According to a post that is currently circulating rapidly on Facebook, you should not follow links in a text message that claims that “someone complimented you”.
The post warns that the links open a sex trafficking site that puts a tracker on your phone. It further suggests that girls are going missing as a result of this supposed tracker.
However, there is no evidence of any kind to support the claim that the links are associated with sex trafficking. There are no credible news or police reports that indicate that the messages are linked to sex trafficking, abductions, or missing people.
The links in the message open iOS and Android versions of an app called “IRL”. A June 2018 Newsweek report about the app notes:
The app’s name is an acronym for “in real life,” and it’s popular among teenagers who use it to foster relationships with one another in person. The app’s website says it’s meant to make it easy for friends to send each other invitations to hang out in real life. The goal is to “solve the technology addiction” and bring people together in the real world instead of over technology—by using more technology.
And, a February 2018 CNBC news report about the app explains:
IRL gives users a way to easily send, receive and accept invitations to offline activities, whether that’s a group workout, a movie date, or just chilling at home. Unlike Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, this app only connects users to a known, and safe, inner circle of friends already in their phone contacts.
An FAQ on the app’s website notes that “IRL aims to solve technology addiction by bringing people together in real life”.
There is no indication that the app is malicious.
However, the app has caused confusion among users and has been accused of spamming because many people have received unexpected text messages like the one shown in the circulating warning.
The app makers claim that the text messages are only ever sent by friends who have installed the app and are not spam. Another FAQ on the app’s website explains:
You received a text message because one of three reasons: one of your friends (who has your phone number in their contacts list) added you as a friend on the app, invited you to something on the app, or nominated you through the app.
However, because users of the app can send “nominations” anonymously, recipients may not immediately realise that the message came from a friend. The site notes:
Nominations were designed to be anonymous, so that people would feel more comfortable giving out compliments without worrying about being judged. We want everyone to get more compliments!
But, understandably, because the messages are anonymous, many recipients will likely dismiss them as spam or scams. Users can apparently “request to reveal the name of the nominator in the app”. But, of course, a lot of recipients will have already rejected the message as spam well before they get to the point of installing the app and requesting the name of the sender.
The app makers insist that they do not automatically send messages to all of your contacts and any messages you receive are from people who are already on the app and already have your contact number. Nevertheless, the app has been accused of using spammy tactics and aggressive marketing techniques.
And, the app does collect a good deal of personal information from users. It also asks users to enable location tracking and provide access to contacts. But, so do a great many similar apps.
Before installing this or any similar app ( or allowing a child in your care to install it), you should certainly take the time to understand what the app does, what information it collects, and what privacy risks using it entails.
But, all that aside, the claims that the app is somehow connected to sex trafficking and that its users are being abducted or going missing is simply nonsense.
By all means remain cautious when installing and using apps. But, spreading this nonsensical warning will help nobody and will do nothing to help keep people safe online.
An example of the warning message:
Attention all girls if you get this do not click the link its a sex trafficking site that puts a tracker on your phone girls are going missing this is not a joke.