Child safety watchdogs and schools in the U.S., Canada, and the UK are raising concerns about alleged safety issues on Wizz, due to reports of teen sextortion on the Tinder-like app.
Wizz is advertised as a “safe space” allowing users as young as 13 to join, with its basic functionality similar to popular dating apps. Users are shown other people’s profiles, and choose to either chat to them or swipe left to view the next one.
The app more than doubled its number of active users last year, with more than 14 million global downloads since its launch, according to data firm Sensor Tower.
A sign of its popularity among teenagers and young adults is the trending “rizz” challenge, where people post videos of themselves using Wizz to flirt with users they find attractive.
“Rizz”, which rhymes with Wizz, is a term used by young people to describe someone’s level of charisma, with those participating in the challenge connecting the two.
The French app is now under scrutiny, with the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – which tracks reports of child sexual abuse online – receiving more than 100 reports about minors allegedly sextorted on Wizz in 2023. This puts it just behind Snapchat and Instagram.
Sextortion is an increasingly common online crime in which people are coerced into sending sexually explicit photos, and then threatened by the receiver that they will share them online or with others unless the victim sends money.
Last February, the FBI released a warning about a ‘global financial sextortion crisis’.
Wizz was the seventh-most mentioned platform in sextortion reports to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection tip line between June 2022 and June 2023.
The app estimates users’ ages when they upload a selfie through AI tools provided by external companies Yoti and Hive.
Child safety experts question the effectiveness of their system, with New Jersey State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit saying that Wizz’s age verification process gives young users a false sense of security that they are talking to users their age.
With the lack of parental controls on the app, schools in the U.S. and UK have stepped up to warn parents about the potential uses of Wizz by sharing online safety infographics and guides with them.
In a response, CEO Aymeric Roffé said: “Wizz understands parents’ concerns about their teenagers’ online safety. We are committed to providing a safe platform for everyone, including young adults and teenagers.”