Facebook Inc. is secretly working on a new mobile app that allows users to interact using pseudonyms, according to a New York Times report Tuesday. The anonymity app is coming in the next few weeks.
Facebook pushes its service as the place for people to establish their online selves, a virtual community where users can connect and easily interact with their friends and family. The app would allow users to interact more as they do on Twitter or Reddit – behind a profile or username that reveals little about the person behind it.
News of the hush-hush app project follows an uproar over a recent Facebook decision forcing users to use their real, legal names in their profiles. The company later backtracked.
“It’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in a Oct. 1 post that apologized to members offended by its real-name policy. “By differentiating the service from the rest of the Internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm.”
Facebook had come under fire for a real-name policy that critics say harmed a number of its users, especially those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community. The social network eventually yielded to demands that it let people to use names that were not their legal ones to identify themselves, in the interest of protecting those communities.
The anonymous app could relate to Facebook’s plans for support communities that would discuss and share on health and wellness topics, but it ould also be useful in a number of other ways. The project seems to have goals similar to those of Secret, the popular mobile app startup that fosters conversations among users, whose posts have nothing that ties them to their real name. The report did not say whether Facebook’s new app will connect with its main site, or allow the sharing of websites, photos and videos.
The Times report anonymously cites two people familiar with the matter who say the new app is being developed by a team led by Josh Miller, Facebook product manager and creator of Branch, a startup focused on small-scale Internet discussion groups. The secret team of Facebook employees has been working for the last year to allow users to register several pseudonyms, the report said.
The report said it was not clear how Facebook plans to protect against abuse of the new app, especially from spam and bullying. Facebook has defended its real-name policy in the past as a way to stifle online trolls.
“The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names,” Cox said, “and it’s both terrifying and sad.”