Apple removed the app on Tuesday after the National Center on Sexual Abuse contacted the company about Wizz’s use in sex abuse scams, according to a series of emails reviewed by NBC News.
In response to the Center, an Apple representative wrote in an email: “We take App Store violations seriously and appreciate your help. The app has been removed from the Store and we are contacting the developer.”
In an op-ed in X on Wednesday, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation thanked the stores for removing Wizz.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Google spokesperson said the Wizz app was suspended from Google Play, the online store for Android apps, on Tuesday. The spokesperson requires apps to “prohibit users from creating, uploading or distributing content that facilitates the exploitation or abuse of children,” citing the company’s child endangerment policy.
“Apple and Google are seeking more information about our app, and we are working closely with their teams to clarify our platform’s extensive protections for users,” a Wizz spokesperson said in an emailed statement. We hope that this issue will be resolved soon.”
Tinder-like app Wizz is owned by French parent company and mobile publisher Voodoo, which is backed by Goldman Sachs, Tencent and GBL, among others. It allows users to create and browse profiles that show a person’s photo, name, age, state and zodiac sign.
Wizz promoted its platform as a “safe space” to make new friends and allowed users under the age of 13 to create accounts and connect with other users in the same “age” group.
Concerns surrounding Wizz have grown in recent months as child safety and technology research groups have gathered more information about the increasingly popular app.
At least two content creators left the Wizz-sponsored content creation house this month, where influencers flocked to make TikTok videos to promote the app. According to the creators, who are directly involved in the project and who requested anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements, they noted concerns raised by child safety advocates about Wizz and sextortion.
A Wizz spokesperson said the recent in-house event in Miami was “successful” and showed “how our app helps create meaningful connections between young people”.
“All the influencers who spent the week with us said they were excited to be part of Wizz House 2, and others wanted to join,” he said.
Wizz is used by people to find and connect with young users in “financial sector” scams. Network Contagion Research Institutea nonprofit organization that studies the spread of extremism, hate, and crime online to combat and prevent it.
The FBI defines sextortion as “the crime of adults forcing children and teenagers to post explicit images on the Internet.” Once the images are sent, the criminals threaten to publish the explicit photos or videos widely or send them to the victims’ friends and family unless the victims repeatedly pay through various peer-to-peer payment programs, gift cards, and cryptocurrency transfers. .
Rape can be so devastating that in at least 20 known cases in the United States, victims have died by suicide. According to the FBI.
In its latest investigation into rising levels of sextortion in North America and Australia, the institute slammed Wizz, along with Meta-owned Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, for making inadequate efforts to protect minors and young people online.
“Some victims report being sexually assaulted within minutes of connecting to the app, which suggests criminals are fed up with Wizz,” he said, adding that researchers found frequent complaints about Wizz to the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and users claiming the app . “He gave pornographic ads to minors.”
Adam Sohn, CEO of the Network Contagion Research Institute, said in an email that, in general, “social media platforms struggle to adequately address risks to underage users” and “are sometimes financially incentivized to ignore them.”
Alex Goldenberg, director of intelligence at the research institute, said that app stores can significantly influence the reach of social media platforms.
“Wizz has 20 million active users,” he said. “But if the app store doesn’t continue to carry it, it can’t continue, let alone grow its user base.”
Goldenberg said he believed Wizz’s age verification system was not strong enough.
“We’ve seen threat actors who can bypass the facial recognition of age verification by taking a selfie of their cousin or brother, and then they’ll run on the platform,” he said. “And it’s not just threat actors – if you’re under 13, it’s very easy to get your big sister photographed too.”
Wizz declined to say what steps would be taken to get it reinstated on the Apple App Store or Google Play.
But he posted an Instagram ‘story’ with an emoji-laden message against a tie background, telling users:
“Hello. Just wanted to jump in with a quick heads up. Wizz is currently taking a break from the app stores due to a technical glitch. We are working hard to get everything back to normal as soon as possible.”