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Facebook Lets Users Go Anonymous with Rooms

Picture 10-30-2014Facebook’s adamant refusal to allow people to create profiles with pseudonyms or alternate names is what led them to coming under fire recently. As I’ve mentioned before, rival social network Ello reaped the benefits of this incident, pulling in Facebook users looking for a social network with no ads where they could use whatever name they felt comfortable with. Interestingly enough, Facebook responded in turn earlier this month with rumblings that they would be launching a mobile application of their own that would allow for anonymous chatting, seemingly against their own established policies.

With other social media apps already existing to serve this purpose like Secret and Whisper, as well as the fact that Facebook had recently come under fire for their refusal to allow pseudonyms on their primary social network, a number of news blogs were skeptical about Facebook’s sudden half-baked changed of heart. What would draw new users in that they couldn’t get from other applications? However, Facebook pushed forward and proved that these rumors were true last week with the launch of an app called Rooms.

Rooms intends to separate itself from other anonymous chatting apps by allowing users to set up discussion spaces regarding any topic. Text, photos, videos, and comments can be shared with others who are using Rooms, which doesn’t require a Facebook account or even an email address. These Rooms can be shared using invitations that look like QR codes, requiring you to take a picture of the invitation, which will then allow you to sign into the Room. These invite codes can be posted anywhere online or shared privately and the creator of a Room has moderation controls.

Some media blogs continue to be skeptical about Facebook’s first endeavor into anonymity, and not even because the launch of this app seems hypocritical in the wake of recent events. Gizmodo referred to Rooms as “unnecessarily complicated” in reference to the app’s requirement of QR codes for invitations. They also acknowledged that Facebook hasn’t had the best track record with their standalone apps (such as Slingshot), so it remains to be seen if Rooms will take off the way that Facebook wants it to.

Secrecy, Privacy, and Ephemerality in Social Media

Picture 9-11-2014In a world where millions of people post every thought, photograph, or video to our social media profiles, we have effectively given up our privacy. And yet we still cling to the idea of privacy, even if that just means setting some sort of limit to the people who see all the things we’re posting for everyone else to see. Social media security has been a hot-button issue for this reason and over the course of the past couple of years, there have been a large number of breaches and hacks where social media users’ information has been compromised. I’ve talked before about hacks that affected Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, but these are not the only social media networks and apps that have had breaches in their security.

Back in June, the simplistic social media app Yo was hacked by three college students, who were able to get the phone numbers and contacts of every Yo user as well as being able to send them false messages that appeared to be from other users. Considering Yo was developed in merely eight hours, it wasn’t a huge surprise that there were security issues, but what’s disturbing is how quickly users latched on to the new hot social media app without considering that their personal information might be at stake. The social network Secret was marketed as the ‘anonymous social network’ but hackers last month were able to find an easy way to make it a lot less anonymous.

Though Yo and Secret have issued fixes to these security breaches, as have the larger, more popular social networks, it would not be crazy to say that our faith in social network security is waning. Facebook is making efforts to change things; they acquired a cybersecurity start-up company called PrivateCore last month in an effort to help protect the data of Facebook users. However, with the state of social media privacy and security still unsure, there are other things people and social networks are turning to (including Facebook).

Ephemerality is the nature of apps like Snapchat, Bolt, Slingshot, and plenty of similar social media applications. The idea here is to ensure some manner of privacy by making messages, photos, and videos only appear temporarily before being deleted forever. Recently, Facebook began testing their own new ephemeral feature, which will allow users to use a ‘Choose Expiration’ function. This feature will give posts a life expectancy from anywhere between an hour and a week. Thus far, this feature has only been available to a small set of users operating Facebook for iOS and it is unclear what the future of the feature may be.