pictures, location and IP Address. This can result in the police knocking on your door or showing up at your place of work very quickly with your picture in hand.
CoM: Did Apple have any comments or make any statements to you following the trial?
SS:None specific to the trial. We have talked with Apple in the past about our policies and controls.



CoM: What’s next for the company – is app adding new features or are other apps in development?
SS: [We plan to grow] WhosHere by tenfold. We will do this via features and platforms, we have a lot of additional features and innovations planned… Concurrently, we will be adding additional platforms in the coming months.