Barry Diller, the US media billionaire, has bolstered his portfolio of internet companies with the acquisition of Ask.fm, a social networking site that was singled out for criticism last year by David Cameron, the British prime minister.
The purchase marks a return to dealmaking for Mr Diller’s IAC group, which suffered a blow recently when the US Supreme Court ruled that its Aereo digital video service was illegal after a bruising battle with television networks and studios.
IAC’s Ask.com has agreed to buy Ask.fm, which allows users to post questions and answers anonymously. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Ask.fm, founded by Ilja and Mark Terebin in 2010, has 180m monthly users and has become popular with teenagers. But the site has been heavily criticised, including by Mr Cameron, for not doing more to prevent bullying.
It was linked with teenage suicides in Britain and elsewhere following bullying that occurred on the platform, which led to a number of advertisers pulling their campaigns.
IAC said on Thursday it had reached a wide-ranging agreement with Eric Schneiderman, New York attorney-general, to revamp Ask.fm’s safety policies. Mr Schneiderman said IAC had designed “a program that protects Ask.fm users from cyberbullying and other harmful content”.
Doug Leeds, chief executive of Ask.com, said the acquisition was “predicated on the belief that . . . we could make this site a materially safer place”.
Users could expect changes, he added. “We have a vision for the site that is different to what the Ask.fm founders had,” he said. “They had a libertarian, laisser-faire approach to content on the site. Our view is you can’t have free expression if you’re burdened by inappropriate and unsafe content.”
The Ask.fm founders will leave the company, which has hired Catherine Teitelbaum, who previously worked on safety policies at Yahoo, to a new role.
Mr Diller, a former head of Paramount Pictures and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox broadcasting company, has amassed an eclectic collection of digital brands. IAC owns dating sites Match.com and Tinder, as well as The Daily Beast news site, UrbanSpoon and Vimeo, a video service.
Tinder, a dating app, has earned notoriety by enabling young people to find sexual encounters. In July, Whitney Wolfe, a Tinder co-founder, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Justin Mateen, a fellow Tinder co-founder. Mr Mateen has been suspended by IAC pending an internal investigation.
In the same month, OkCupid, another of IAC’s dating services, admitted manipulating some of the data its users saw on the site in an effort to secure better dating matches.
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