” I am 13 years old. I speak french and english. I like guys with curly hair. »
On the screen, a young girl in a black tank top poses in front of a bathroom mirror, her curves highlighted. Her profile indicates that she lives in Montreal and that her astrological sign is Aries.
“ Don’t ask, I don’t send », specifies the teenager. Translation: “No need to ask, I don’t send naked photos of myself”, a common expression on the application in question, Wizz.
It’s not Tinder, but it’s just like. The only exception: the age of the users.
Designed by the French developer Voodoo, Wizz is a dating app aimed at teenagers and downloaded more than 14 million times since its launch in 2019.
On paper, it boasts of connecting millions of young people around the world in “a safe and inclusive environment”.
In practice, it offers a dream platform to sexual predators trying to come into contact with minors, warn organizations in Canada and the United States.
“You may have never heard of it, but the app Wizz has millions of users and it would be good for you to know if your child is one of them,” warns the Canadian Center for Child Protection (CCPE) in an alert broadcast across the country on Tuesday.
If applicable, the organization recommends that parents “consider removing Wizz of their teenagers’ phones and to talk to them about the dangers to which this application exposes them “.
Explosion of reports
Accessible free online, Wizz mainly seeks to attract teenagers. According to figures provided by Voodoo, 78% of its users are aged 13 to 17.
The application appeared on the CCPE’s radar less than three years ago, but is already among the most problematic in terms of financial sextortion, according to the organization.
In 2023, Cybertip.ca, the Canadian clearinghouse for reporting cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse on the internet, received 168 reports related to Wizzreveal data obtained by The Press.
The majority of reported victims are boys aged 15 to 17, and in almost all cases, sextortion is the subject of the report. In Quebec alone, eight reports have been made in the last 10 months.
“It’s quite alarming, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. When we talk about sexual crimes, the reality is often much more serious than what the figures tell us,” particularly because victims do not report as much, argues René Morin, spokesperson for the CCPE.
Cybertip.ca saw its volume of luring reports increase from 220 in 2018 to 2013 at the end of 2022, an increase of 815%. The Canadian online child sexual exploitation and abuse reporting center receives an average of 10 reports of sextortion per day.
Removed from App Store and Google Play
The organization is not the first to issue such a warning.
In January, the Network Contagion Research Institute released a report citing Instagram, Snapchat and Wizz as “the top platforms where young people are targeted for financial sextortion.”
However, financial sextortion is precisely the crime targeting children “which is experiencing the fastest growth in the United States, Canada and Australia”.
“Sextortion on Wizz is omnipresent and dangerous. The design of the application, which is similar to a type interface Tinder for minors, has fostered an environment conducive to the rapid progression of sextortion,” notes the American organization.
In late January, the app was removed from the App Store and Google Play after the National Center on Sexual Exploitation expressed concern over the use of Wizz in the context of sextortion.
“Apple and Google are seeking more information about our app, and we are working closely with their teams to clarify the security measures in place on our platform. We hope to resolve this issue quickly,” a Wizz spokesperson said by email.
Last week, the app was back on the App Store, but not on Google Play.
In a public statement, the co-founder of the platform, Gautier Gédoux, denied the allegations against Wizz one by one.
He argued that the app used advanced moderation technologies preventing explicit messages or photos from being sent. A team of 20 people is also assigned full-time to verifying content reported by users.
“We have one employee dedicated solely to monitoring new and emerging threats on Wizz », he adds.
“For years, Wizz has proactively identified and banned the various schemes used by scammers, including sextortion. When we become aware of sextortion schemes, we immediately ban their content and their users,” he assures.
We are not aware of any successful extortion attempts on the app.
Gautier Gédoux, co-founder of Wizz
A front door
Wizz is not the only application of its kind. Purp and Yubo, for example, are also known as dating platforms aimed at teenagers.
The Montreal police are familiar with these applications. “These are gateways to facilitate contact with young people,” explains its head of the Sexual Exploitation Section, Marco Breton.
The stratagem used by sextorkers is generally the same. The cybercriminal first establishes contact with the victim on one of these applications, before suggesting that they move the conversation to another platform, usually Snapchat.
Once a relationship of trust has been established, he asks the victim to send him intimate photos of herself, which he then threatens to distribute unless the victim transfers him money.
We have known about these applications for a long time and they are part of sextortion crimes. The first contact is often made there.
Detective Sergeant Karine Brousseau, controller in the Sexual Exploitation Section of the SPVM
According to the Network Contagion Research Institute, Wizz “must take immediate action to secure the platform against rampant sextortion.”