HARD TALK... with Yubo's Marc-Antoine Durand
Parent Zone spoke to Yubo's chief operating officer Marc-Antoine Durand to understand how the safety-conscious changes they have made to their app might affect user experience.
‘Tinder for Teens is an unhelpful and misleading label.’
Yubo, the social media app formerly known as Yellow, was founded in Paris by three university friends and launched in 2015. The app’s meteoric growth saw users harness the app in ways its developers had never intended and led to it being dubbed ‘Tinder for Teens’, on account of the sharing of explicit imagery and the app’s use of a swiping feature synonymous with Tinder.
Therefore, in late 2017, Yubo and its developers began a drive to improve the safety of its service and in the process rid itself of its unfortunate reputation.
Why are you now publicising the safety-conscious changes you have made to Yubo?
For the sake of transparency. In its infancy, Yubo experienced exponential growth in user numbers which brought about issues that as a small team we were unable to respond to as quickly as we’d have liked. In the light of this, media outlets and digital safety advocates were quick to criticize the app and the behaviour that it was then facilitating.
Our goal now is to make everyone aware of the safeguards we have put in place and also to promote the benefits of live-streaming.
One of the major changes has been the creation of two separate communities on the app, one for those aged 13-17 and another for those over 18. What safeguards are in place to keep these separate?
Currently, we use an age-gate to keep these communities separate. Though we know that this is not fool-proof, we do have to rely on users’ honesty.
If users do lie about their age and then go on to act in a way that may be criminal or inappropriate, we have several different ways of unearthing and then blocking them.
The exact techniques we use must remain a secret otherwise users would quickly learn to bypass them.
‘Even Facebook uses email verification to ascertain parental consent, though the flaws of this method are widely known.’
Young people who use Yubo must confirm they have parental consent before doing. How do you ensure they have this?
The EU’s new GDPR regulations demand that we obtain parental consent. However, there is currently no technical solution to ensure that we have this on all user sign-ups. Even Facebook uses email verification to ascertain parental consent, though the flaws of this method are widely known.
With over 15 million users around the world, how do you ensure that all the content that passes through your app is appropriately monitored?
We have moderation teams working worldwide 24/7. We also use algorithms to monitor activity on the app and if something inappropriate is detected, it will automatically be removed, or the offending stream shut down.
‘We educate rather than punish users for inappropriate behaviour.’
So, users are banned from the app?
Not straight away, we believe that a didactic rather that punitive approach is best. For example, if an algorithm detects nudity on a stream, the stream will be disabled for a short period of time and the user sent a message encouraging them to put their clothes back on before the stream can then be resumed. Young people find this message, and the fact that the algorithms are monitoring them so closely, initially unnerving. However, we find that around 80% of users respond positively and put their clothes back on when asked, so allowing the stream to continue.
This is one of several in-app warnings we use to promote behaviour change and educate rather than punish users for inappropriate behaviour.
Yubo uses a swiping mechanism similar to that used on Tinder. Do you think this likeness is at most inappropriate and at least unhelpful?
Yes, it has been unhelpful in the fact that it has given birth to the label ‘Tinder for Teens’. Not only is this title misleading but also its use by the media and digital safety advocates can cause new users to the app to behave inappropriately in the hope of a ‘Tinder experience’.
Yet, we do not believe that the mechanism is inherently inappropriate. Swiping is used as a navigational tool in a litany of other apps for a variety of purposes, such as job hunting. We use swiping on Yubo because it is the most effective method for allowing our users to connect with each other.
Our app is designed to help users make friends and form social groups. The use of Yubo as a ‘Tinder for Teens’ is something which our developers and moderators simply do not see.
‘We do not sell users’ data to advertisers.’
Where do you believe the points of difference lie between you and other live-streaming services?
As an app we are focused on helping users create small social circles. We are not interested in creating big social media stars. As such, we do not offer any functionality related to virtual gifting.
In addition, we do not sell users’ data to advertisers unlike many other social media platforms. At the moment, Yubo is generating no revenue and we have no plans to monetize users’ data in the future. Our focus currently is on growth and user experience.
Why should young people use live-streaming platforms such as yours?
We think that live-streaming is a great way to socialise with real people online in an active way, in contrast to a more passive news feed-based experience. Young people really value the opportunity to meet new friends and have instant interactions online and the popularity of live-streaming across the internet means it is something that won’t simply go away. Therefore, as a facilitator it is not only our responsibility but our goal to make live-streaming as safe and enjoyable as possible.
For more information on Yubo’s reporting feature as well as its safety centre, please refer to the digital copies of Yubo’s guides for teens, and parents, carers and educators, which can be found here.
Yubo’s digital safety and education drive has been supported by digital safety expert Annie Mullins OBE.