Secrets Secrets Are So Fun (Well, Sort Of): All About Secret-Sharing Apps

queer-your-tech-header_FINAL_640web

Remember when PostSecret was a big thing? Well apps like Secret and Whisper let you peek in on everyone’s dirty laundry, and the stakes are higher since secrets can be filtered by your social circle, your friends’ friends, and your location.

"OMG GUESS WHAT?" Just imagine all the gossip Alice from The L Word could've broadcast with these apps.

“OMG GUESS WHAT?” Just imagine all the gossip Alice from The L Word could’ve broadcast with these apps.

So let’s talk about Internet secret sharing, and walk through these two popular mobile apps. Don’t forget to bring your flashlights and hold hands, because we’re gonna be wandering through some deep, mysterious territory.


 

Why We Need Masks

What’s so special about anonymous posting anyway? Is it possible that we yearn for the Old Ways of the Internet, before social media Single Sign On protocols tied our names to every little thing we do. It seems like every time I go to buy cat litter, a vendor is urging me to connect via Facebook. In a digital world that constantly wants to authenticate your identity via social media, I can definitely see the appeal of anonymous secret apps.

You can't see me! I'm posting this from behind 7 proxies!

You can’t see me! I’m posting this from behind 7 proxies!


Out of the Closets, Onto the Screens!

Immediately after I downloaded Whisper and Secret and threw on my invisibility cloak, I noticed that there seemed to be A LOT of posts about queer desires and issues.

02

03

It’s possible that secret sharing apps might help some folks take the first timid steps toward exploring their gender and sexuality. And maybe even help us vent and work through issues that are difficult to bring up in with our peers.

04

05

But keep in mind, both platforms let people anonymously post comments. Which opens readers up to hateful comments. Just like venturing into the danger zone of YouTube comments, you might want to be careful while sifting through the comments on these secret sharing sites.


 

Who Can You Peep On?

The Secret app ups the ante by populating your feed with secrets from your friends and their extended networks. Even freakier – the “Friends” section includes contacts from your Contacts app, instead of the people from your social media network, which makes things way more intimate. To prevent people from gaming the system, Secret will only show you posts if three or more of your contacts are currently using Secret. That means you can’t take a device with a handful of contacts and spy on those people. And the folks at Secret insist that your data is totally encrypted.

My friends are all risk takers.

My friends are all risk takers.

Whisper takes a much broader approach to displaying secrets. The feed organization is kinda like Reddit, where you can view everything based on popularity (likes) or newness. However, Whisper tries to bring you some intimacy with strangers in your area. The result is kinda like Craigslist, full of hookup requests and confessions, but in meme form.

Wait, I signed up for secrets, not OKCupid!

Wait, I signed up for secrets, not OKCupid!


 

So Which App is “Safer?”

Overall, I’d say that Secret wins the anonymity contest, mainly because of Whisper’s username feature. All of your posts on Whisper are tied to a traditional username. This increases the chance that someone will figure out your identity, especially if you’re in a low population area (with location services on), and if you post multiple unique stories. Also people can contact you directly with public replies or direct messages.

On Secret, people can’t access a trail of your posts. There are no user names and no karma to earn. When you comment on things, you appear as a generic icon that rotates between conversations.

But of course, we all know that web service security systems are fallible. Boy, do we know. So be careful what you spill online, you never know if it’ll come back to haunt you. Or as the Whisper legalese says, “You understand that any message and/or information that you transmit to us might be intercepted and read by others.”


 

Inherent Risks

1. Libel

You know, I didn’t really consider this one until I listened to a recent This American Life episode, Tarred and Feathered. They ran a story about how someone’s reputation was destroyed by hateful anonymous posts on Topix, a gossip message board that is apparently all the rage in small towns and rural areas where everyone knows everyone.

Since I had never heard about Topix before, I decided to check up on my hometown, Honolulu. And I totally got the 411 on a former Hawaii resident. For shame!

Since I had never heard about Topix before, I decided to check up on my hometown, Honolulu. And I totally got the 411 on a former Hawaii resident. For shame!

I started wondering about the potential for libel on Secret and Whisper, especially since they have custom picture options. You could totally screw someone over by posting a picture of them along with some gossip.

Looks like Secret and Whisper thought of this too. They have warnings and features to discourage slanderous behavior. You’ll get the ban hammer if you do these things.

0910

So far, it doesn’t look seem like personal cases of libel have been cropping up. Instead, the big problem seems to be….

2. Spilling Company Secrets

And fake company secrets! Turns out, Secret and Whisper are a wet dream for anyone working in corporate espionage. Or people who just hate their jobs in general. Employees are tossing their NDAs out the window, spilling their guts with speculation, shit-talking, and trade secrets. And some very worrisome stories about the risks of startup culture.

