Anonymous social apps targeting teens haven’t gone away after Snapchat’s new policy, which earlier this year banned the integration of these types of social experiences with the developer platform. Instead, the apps have simply found a new way to reach young people: via Instagram. In recent weeks, new apps like Send for Instagram and NGL launched anonymous Q&A apps that allow users to post “ask me something” questions on Instagram to receive anonymous responses from friends. Teens flocked to the apps, both of which rose to the top of the App Store after launch.
History has shown that these kinds of social experiences are often problematic. Online anonymity among teens often leads to bullying and abuse. For example, Snapchat eventually chose to suspend anonymous apps on its platform after getting sued several times by families whose teens died by suicide after being bullied on Snapchat-connected anonymous messaging apps. Lawmakers and regulators have also pressured social platforms to: implement more safeguards for their youngest users.
But since attention is now mainly focused on how Great technology tackles issues surrounding online safety for younger users, indie apps like Sendit and NGL have been able to fly under the radar. And like the anonymous apps that came before them, they’ve taken off quickly.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the anonymous question-and-answer app Sendit for Instagram was launched on June 24, 2022 and immediately saw 117,000 installs within its first two days, reaching No. 3 in the US App Store. The app now has somewhere north of 150,000 installs, Sensor Tower says, but exact estimates aren’t available. another company, data.ai (formerly App Annie), sees the app with 266,000 iOS downloads but has no Google Play data.
It has since changed its name to Sendit – Q&A on Instagram. Data.ai also noted that the app shot to #1 in the Social Networking category and in general in non-gaming apps in the US App Store from June 23, 2022 to June 28, 2022 at launch.
The same company behind Sendit for Instagram also operates a version of Sendit aimed at Snapchat, which has more than 18 million lifetime installs and has generated more than $11 million in consumer spending to date, Sensor Tower said.
Meanwhile, the anonymous Q&A app NGL launched on Dec. 10, 2021 and has seen more than 3.5 million installs to date, data from Sensor Tower shows. It first reached #1 on the US App Store on June 16, 2022 and now has over $1 million in consumer spending. Data.ai had estimated that the number of downloads was even higher: about 5 million.
However, there are concerns that these apps don’t necessarily work up and down.
For starters, Sendit to Instagram users complained in reviews that the app had originally marketed itself as “Sendit Reveal” during the pre-order phase. According to the reviews, the company had promised a new Sendit app that would reveal which friends had sent the anonymous messages. This was clearly a big draw for the app’s young users, as everyone wanted to know who said what.
App Store screenshots from the time confirmed this to be the case.
The marketing strategy worked. Users’ demand for “Reveal” helped install the app, which was renamed Sendit – for Instagram after launch.
Sendit founder Hunter Rice was approached for comment about what appeared to be a bait-and-switch technique for recruiting users. The problem was not addressed immediately. He suggested that our coverage of this amounted to “clickbait”.
“There are a lot of great things about what we do that are newsworthy,” Rice told londonbusinessblog.com. “You can have your fun with this topic, but I’m only interested in talking about real news,” he said.
But an analysis of App Store reviews at least indicates that users felt they were misled by the previous branding and expected a very different experience.
The company behind Sendit, Fullsenders (which now also calls itself Icon Hearts on its website), had another viral hit last year with an app called Push It. The social app had also climbed to the top of the App Store. At the time, users complained that the app used bots to answer fake questions — things they knew their friends would never have asked, they said. Rice had denied using bots at the time.
The flagship version of the company’s Sendit app saw similar complaints about bots, as did the new Instagram version. App Store reviews have been re-filled with users questioning the legitimacy of the questions’ origins.
Essentially a clone of Sendit, the new NGL app also allows users to post anonymous Q&As on Instagram. To set itself apart, the app touts its “world class” [sic] AI content moderation,” which claims to filter out bullying and harassment.
As it turns out, there aren’t many bullying complaints among the app’s 68,000+ App Store reviews. But there are some people who complain about bots asking them false questions here as well. Much like the concerns consumers had expressed about Fullsenders’ apps, many NGL users insist they see questions they believe weren’t sent in by their friends. Notably, the app charges users a $10-per-week subscription to “reveal” who sent the question. Users also complain that this paid service only provides hints like what kind of phone the user has or what region he lives in.
NGL did not respond to a request for comment.
londonbusinessblog.com has tested both apps, NGL and Sendit for Instagram. We copied the personalized links and posted them to an Instagram story that was only shown to ‘Close Friends’, then immediately deleted the post so no one would see it. This tricked the apps into thinking we’d published our link so friends could comment. Several hours later, both apps sent us a series of questions purportedly sent by “friends.” The questions were harmless, like “the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?” (Send) or “what was the best day so far this year?” (NGL), for example.
No one had access to the links we created, so these were clearly automated posts.
We asked Instagram if any of these apps integrated with its platform through Meta’s developer tools, namely: governed by its platform policies† Meta has not been able to provide this information so far.
App intelligence company Apptopia told us that it currently only has visibility into NGL and found that it uses the Facebook SDK in the Google Play version, but not in the iOS app. Neither Sensor Tower nor data.ai had insight into the components of either app, they said.
Since the apps only provide the ability to link to Stories, they don’t necessarily rely on technical integrations offered through Meta developer tools to function. That means they wouldn’t be held responsible by Meta’s developer policy regarding anonymous messaging apps either.
Meta’s policy seems more lenient than Snap’s, as it allows for anonymous messaging if apps offer a blocking feature. †Section 8.8.2.a of the policy statements† “Pages or apps should not allow for personal messages, relays, or interactions that mask user identities from each other without giving individual users the ability to block other users within the messaging experience.”) Meta’s policy also prohibits bots under the spam section (8.8.2.b).
Recently, it appeared that Meta took action against NGL when users started reporting that Instagram was removing the links to the NGL app from their Instagram Stories. But Instagram told us that NGL had access to the link feature that was “accidentally” revoked and access has since been restored.
These Instagram-bound mobile apps come at a time when Snapchat is looking to tighten up the way third parties use its platform tools. That change could affect Sendit’s grip. The app had benefited from Snapchat’s previous ban on the anonymous apps YOLO and LMK, which were cited in lawsuits. But now Sendit is among those who should be banned from the platform under Snap’s new developer policy. (Snap told londonbusinessblog.com last month that it had given Sendit more time to comply with its policy after the developer requested an extension.)
Investing in the anonymous social space of the consumer almost never pays off in the long run. The web is littered with failed anonymous social apps that had to shut down due to bullying and other issues, including Ask.fm, Yik Yak, After School, Secret, Yolo and Sarahaamong other things.
In previous years, the app stores themselves had even taken action against apps that offered anonymous messaging experiences. Sarahah was for example Banned from both Google Play and Apple’s App Store after accusations it facilitated bullying. Today, Apple pushes for a range of safeguards for any app that contains user-generated content, but does not ban the anonymous social category in general.
It’s not clear whether the app stores will take action against these new anonymous apps, despite the way they mislead their young users about the nature of the incoming messages, which are sent by bots and not really from friends.
Without enforced policies, there will always be a new breed of developers willing to risk long-term success for short-term gains. In fact, the business models for this latest group of apps depend on the lack of policies and regulations in this market.