Secret, a new app for sharing confidential information anonymously with your circle of friends, has received a warm welcome from early adopters and investors.
Following the rise of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, which seek to collect the maximum amount of information on a given person, and where interactions are based on people’s real identities, the current talk is all about apps that allow you to retain your anonymity. This new approach to online social engagement, based on protecting confidentiality among users, is now starting to catch on, with apps such as PostSecret, Whisper, Secret, Confide and Rumr getting in on the act. These platforms, some of which have been set up specifically with a view to protecting user data from the insidious reach of the US National Security Agency, enable confidential message sharing to friends and acquaintances or strangers. At the South by SouthWest (SXSW) 2014 event, held on March 7-16 in Austin, Texas, a new app called Secret drew a good deal of attention when the startup’s founders David Byttow and Chrys Bader-Wechseler announced they had closed a $10 million round of funding – led by Google Ventures and Silicon Valley venture capital firm KPCB – which values their business at $50 million. Byttow and Bader-Wechseler explain that their app has been designed for people who want “to be themselves and share their thoughts and feelings with their friends without being judged.”
Sharing anonymous info with your friends
The ‘Secret’ app enables people to share their feelings and secrets anonymously with their circle of friends. The messages posted are in general one or two sentences long. People most often use the service to share brutally honest messages, as it frees them from the potential consequences of making posts with their real identities. Messages can be personalized by setting them against a picture or color background. Comments may be added to other users’ messages, with a new, unique avatar for each conversation. However, only people who are maximum two removes from the sender are allowed to comment on messages. When a friend ‘likes’ a post, it is sent to his/her group of friends, which makes it possible to share the most popular posts worldwide. To preserve anonymity within the group, the app selects only friends who are also on the platform, without of course revealing their identity. Messages can also be shared via email, Twitter, SMS and Facebook. Posts can be geolocated and grouped under topic headings – such as the SXSW event for instance. Secret is currently only available on iOS in the United States and Canada.
Privacy still not invulnerable
Although the messages are shared anonymously, recent newly-added features – location-based gossip, cross-posting to other networks and theme-based boards – all point to other ways that Secret may not only build up conversations and interest groups, but also create potential commercial opportunities. In fact players who are looking to share private information need to constantly question their personal data privacy systems, given the permanent struggle between people who want to protect data confidentiality and entities such as companies and government agencies who would like to get hold of it. However, it is impossible to tell immediately whether information shared anonymously in this way is true. So malicious rumors may circulate, amplified by the sharing of the information across various platforms. In February a rumor appeared to the effect that Evernote was to be sold, prompting the company CEO to make a rapid public denial. ‘Secret’ has now installed a control system so that comments and posts which could harm others are not re-posted. Meanwhile, given that the service works among a network of people known to the user, it tends to stimulate conversations among those curious to know who the author of a particular post is. Secret- and photo-sharing apps such as Snapchat, which has seen dazzling growth, are clearly very popular at the moment, but we should never forget that such ‘anonymous’ information is still vulnerable to hacking and potential blackmail.