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Teens are using a popular friend app that's fun until they discover the highly inappropriate content

POSTED December 1, 2017 5:19 a.m.
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The idea of gamifying friendships is all the rage when it comes to teens, preteens and their phones. It’s not enough to text their friends (and heaven forbid they would actually call and talk with them). Now friendship is a competition.

A new app makes it a game to find out which of your friends knows you the best and to find out what they think of you. FriendO is quickly climbing the app store charts, claiming players can use it to find out who their real friends are.

Sign in with an email and phone number and use your contacts to find friends. You play one-on-one with other users by taking turns answering questions about yourself and then seeing if your friend guesses your answers correctly.

Then it’s your friend's turn to answer a question about themselves so you can try to guess their answer. As you guess correctly, you move up on their leaderboard, to supposedly show you are a "real friend." This is not anonymous like a similar app I’ve previously reviewed called tbh. It’s a back-and-forth with a lot of known friends, one at a time.

My daughter and her high school friends have been using this app for about a week and are quickly tiring of it. But others are just getting started. CBS New York reports FriendO says of the half-million downloads this month, 84 percent come from middle schoolers.

Here’s where a potential problem pops up. On iTunes, it says “you must be at least 17 years old to purchase this app,” citing possible offensive language, violence, suggestive themes, sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco and drugs. It's not quite the innocent app a parent would like their middle schooler to use, so be careful.

Users pick a category for a question, ranging from "My Personality" to "What I Wear" to "What I Believe." Most of the questions are pretty shallow, but some are serious and even political. One question option asked, “If you were President, which Super Power would you be most afraid of?” The options included North Korea and Russia.

FriendO says these categories will be ever-changing, and the most popular ones are locked (users must invite three other people to play the app to get the categories unlocked). There have definitely been some R-rated categories that seem to come and go.

One was a so-called "Dirty" category with all variations of sexual questions. In the iTunes comment section for this app, reviewer after reviewer is lamenting that the "Dirty" category has gone away for now. Many of the commenters are saying it was the best category and are begging for it to return.

Mashable also reports on a former category called "MSFK" — short for marry, sex, friend, kill — that asked users which they’d rather do with a celebrity. Right now on FriendO, there is a category called "Flirty," asking questions like if you kiss on the first date.

Another category includes normal questions like “What time do you get up in the morning?” But along with answers like "7:00 a.m." and "10:00 a.m.," one of the answer options will always include a profanity.

There are some good safety features on this app, including the option of blocking people, ignoring requests from strangers to play and the option to turn off location services. But parents should know there is direct messaging, so kids should only play with people they actually know.

Even if a stranger tried to add you, they will not be able to send a private message unless you accept their game request. Also, remind your teens that anyone can view their profile pic on this app. So, as always, make sure there are no identifying giveaways on profile pictures, like school names or addresses.

Overall, FriendO is a fun time-waster to get to know quirky facts about your friends. There is the possibility of inappropriate content, but only if your teen goes seeking it. Play along with your kids and be aware of what types of questions they are asking and answering.

You just might find out something you never knew about your teenager, such as whether they are willing to kiss on the first date. With answer options like "Yes, maybe more" and "No, too soon," you can only hope they answer the latter. But what a perfect starter for a great conversation as you tuck them in tonight.

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