China's most popular gay dating app has temporarily stopped accepting new users after allegations that it put underage people at risk by letting them sign up.
Blued, which says it has more than 40 million users worldwide, said in a statement Sunday that the week-long halt will enable it to review the claims and make improvements to the app.
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The announcement followed a report Saturday by Chinese financial news publication Caixin in which Blued was accused of failing to protect young teenagers. The report cited a researcher who said the app let boys set up profiles in which they falsely claimed to be 18 or older, exposing them to explicit content and sexual exploitation.
Blued is the latest high profile app to come under increased scrutiny in China over safety concerns.
Founded by a former police officer, Blued has expanded rapidly in recent years despite homosexuality remaining a delicate subject in China. The app has moved beyond straightforward matchmaking services into live-streaming and gaming. Last year, it raised $100 million in funds, and its CEO has talked about issuing shares in the company on a US stock exchange.
Caixin's article questioned whether the company took enough steps as it grew to prevent underage people from using it. According to the researcher it cited, Qingdao University sexologist Zhang Beichuan, multiple high-school students said they had been pressured into having sex with older men after meeting them through the app.
Zhang and the head of an unidentified Chinese LGBT community welfare group told Caixin that some underage users of Blued said they had contracted HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, from people they met through the app.
The company stressed in its statement that it has been putting resources into AIDS prevention and treatment for years and promised to do more to educate its users about the risks.
"What we have done on AIDS prevention is seen by all," Blued founder and CEO Ma Baoli told CNN on Monday. "We probably are the best and we have done the most. Our priority now is to supervise and examine our content."
New measures promised
Ma, who also goes by the alias Geng Le, said people under the age of 18 are forbidden from using the app, in line with Chinese regulations.
Blued is promising that it will improve its efforts to detect accounts set up by underage users and block illegal content. It will also increase the number of notifications warning that people have to be at least 18 to use the app.
Homosexuality is no longer illegal in China, and authorities in 2001 removed it from the official list of mental disorders. But activists and experts say prejudices and discrimination persist, along with periodic government crackdowns.
The Chinese government hasn't objected to gay dating apps, as long as they stick to internet rules that restrict the dissemination of pornography and politically sensitive information. A Chinese company bought US-based gay dating app Grindr in 2016.
The Chinese government, which has sought tighter control of social media platforms under President Xi Jinping, hasn't so far commented on the allegations against Blued in the Caixin report.
Blued said in its statement that it will continue to accept inspections by the media regulator and other supervisors.
Tencent is checking ages
In August, Chinese authorities said they were stepping up regulation of online gaming because of concerns about young people becoming addicted to it.
Gaming giant Tencent (TCEHY) said in November it would check the identities of all its gamers in China by 2019 with the aim of limiting the hours young people spend playing. It will check gamers' IDs against police databases and block any accounts it can't verify.
The country's dominant ride-hailing company, Didi Chuxing, indefinitely suspended a carpooling service on its app last year after two separate killings of female passengers by drivers. The murders caused a public outcry and increased scrutiny from the government.
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