Before spending eight months as a night-shift delivery driver for a posh deli called Benugo, I distributed flyers advertising the Silent Secret app to children in Barking, East London, for a few hours in December 2014 as a means to some quick spare cash.
A few months after it was done, the creator of this app approached me to write him an article puffing his brainchild in one of the magazines I contribute to. This is how I got this story. Obligingly, I wrote an item and managed to sell it to a magazine like he asked.
Well, the magazine and the article weren’t quite like he asked. Private Eye kindly published the article in July, and I suspect the manager of the app now regrets calling me. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t have looked closely into what exactly his company does.
Now I’m glad I distributed those flyers, otherwise I’d never have known about this mess of an app.
While obviously not silent since it explicitly urges vulnerable children to “speak out”, the app turns out be not exactly secret either, since it does a poor job at preserving the anonymity of its contributors. The big question is why the Government put £157.9K of taxpayer money into it.
Here’s the Eye:
Amateurish attempts at anonymous messaging apps are a dime a dozen, but what makes this one a danger is the apparently misleading way it approaches vulnerable people.
The young users often post messages about self-harming, living in care, coping with chronic illness, being abused, taking drugs, contemplating suicide and living with mental disorders.
Despite the founder’s best intentions the app can turn out to be a honey pot for future employees, consumers and taxpayers to reveal private things about themselves.One can see how a pharmaceutical company, the armed forces, a job recruitment business or a tobacco company may be interested in having its information.
Lo and behold, a few days after the story came out, after thoroughly denying there’s anything wrong with their app, Silent Secret went and changed their terms and conditions on the sly… even using the same words I used in my emails with them: “data company”.
A data company, of course, can today mean almost any company that has something to do with computers… and therefore that statement is also of, er, highly flexible meaning.
The fun don’t stop round Silicon Roundabout. Or is it Surveillance Roundabout?