This falls into the category of, “just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.”
Over the weekend I read a PandoDaily story about how stupid and reckless people can be in the quest for technological “innovation.” This time, the stupidity comes from a Canadian firm that had flown under the radar for a while. “Hiding up in Canada, Truth has mostly flown under the tech press radar,” Carmel Deamicis wrote. “Founder Ali Saheli claims he’s deliberately avoiding industry coverage. He’s going after the teenage market and they don’t read tech press.”
I’d be deliberately avoiding industry press too if I were him. In fact, I’d be avoiding any press at all, even press directed at the target market he seeks, because I’d know in my heart that my app was going to cause people pain sooner than later. You’d have to have been living in a cave without Internet access for the last 10 years, not to understand that arming teenagers with an app that allows them to specifically target another person with an anonymous message, even if that person doesn’t have the app, is more than just a bad idea. It is stupid and reckless.
“Ugh, what a terrible use of technology,” Jacy Riedmann wrote in the comments on Facebook on Saturday. “Like people need more ways to hide behind a screen and use words like weapons.” Exactly. It’s one thing to post anonymous messages to other anonymous people who have actively sought out an app that makes that possible. It’s quite another to target people with a form of spam that is rife with potential dangers.
Who Would Fund This Stupidity?
Fearing this might just be a publicity stunt designed to gain attention, despite the founder’s claims otherwise, I wasn’t going to write about this today. Providing this idiocy with more attention, even negative attention, might just help the founders raise the funding from Silicon Valley they are apparently seeking. But I decided to write anyway. Why? I have a fundamental belief that most people are sane when it comes to making decisions about what technology should and should not enable us to do.
I have a fundamental belief that most people are not stupid and reckless, and that perhaps a stronger negative message might be heard by the decision makers at the venture firms who invested $10 million in Secret, $54 million in Whisper, $800,000 in Rumr, and $6.35 million in Lulu. And I hope that if they do hear, they’ll not give a dime to a company that would be so reckless and stupid. Yes, a boy can dream.
In the meantime, it appears that taking actions against it are simple enough. I’m thankful for two concerned parents who helped me test over the weekend. I downloaded the app and sent an anonymous message to my wife. As promised, it showed up on her cell phone without her having to download the app. The phone number it came from was 605-285-4879. I then sent Laura Scheer a message and asked her to block the number after she received it. Again, the message came in to her from 605-285-4879. Then Jeremy Blanton helped out by sending one to his wife. He is on the other side of the country and it was also sent from 605-285-4879. So, it’s simple enough to block that number in advance, but on the iPhone you’ll need to add it to your contact list first.
To add a contact to the block list in iOS 7 follow these instructions:
1. Navigate to Settings -> Phone (or Messages, or FaceTime) -> Blocked
2. Touch Add New…
3. Select the contact you wish to block from the list
Once you’ve added that number to your block list they will be prevented from contacting you with phone calls, iMessages, SMS text messages or FaceTime. If you’re child has been a target of cyberbullying in the past, I’d take preemptive action and go ahead and block 605-285-4879 right now. And if anyone has seen a different number associated with the messages from this app, feel free to post it in the comments.
So, to anyone in the VC community who might stumble upon this post, do us all a favor and keep your wallet in your pocket. Some apps shouldn’t exist at all.