As one of the last remaining people on the planet who doesn’t have a smartphone, I’m not familiar with any of the millions of apps out there that serve all kinds of purposes. However, the “Friend Verifier” App recently caught my attention because it claimed to be able to rid your friends list of registered sex offenders. A few friends tried it and chided the developer for sending up red flags on people who were undoubtedly not on the registry (among the accused were a retired pastor, elderly father-in-law and a few adult children.)
On the Friend Verifier Facebook page a few days ago was a notice from the developer to the app’s “fans,” apologizing on behalf of some users who had evidently posted comments asserting concern for the safety of registrants and their families. Friend Verifier’s post referred to those users as “pro-sex offender groups” who “believe people who rape and molest” have the same rights as the rest of us.
Before I was blocked and my comments deleted, I was able to capture this screenshot of the comment thread:
I also sent an email to the app’s head developer, explaining as I did above about the post and subsequent deletion of all comments, asking why bringing up a viable issue (the safety of children and family members of registrants, as well as including some important statistics) would be ignored and deleted.
Here’s a portion of the response I received:
“Unfortunately due to a small handful of people’s inappropriate actions, we had to reinforce our terms of service for the use of our Fan Page. Our Fan Page is used by teenagers and young adults, so when individuals go on profanity driven tirades, threaten my company and me with physical harm and lawsuits, we can’t allow such behavior to go on. So we have a zero tolerance rule, when it comes to harassment, vulgarities, threats, political grandstanding, etc.
There have been a few individuals who were, and still are trying to use, our app’s page to voice their opinion on sex offender registry laws. Our page is not the forum for that. We are a private tech company that offers a free application to help further a safer internet experience for children and young adults. Those who feel the sex offender registry is unconstitutional, should notify their elected officials, and try to get the media to represent them.”
Once again, the concern I raised for the families and children who would be negatively impacted by this app is ignored. They claim that they want to “help further a safer internet experience,” but apparently, only some are deserving of that “safer experience.”
Curious, I decided to try the app for myself. After a couple of “scans”, it became very obvious that all it does is cross-reference names against the national registry, which any paranoid person can do themselves.. It doesn’t take into account any other information such as location or age. If you have even a relatively common name, you’re likely being flagged as a potential sex offender. If you live in Maine and you happen to share your name with a registered sex offender in Idaho, you’re also going to pop up in red. This is a “safe experience?” Now you’re just as much in danger of a vigilante attack as someone already on the registry – and so is your family.
The lack of accuracy in their software, coupled with the blatant disregard of and unwillingness to learn the facts, puts this app right alongside the other existing baseless and unsuccessful policies regarding sex offenders and supposed “safety.” What will it take for our society to realize that “more” does not always equal “better” when it comes to effective safety tools?