This rumor turned out to be false, but the Evernote CEO actually had to come out clarify things.

This rumor turned out to be false, but the Evernote CEO actually had to come out clarify things.

The New York Times likened posts like these to cyberbullying. It’s bizarre to see this type of behavior manifest itself in Silicon Valley, of all places. It makes me wonder if breaking news journalists are peering around Secret and Whisper like lemurs, waiting to verify the hottest new rumor. I wonder if we’ll see a future where stuff like this influences stock prices. How weird.


 

What’s Your Secret?

Will our yearning of anonymity usher in a brand new era of secret sharing apps? Or will this trend eventually fizzle out? It’s hard to tell, especially since there seems to be a market of casual voyeurs willing to read these things. According to Whisper, users check the app up to eight times a day, on average. That’s a lot of peeping.

So what do you think? Are secret sharing apps good for catharsis and personal development? Or are they just destructive rumor? Do you think we’ll see more secret-sharing apps pop up, or are these just a fad? Are you using a secret app right now? What’s the most interesting secret you’ve ever found in an app?


 

This has been the eighty-sixth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Feature image via Shutterstock. Header by Rory Midhani.

 

Profile photo of Loraine

Hapa haole queer writer who flew away from an island of nostalgia. Inspired by gadgets. Uninterested in quitting her coffee habit. Conjuring up a collection of sci-fi and horror short stories. Find Loraine at lorainekv.com or @lorainekv.

Loraine has written 28 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    I could never get into this whole secrets thing coz with PostSecret it asked for things nobody else knew and I’m a fairly open book. If I haven’t told at least 1 friend, it’s probably not worth talking about.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      While I was researching these apps, I can’t say that I felt compelled to share whispery things on either Secret or Whisper because:

      1. When it comes to confidential information: I used to feel very paranoid about having it written out. When I was a kid, a teacher READ MY JOURNAL AND TOLD MY PARENTS about its contents. It was a terrible breach of trust, and it took a while to recover.

      2. Like you describe Cazz, I feel like my peers know a whole lot about me. I don’t think I hide very much. I’m pretty talkative around my friends and family, and I have a hard time keeping my own secrets to myself. If I’m feeling oogy about something, it usually comes spilling out.

      3. I’m in the Millennial generation. When I heard silly playground secrets as a kid, I’d just pick up the phone and call my friend to blab about it. Or I’d say it in person.

  2. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    You know if you format your phone and start really clean what with Whisper the next time Whisper is installed pretty much all your stuff is still there. They save their shit to the clouds. Plus, at least in my area(L.A.) there is a lot of men(both gay and straight) looking to get laid or post their nudes in hopes others share theirs. I rarely see secretes other than relationship issues that is causing the person posting the secrete to want to cheat.

    I generally use it to help queer women, by telling them to either read AS, or use a queer women dating app. Many of them are like I’d rather try my luck here, even after mentioning catfishing is a bit common. I was catfished on the site but a trans fetishist who didn’t get what queer means. I also spoke to a woman who said she chatted with a few predatory women on there.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Yeah, I ended up deleting Whisper because of the number of weird dating PMs. I didn’t even upload anything ridiculously juicy – it was stuff like “People think I’m extroverted, but I often get super anxious in social situations” feelings. I got the idea that people would still contact me even if I just posted gibberish.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve encountered creepers. However, it’s super awesome that you’re raising AS visibility through Whispers. For those who are actually exploring newfound queer feelings through these apps, I’m sure that would be a welcome resource! :)

  3. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    This whole secret app trend strikes me as a really, really bad idea.
    Nuclear Annihilation of your social life anyone? Of course a significant proportion of my social circle are hackers.. so there’s what you can see form these apps… and what… we can see.
    They’re the kind of hackers that attack systemic weaknesses that cannot be patched without rendering the whole internet incompatible with itself.
    YOU… DON’T…. WANT… TO… EVEN..language . THINK… ABOUT…. IT.

    Anyone remember myspace?
    My polycule got addicted to myspace back when it was trendy.. due to a rather embarrassing bug with post security a script kidy could find… and thier skills….
    my polycule quickly annihilated itself.
    After being shown myspace and bugged to join in
    I sat my 3… people down (I didn’t know poly was a thing in those days – I thought I was just… weird, which was totally not news to anyone) I said “that looks stupid! I love you, and you.. and you *hugs the world*.. but I thought we were all way beyond fear of intimacy by now.. I’m not impressed.” and went and sulked.
    I was most bemused by how our formerly rock solid quad was annihilated by technological change in days.
    Secret sharing apps will do the same to your social group if you use them.
    Don’t.
    You think it’s anonymous.
    But who’s sniffing your network traffic?
    Do you run android? If so who have you walked past before you shared that intimate secret? Any of those people could have p0wned your device
    without touching it if wifi was turned on. It’s not necessary to be associated to an access point, just being on is enough. Hackers laugh when people say “android”
    and “security” in the same sentence.
    Do you actually think HTTPS is secure?
    (hint: hackers usually find a way to beat a security measure without breaking it if possible. There are lots of ways to compromise HTTPS without breaking RSA. I’m a white hat, so that’s all I’m going to say.)
    I guess you don’t have to think about these things in the circles you run in?
    Count yourself lucky.

