A lot of local teens are getting text messages from unknown numbers. And many are asking what's it all about? Contact 13 went digging for answers.
A 15-year-old recently received this message. It says "A classmate nominated you. Find out who voted for you." In a message to another teen, it says "Someone you know said something nice about you." Both messages end with a link.
Local mom Cindy Gentis says the first thing she thought was the link probably leads to a virus.
"I'm skeptical though. But I think as a parent we should be," Gentis says.
Contact 13 looked into it. It turns out the link leads to a new app called IRL or In Real Life. The anonymous messages were sent by friends of the recipients. The social app encourages users to get together offline, by encouraging planned activities like a movie or dinner.
But here's what else concerns some parents. The app is rated for 12-year-old kids and up but includes some suggestive themes, profanity, crude humor and references to alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
Contact 13 spoke with app CEO Abraham Shafi, who says IRL "actually requires users to be at least 13 years old. He says Apple is actually the one that classifies the app as 12+ and Apple includes the reference to racy topics for all apps in this category.
But here's another concern. When you sign up, IRL asks for the user's age, what school they attend, plus access to contacts and your phone's location.
"Then depending on what that app shares with everyone else, you're in a situation where your teenager is divulging all their personal information. That in itself scares me," Gentis says.
But Shafi says IRL doesn't share its user information with any third parties. And he wants parents and teens to know the purpose of the app is to get people off their phones and truly enjoying each other's company in the real world.
The IRL app just launched in February. And the CEO says he wants to make sure they remain transparent and available. That's why he's providing an email address for anyone with questions.
Here's a statement from IRL and their contact information:
"IRL aims to solve smartphone addiction by bringing people together in real life. On average, US consumers spend 5 hours on their phones each day, and nowhere is this trend more worrisome than with teens. For example, several recent studies have found a link between smartphone usage and depression and suicide.
Our app makes sending and receiving invites fun and easy. Within the app, users can send and receive compliments anonymously to each other. Users are only sent messages in three instances, when they are invited by friends to hang out, added as a friend, or if they've received a compliment from a friend (with the ability to simply opt out immediately if they are not interested in receiving anymore messages). We've designed our app so that it boosts our users' self-confidence and takes away the anxiety and social pressure of inviting friends to hang out.
We believe that we're using technology to make a positive social impact and recently received a nod from Apple as they listed us as one of their favorite new apps. However, we understand the concerns of parents and have built in clear mechanisms to protect our users. Users must be 13 and older to use the app. Within the app, users are only able to interact with people in their phone's contacts list, or friend's of friends. We never plan on monetizing the app through advertising, and will never sell your data. Additionally, we're in the process of partnering with a crisis text line who can offer mental health advice to our users that need it, this will be live in May for Mental Health Awareness month. If any users or parents of our users have feedback to share on how they think the app can be improved, we'd love to hear from them. They can reach out to us email@example.com."