A few days before Valentine’s Day, a new app caught the attention — and secrets — of Silicon Valley.
Once you install Secret, the app asks you add your email address and phone number, and create a password. Secret accesses your contacts to determine who among them has also signed up for Secret, the “new way to share what you’re thinking and feeling with your friends, anonymously.”
Co-founder of Secret, David Byttow, is a seasoned Silicon Valley insider. He was the lead of Wallet, director of infrastructure at Square and software engineer at Google. Byttow wrote a post on Medium detailing how Secret protects users’ identity.
Well, sometimes inappropriate is perhaps more accurate. The Verge calls Secret the “most scandalous social network”:
Lately it’s been topic number one among Silicon Valley tech workers, venture capitalists and the media who cover them. All around San Francisco, people are devouring their Secret feeds, with their unpredictable mix of sex, drugs and industry gossip. Valentine’s Day threesomes, photos of your best weed, blow jobs in the restaurant kitchen — it’s all here, maybe true and maybe not, but guaranteed to get you guessing about who posted it.
Byttow added, “This reaffirms our belief that anonymity can foster positive change in the world.” Similarly, anonymity sometimes fosters positive change in the world. Also from The Verge:
Secret likely would not be the first choice of a would-be cyberbully: there’s no way to message a user directly, or even know for certain that a target has seen your post. Still, several Silicon Valley personalities have already come in for abuse on the site. The social network Path and its founder, Dave Morin, were frequent early targets. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and the investor Shervin Pishevar have also been subjects of abuse.
Last week, investor Sam Altman posted about why he deleted Secret from his phone. “Anonymity breeds meanness,” he said. “Anonymous social networks have been (thus far, anyway) in the category of services that get worse as they get bigger — unlike services like Facebook or Twitter that get better as they get bigger.”
Indeed, Postsecret eventually had to remove its app because of malicious posts that had become unmanageable. Ask.fm was criticized after one of its users committed suicide — her father said being bullied by anonymous others contributed to her death. And it won’t be easy for Secret’s founders to make good on the lofty goal of keeping users’ “worst instincts under control.”
Still, many users find apps like these addictive, and they seem to tap into a growing preference for anonymity over the incessant time and attention required for image curation and impression management — especially among teenagers — as identity itself is becomes increasingly less private.
Secret reflects a trend towards more intimate, personal forms of communication in much the same way as its predecessors, most recently photo messaging app, Snapchat, and anonymous messaging app, Whisper.
“To make the average person truly comfortable sharing more private thoughts, you had to let them do so without letting the post follow them around forever,” reported The Verge.
But unlike Whisper, which distributes posts based on current location, Secret accesses contacts to create an anonymous – yet more personal — feed, and mixes in posts from other locations based on their popularity.
It’s also worth noting that because Secret’s posts are mostly written and seen by friends or friends of friends in your social network, it isn’t always difficult to be identified and the app is raising privacy concerns.
In the Verge report, a sexual confession led to two potential suspects. When confronted, one of them fessed up as the author. Business Insider reported on Feb. 7 that its senior tech editor, Steve Kovach, was outed on Secret. “It only took two minutes, which completely defeats the purpose of an anonymous network.”
Enter the newest Silicon Valley darling, Shortwave, abbreviated Shrtwv, which encourages users to make anonymous postings such as thoughts, photos and activities, and ties them to a location. The posts in Shrtwv, called “waves,” are geo-tagged and can be read in real-time by those nearby.
The app may be used in similar fashion as the “overheard” posts on Twitter called OH‘s. And as reported by TechCrunch yesterday, “It could also make sense for when you have something to share, but don’t want to be involved in the guessing game that Secret permits with its ‘anonymish’ identification of users as either a ‘friend’ or ‘friend of friend.'”
Because the posts are location-based, abuse and spam may kept to a minimum — for the time being — because that would be “the equivalent of me writing something completely offensive on my front door,” Muneeb Bokhari of Digiplastic Industries, the company behind the Shrtwv, told Techcrunch.
Like Byttow, Shrtwv’s founders are optimistic about the nature of the postings. Bokhari told TechCrunch, “People have been taking pictures of pets up for adoption, writing about the crushes they have on their classmates, and, generally, sharing moments of beauty that they see in the world around them.”
But as noted by TechCrunch, they are likely too optimistic. “…the porn will come, man, the porn will come.”