Sometimes, a new year can bring a fresh start — and no one could use a fresh start more than anonymous social networking app After School.
The app, which has been banned from Apple’s App Store for almost a month, is looking to change its reputation and get back into Apple’s good graces after safety threats and cyberbullying led Apple to pull it from the store in early December.
In the first week of 2015, the company has added a new alert system for threats, added an online reporting form and asked suicide prevention and cyberbullying experts to join their newly created safety board, which COO Cory Levy says he’ll bounce product and strategy ideas off of.
Safety issues were responsible for all of After School’s trouble during the tail end of 2014. Multiple gun threats and cyberbullying incidents led school and political officials to call for the app’s removal. The problem was that After School didn’t have the appropriate reporting and safety measures in place — the app took off in popularity before co-founders Levy and CEO Michael Callahan were prepared to handle the traffic.
Just three weeks after launch, After School had more than 100,000 users from more than 14,000 high schools; the company had only seven employees to monitor thousands of messages sent per hour and no easy way for users to report inappropriate content. As a result, Apple pulled the app for violating its guidelines.
Since then, the team has done little but work on safety, says Levy. A major part of their progress is a new alert feature called First, which recognizes dangerous keywords like “gun” or “bomb” and immediately contacts school and local authorities.
After School had a detection tool like this in place before, but alerts came through to company employees who then spent valuable time simply trying to contact the appropriate authorities. After a shooting threat at an Ohio high school came through in early December, for example, Levy says it took more than 30 minutes just to figure out who in Ohio the company should warn.
Now, they’re gathering that data ahead of time and creating a database of contacts for each school so that any threat can be passed along immediately, says Levy. “There are approximately 15,000 superintendents in the U.S.,” he added. “We’re sending out emails to every single one of them.”
Levy hopes these changes will be enough to convince Apple to put the app back into its App Store. A version of After School was submitted for approval in mid-December, and Levy says he’s in contact with Apple regularly about the startup’s safety improvements. He’s optimistic that the app will be reinstated “soon.”
These types of security issues aren’t unique to After School. Anonymous social networking apps in general have dealt with similar issues, including Yik Yak, another app targeting young users (in their case, college students). Despite angry emails from parents and teachers and multiple Change.org petitions asking Apple to remove his app, Levy says he hasn’t been deterred.
“If Yik Yak or After School were to shut down, another [service] would come up pretty quickly,” said Levy. “We think we are the only ones that people should trust to make the community safe, and we think we can do that.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.