Kingston Police warn of app used for sexual exploitation of teenagers

Photo by Omar Ramadan.

Kingston Police are sharing details on an app used by teens, that is reportedly connected with online sexual exploitation of children. The app, called Wizz, has millions of users, despite many parents never hearing of its existence, according to police.

In a media release, Kingston Police said they, and Cybertip.ca, Canada’s tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, are warning parents and caregivers about the dangers of Wizz and recommending parents consider removing the app from their children’s phones.

The following details were provided by Kingston Police:

What is Wizz?

Wizz is a chat app that combines features similar to those seen on Tinder (swiping through profiles), and Omegle, an online service designed to pair strangers in video chats, which was recently shut down following a lawsuit over child sexual abuse and exploitation.

What should parents be aware of?

Sextortion is when someone is blackmailed with an intimate image to send nudes or money to a predator. Sextorters seek out victims on apps that allow strangers to connect, using accounts with stolen images that trick youth into thinking they are speaking to another teen. Predators may then move conversations onto a platform where images and videos can be shared.

There, a sextorter tricks the youth into sending nudes. This can happen because the predator has created a false sense of security, by sending nudes first (which the victim believes is of the person they are talking to but are often images of a random teen girl) or pretending to have mutual friends or interests.

Why are we concerned about Wizz?

Cybertip.ca has received 180+ reports concerning Wizz since 2021. Compared to 2022, Cybertip.ca received 10 times as many reports about the app in 2023. Reports about Wizz increased faster than any other platform.

Of these reports, 91 per cent concerned sextortion, with males victimized in 93 per cent of cases when gender was known. The majority of victims reported to Cybertip.ca were between 15 and 17 years old.

Wizz permits users to share information about themselves on their profiles (e.g. location, interests). Reports to Cybertip.ca have shown sextorters leverage their victims’ personal information (e.g. the sextorter sets their location as the same province as their victim, or mentions they like the same sports or games the victim has on their profile). Wizz’s design also allows users to feature their other social media profiles, such as Snapchat, making it easy for users to add each other on different platforms. This feature may lead sextorters from Wizz to teens’ other social media accounts to victimize them.

Use of age verification at registration – doesn’t that make it safer?

Wizz’s “age verification” process appears to primarily be done by applying artificial intelligence to a submitted selfie. This process is known as “age estimation”, and it is far from perfect. Female Cybertip.ca analysts who were 23 and 25 years old went through the facial recognition process and were able to create accounts on Wizz as 16-year-old males.

Also, in many cases those who commit offences against children and youth are themselves young in age and can access the app, meaning the age-estimated-related safety claims by Wizz may provide a false sense of security.

Next steps

Police and Cybertip.ca recommend that all parents and caregivers consider removing this app from their youth’s phone and talk about the risks the use of Wizz may present to their teens.

Visit Cybertip.ca for more information about sextortion, how to support your child if they have been victimized, and to report instances of online sexual exploitation. You can also contact Kingston Police if you believe your child has been sextorted or sexually victimized.

Youth can access support, resources, and help with next steps if they have been sexually victimized online at NeedHelpNow.ca.

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