The Spokesman-Review

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Froma Harrop: Beware apps’ lure of anonymity

Beats me how new apps like “Secret” and “Whisper” are going to make big money. Presumably, that is the objective of their Silicon Valley creators.

These apps combine social networking with anonymity. “Secret,” for example, lets people post anonymous messages to those on their contact list who’ve also signed on with “Secret.”

The thrill supposedly comes from knowing that the “dish” comes from a probable acquaintance. For instance, you may hear someone declaring lust for your kid’s second-grade teacher without revealing his or her identity. Oooh, la la, but who is doing the lusting?

Some say these apps offer the opportunity for you to be the real you without having your cover blown. If you believe that the sentiments being expressed are truthful and heartfelt – and you have no reason to so believe – then “Secret” may enchant or appall you.

App founder David Byttow puts a gauzy glow on the whole operation, naturally. He said “Secret” helps people “connect on a deep and emotional level and then perhaps learn new ideas and meet new people through the viral mechanism of secret spreading.”

Perhaps. It also helps unidentified creeps play nasty games with the feelings of others. And it lets competitors spread false information and wrong advice under the guise of being supportive.

While “Secret” offers one a place to bare all under the cloak of anonymity, its promoters want to know everything about you. Their fortune lies in your handing over your contacts – your list of names, addresses and phone numbers. Also your calendar.

These things are pure marketing gold.

Creators of anonymous social media apps are avidly working Silicon Valley for venture capital, and they’d better work fast. That’s because growing numbers are coming to the conclusion that information not tied to a source is unauthoritative, to put it mildly. And you don’t have to be a mind reader to suspect that some “friends” in your address book don’t like you very much.

Furthermore, the 21st century is hardly starving for unfiltered information. Most every vile thought, devious lie or subset of pornography can be found online – and at no cost to the readership. Perhaps knowing that you might know the source adds a certain titillation value. But really, is the sanctity of your contacts list worth nothing?

Meanwhile, the ability of anonymous scribblers to shock or even amuse is not what it was. Hillary Clinton – or Sarah Palin, for that matter – has had every gynecological term and all its variations thrown at her. That some unidentified knuckle dragger says nasty things online or in email barely rates a yawn.

An inflammatory comment attached to a real person of note may draw some interest. But the public is getting jaded about that, too. The outpourings from Rush Limbaugh’s id may have created a stir years ago, but who gets excited anymore?

Then there are advertisers. Even if an app amasses a large following, it’s hard to imagine that companies would want their wares associated with trashy observations. Facebook’s success with advertisers is tied to its policy of requiring participants to use their real identities – which also keeps the site a relatively pleasant place to hang out.

By contrast, Twitter could suffer economically from its letting users post tweets under a veil of anonymity or, worse, a false identity. It’s not good that a jealous rival – or nut case insisting you were born under the sign of the devil – can latch on to your Twitter name and spread unlovely sentiments to your followers.

Lastly, beware of casually handing over your contacts and calendars. People in the business call these the “crown jewels” of private information. Respect yourself.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Her email address is fharrop@gmail.com.


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