Anonymity is a touchy subject. Forcing people to do everything in their own name imposes a kind of self-censorship that can limit debate, but the level of malicious trolling that exists online sometimes makes you wish people would hold back a little bit. If there’s a balance between the two it’s hard to find, but a new app called Truth (h/t Kyle Russell at TechCrunch) seems to get it exactly wrong.

Truth App

Truth intended for flirting, but easily abusable

Truth is fairly simple, you send a message to someone on your contact list via the app and it either delivers it anonymously through the app if they also have it installed or from a random California phone number. Either way, there’s no obvious way for them to know who sent it (we’ll let the security experts weigh in on whether it’s actually impossible). The app is billing itself as a tool for flirting, and we can grant them that some people may use it in that way, but harassment and stalking are the most obvious uses.

But the messaging isn’t actually anonymous, it’s just hidden from the person who receives the text message. Truth requires your email address to create an account, and since you are sending text messages to people you know through its platform it can gather a lot of information about you, which essentially always amounts to targeted marketing.

Truth seems to be gathering data under the guise of anonymity

It’s interesting that while the Truth app seems to be giving people a new privacy tool, it’s really just another form of the same unceasing data-gathering ethos behind Google’s recently abandoned ‘real name’ policy for YouTube comments. That policy was ostensibly meant to civilize the YouTube comment section, but everyone understood that it was really meant to give Google+ a boost while acquiring even more information about people online.

There’s clearly a lot of interest in apps that allow for easy-to-use anonymous communication, but before anyone declares themselves champions of online privacy and free discussion they will have to create a service that puts users in control of their own information. A really useful system for anonymous discussion put users in control of their own information, use an opt-in structure to curb harassment, and have an intuitive interface all on a secure platform. Unfortunately, it’s not clear how you would make any money once you were done.