Do Anonymous Apps Keep All Your Secrets?

Source: Thinkstock

What would you say if no one could identify you? Websites like PostSecret show the sort of profound messages people send if they remain anonymous. Strangers send one man their postcards and he publishes their thoughts, fears, and confessions to the world every Saturday on his blog. The decorated postcards are sent to his house anonymously. This started before Twitter and before we started sharing Game of Thrones spoilers, memes, click bait, and other silliness.

PostSecret was the first anonymous sharing app. Of course, not all postcards made it onto the site. Frank Warren filters through them every week, so it’s not as unfiltered as some other anonymous apps. But it was a simple concept, and the only indication of who you were was noted by your postmarked letter, which shows the origin of a piece of mail. However, PostSecret rarely shows postmarks on the cards it receives.

Even after PostSecret made big waves across the Internet, life on the Web started to become more and more about open sharing and transparency. However, recent news involving National Security Agency spying and privacy policy concerns have left some social sharers a little more wary about shouting out into the void, and even questioning what they’re texting or sending via email.

Apps like Secret and Whisper may mask your identity to other users, but how protected are you from employees working for these companies? And what do their privacy policies say about sharing your information with advertisers? Here’s a look at the fine print of five popular secret-sharing apps.

Source: Space Email

1. Space Email

Space Email is a basic website you can visit using your browser. Its premise is simple: “What would you say if you didn’t know that anyone was listening?”

The interface is straightforward, allowing you to compose or refresh to see new messages. When writing a message, you can identify yourself by whichever name you wish. It works like email, only one-sided: You write a subject line and something in the body. Messages on the site range from voicing opinions about the latest video game to personal stories or insights.

Messages can be long pieces or short blurbs. Write what you want someone else to know, or write to get something off your chest. Write to make someone laugh or understand a point of view. It’s all here.

How private is it?

Space Email may be private from user to user, but it’s hardly anonymous, according to its privacy policy. The people at Space Email collect IP information and also employ the help of Google Analytics to track people that use the site, which has its own privacy policy standards. Information from not only Google but Space Email is also collected and stored. So while the user-to-user information may be anonymous, one peek into the servers will likely have revealing data about messages you’ve sent and where you’ve sent them from.

Source: Confide

2. Confide

With Confide, you’re not shouting out into the void and having a stranger read your messages, but deliberately sending something to a friend or someone you know. However, these messages are off the record (OtR), which means they’re encrypted. You can send a message to a friend, and once they open it and read it, the message is deleted from the friend’s phone and from the Confide servers. The user at the other end won’t be able to take a screenshot of your conversation, either. Messages remain concealed until swiped, and if someone does attempt a screenshot, you receive an alert.

How private is it?

Based on Confide’s privacy policy, it seems the only information the company keeps track of is who you are and who you’re sending messages to — it employs what’s called end-to-end encryption. The content of the message can never be opened by anyone at Confide, but who you’re sending messages to is tracked. Even the most complicated OtR email encryption can’t hide that user X is sending a message to Y and how many times X sends to Y. Confide seems to be one of the more private and secure sharing apps out there.

Source: Secret

3. Secret

Secret is a bit like an anonymous Twitter. You sign up and it asks for your phone number and contacts right off the bat. This identification allows you to see anonymous blurbs from your contacts. If a post comes from your contacts, it will say it came from “Your Circle.” Not exactly 100 percent anonymous, as the personal information or confession may identify them.

How private is it?

Up front, Secret says it won’t sell your information to advertisers. However, the data Secret “automatically collect[s] when you use the Service is solely used by [Secret] for debugging and analytical purposes.” The data the company collects include “type of browser you use, access times, pages viewed, your IP address and the page you visited before navigating to our Service.”

This information is hosted on Google’s App Engine, but the information is encrypted before being sent. However, if you decide to delete your messages, Secret will gladly wipe account information — everything — off its drives. But “Google has their own data backup and retention policy, so while we will not have access to your information more than thirty days after you delete your account, it may take longer for your information to be completely wiped from Google’s servers.”

Google owns part of that information, and who knows when and if they plan on deleting it.

Source: Whisper

4. Whisper

Similar to Secret, Whisper allows you to shout out into the void and share your thoughts and deepest secrets anonymously. You may also comment and respond to what people put out there anonymously. The service is available via an app or online. Also, if you don’t like sharing, you may passively browse the site and not engage in the community.

How private is it?

Whisper’s privacy policy is a bit difficult to read, but it does keep (or gives itself the right to keep) any message you transmit over its service. On the Whisper site, you can expect to have some information about you automatically collected “regarding the type of web browser you use, your operating system, your Internet Service Provider, your IP address, the pages you view, and the time and duration of your visits to the Site.”

But when posting on the app, it seems Whisper obtains your mobile telephone number, which, according to the company, has “very little information that personally identifies you.” Your phone number is actually a pretty big personal identifier. It’s associated with a name, address, and so on.

Whisper “may temporarily process and store your messages, log and contact data, and other related information (‘Message Data’) in order to provide these Services to you. Although we strive to delete your Message Data as soon as the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the Message Data will be completely deleted.” Translation: You may remain anonymous to other users, but any employee at Whisper may track and access your messages, and it wouldn’t be the first time an employee violated a consumer’s trust and privacy.

Source: Yik Yak

5. Yik Yak

Concentrated on hyperlocal sharing, Yik Yak allows users to shout out to others in your immediate area. It mostly looks like a feed for the Craigslist personals, which has earned the app a 17+ rating. You’re free to divulge as much information as you like, though it’s not recommended. You have no username, but some anonymity is taken away right off the bat when the service asks you to turn GPS on. There’s no way to just type in your location — you have use geolocation in order to view messages in your area.

How private is it?

It’s not certain how Yik Yak identifies users and bans them, but when you post to the app, “you grant Yik Yak a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display, and distribute such content in any and all media or distribution methods.” It’s also unclear if the legal disclaimer encompasses where that message came from and any other information the app accesses.

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