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Gas social media app overtakes TikTok in App Store. But is it safe?

A new Sherriff in town, Gas, has dethroned TikTok by capturing the attention of high schoolers across the US. But parents are concerned because it requests the location and school data of their kids.

Keeping up with the latest trendy time-stealing social media apps can feel exhausting, with everything from Clubhouse to BeReal appearing in a fireball of hype only to quickly burn out as faddy audiences move on to the next big thing.

Gas is the brainchild of former Facebook manager Nikita Bier who previously created a similar app called "TBH" back in 2017, only for it to be acquired by Facebook and shut down the following year. Once again, users are encouraged to use the platform to raise self-esteem and spread positivity.

Ultimately, the app is used to Gas someone up by sending a compliment and cheering each other on. The anonymous poll-based social app challenges users to answer questions about their friends, with only positive replies allowed on the platform. But only time will tell if users find a way to game the system to enter bullying territory.

If you have not heard of the Gas app yet, it's not because you are too old or out of touch. It's only currently available in 12 states in the US as it gradually increases server capacity. But as Gas continues to rise in popularity with the teenage community on Snapchat, tech-savvy parents are also beginning to explore the risks and dangers of using an app that uses their child's location data and confirms their high school name.

The human trafficking hoax

Any teenager pitching an app to parents oriented at high school students will immediately trigger safety concerns. Especially when you throw in location data of children and school information, which could have the potential for bad actors to use the app for nefarious purposes. Predictably, many viral videos suggested that Gas could be used for human trafficking.

However, speculation about the privacy implications of Gas went viral, and even Ashton Kutcher dispelled rumors that the app was involved in trafficking children.

The founders of Gas promptly went into a damage control mode by attempting to set the record straight on TikTok. The company stated they do not actively track locations, sell personal data, or allow direct messaging, prioritizing the safety of users.

Privacy concerns

The app promises not to allow strangers into the circle of trust. Instead, it only enables friends, contacts, or classmates to vote on each other. The polls on the platform can only ever be positive or uplifting, and rule-breakers are immediately removed.

Upon signing up for Gas, the app prompts high schoolers to import the contacts from their smartphone. This will enable teens to see a variety of users in anonymous polls, and although there is no way of chatting in the app, the dramas of teenage life could quickly get messy when polls get personal.

The unfortunately named "God mode" will also set off a few alarm bells with worried parents. In a digital age where in-app purchases have become the norm, five in-app premium plans play on the curious minds of young users. Some of the features users can unlock include seeing the number of votes they have received, revealing the first letter of someone who has voted for them, and receiving a notification whenever anyone adds themselves to the polls you have created.

The dopamine cycle

On the surface, Gas ticks all the right boxes for smartphone-addicted teens. It's labeled as an app built with a privacy-first mindset to raise self-esteem and spread positivity amongst digital natives who cannot remember the days before iPhones or iPads existed. But it also arguably promotes the addiction to dopamine hits and the desire for teenagers to keep checking their smartphones to obtain social validation. So, is this the right message to be delivering to our children?

Although Gas seems to come from a good place and has honorable intentions, we must question the risks of continuing to move fast and breaking things, especially when children are involved. For example, what happens to the children who are delivered FOMO (fear of missing out) when all their friends are selected for polls while the algorithm ignores them?

A solution aimed at making social media less toxic and encouraging young users to boost each other up is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. But what if we dared to explore the impacts of living a life of constant distraction and responding to a barrage of notifications or understanding how misguided it is to search for social validation from an electronic device?

Conditioning our minds and behavior toward constant approval from online engagement or being mentioned in a Gas poll could arguably increase anxiety rather than remove it. The world of teens and screens is much more complex than any software developer could begin to understand. But maybe the Chainsmokers said it best when they sang the line: “How many likes is my life worth?”

However, as a self-confessed airport dad, I have enough self-awareness to know the world has changed. Gen Z-focused apps, such as BeReal and Gas, are taking social media on a refreshing journey toward something authentic and positive. So, if teenagers have found a way to leverage technology to lift each other up and spread positivity, maybe it's time for me to admit that the good might outweigh the bad on this occasion.

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