    I saw it coming because I had a 10 year head start on the psychological effects of computer based communication, but at a time when IM didn’t exist.. so I understood the inherent characteristics of computer networks as a medium. Something people these days,
    do not because they didn’t interpret it all in the social context that existed when you had to wait until you saw your friends at school the next day.
    I’m a generation straddler not quite gen x, not quite millennial.
    That makes me unique, I know how to be alone in a way children of the network age do not.
    Yet I understand their perspective completely.
    I gradated high school right at that point of critical mass when everyone stopped talking to their friends on the phone as the
    primary means of non face-to-face communication and suddenly we went a year without speaking to our best friend on the phone.
    You might meet for coffee.. but somehow IM & texts became normal.
    We lost something then.
    Something deeply valuable.
    But if you were born after 1985.. you probably won’t understand why or what we’ve even lost
    unless you rediscovered it independently after having this subtle knawing feeling something
    was missing.

    As an aspie hacker chick I often end up feeling like the story behind the long term social context of apps like this is something a long the lines of:
    Once upon a time us geeks felt like lonely outcasts.. so we created our own community.. namely the internet.
    As technology matured to the point where it was easily usable even by those who don’t know which end of a pen to write with, non-geeks appropriated the internet as their own without understanding that it is a tool.. every tool is a good choice for some tasks and a poor choice for others – it’s also a medium, much like theater, film and the novel are mediums with their own characteristics.

    Melenials aren’t digital natives. The popular press likes to say they are.
    That’s a load of crap.
    The real digital natives are all old people now who’ve all been forgotten.
    You know.. the old fogies who actually designed all the stuff we now take for granted.

    Technology isn’t bad, it’s neutral. This is a subtle concept that lacks even a name – I usually explain it this way. Why do we study English Literature? Because language defines culture.

    In the network age, code defines culture.
    Don’t believe me?
    Code you’ve never seen and probably can’t read redefined almost the entire English speaking worlds idea of
    what is and is not a committed relationship. Nobody noticed.
    Hands up anyone who knows anyone who’s been dumped by someone who took facebook relationship status way too seriously?
    Oh yeah.. that’d be like everyone.

    How that happen?
    When I look at a web page or an app.
    I can list
    * all the ways i’m being psychologically manipulated.
    * the concepts of interactions defined by that app and co-erced on users.. generally unintionally because developers don’t understand this stuff eaither.
    * All the facets of human relationships which have been quizzed out by what is impossible to code.
    * the likely effects of this both on micro and macro scale.
    * how this would impact different kinds of social groups if this became a dominant method of communication.
    All of htis takes about 10 seconds.
    If you can do that, then you’re a digital native.
    If you never thought of that – every app you use to
    communicate online is potentially re-writing your concept of intamacy, unless you consciously choose not to allow that to happen.
    That’s why we need network age ready critical thinking, from primary school.. and it doesn’t even exist yet.
    The only people who understand this stuff are presently making pots of money manipulating you.
    I’m just the traitor who talked, because I still hate myspace for breaking my heart all those times over.
    :)
    ~M.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        Yeah, but so did the telephone. I mean, I’m sure someone, somewhere, must have observed (lamented?) that they don’t write to anyone any more or receive letters, they just call people on the telephone. Before that, it was the telegraph, I suppose, or the letter, or widespread literacy and hell, it goes back to spoken language… So, I guess I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

  4. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    I was born after 1985 and my closest friends don’t use social media. Also I don’t know anyone who has been dumped because of anything to do with facebook or relationship statuses. Or anything to do with the internet. I don’t really think that human communication has completely devolved either, and even if it has, the internet and phones aren’t really new in that sense. People have been looking for easier, less confronting and cheaper ways of communicating forever – it’s why we have language at all! Beyond that, I know plenty of people my own age (and younger) who are perfectly capable of being alone.

  5. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    I used… Whisper, I think, until I was chatting with someone who responded to my secret for about an hour before he admitted he was a man.

    He asked what I looked like, I gave the blandest possible “brown hair brown eyes” response because, you know, internet strangers; he said he was tattooed and had short black hair… Only forty five minutes later did he say he was a straight man, even though my secret specifically identified me as a lesbian lonely for queer woman friends in my area.

    I deleted it after that and found out about the Stonewall Japan picnics.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.