Secret App Shuts Down, Exposing a Risk for Anonymous Users

The Secret app is shutting down, and given its rocky history, won’t be missed by many despite having amassed over 15 million users at one point. We have a question, as did at least on other person that we say online yesterday:

We’ve tested and used the Secret app and can attest to the fact that many of the posts on there are content so vile and inappropriate that there’s no way the people making the posts would do so if their real name was attached to them. Secret is not much different from other anonymous apps and networks in one regard – people are emboldened by their anonymity, and post with wild abandon. It leads us to believe that many think there is no chance their identity will ever be revealed. To date, that has been true except in cases where users ran afoul of the law.

What if that anonymity is not guaranteed? One of the founders, David Byttow, wrote a post on Medium yesterday announcing the shutdown and the reasons behind it. In the post, he included the following:

“…we’re taking steps to permanently delete all content and data imminently.”

secret-logoIf that is true, then Secret is doing the right thing respecting the privacy of their users. What if they didn’t? From Secret’s Terms of Service:

“We change these Terms of Service every so often. If we make changes, we will notify you by revising the date at the top of the policy and, in some cases, provide you with additional notice (like on our homepage or over email).”

They have cautioned users from day one that their Terms of Service could change at any time. In terms Secret’s use of the data, from their Privacy Policy:

“The types of information we may collect include your email address, your mobile phone number and any other information you choose to provide. When you request that the App find your Friends, we also collect certain information from your contacts on your mobile device or from Facebook…

We may also share information (which may at times includes personal information) about you as follows…with vendors, consultants and other service providers”

It does not state that Secret will or ever had the right to share your data with advertisers or other partners, as is the case with other social platforms.

What if, instead of shutting down, Secret had decided to change its Terms of Service in a way that enabled it to sell your data to third parties? From Facebook’s Terms of Service:

“You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.”

While it doesn’t look like that is happening here, all users of anonymous apps should be very wary of what might happen in a worst case scenario. A subpoena or warrant from law enforcement is one such scenario, although most anonymous posts do not depict illegal acts. Could a platform that is failing and desperate for cash be another such scenario? It could be.

Caution is warranted, even when you’re posting anonymously. The truth can be very inconvenient in the light of day.


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