Anti-social networking – or how secrecy became all the rage

Cloak pulls in public location data to help you avoid people – and it's just the tip of the iceberg

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:26 ON Wed 26 Mar 2014

I ONCE had the misfortune of taking a new crush to my favourite restaurant before I had quite ended things with the fellow I was dating. 

I was happily chatting away to the new guy when I was passed a note. Opening it, I found in a familiar script a request for a cigarette (it was the 1990s). To my rising horror, I discovered that my still current – though not for long – fellow was sitting ten tables down, grimacing at me. 

Had I had the benefit of Cloak - an app which describes its mission as ‘Incognito Mode for Real Life’  - I could have avoided the awkward conversation which quickly followed with my dining companion.

By pulling public location information from Instagram and Foursquare accounts, Cloak would have warned me of the proximity of my soon-to–be ex - and I could have steered my new friend to a different restaurant.

Cloak, in short, helps you avoid bumping into people you'd rather not see. Chris Baker, the former creative director of Buzzfeed who co-created the app with programmer Brian Moore, told the Washington Post: "Personally, I think we've seen the crest of the big social network. 

"Things like Twitter and Facebook are packed elevators where we're all crammed in together – I think anti-social stuff is on the rise. You'll be seeing more and more of these types of projects."

The other news out from the world of Stealth is that Secret, the anonymous social network used primarily as a means to share hot gossip emanating from Silicon Valley, raised $8.6 million in investment.  It’s seen as the grown-up version of another anonymous networking site - Whisper - which as far as I can tell is a way of venting difficult emotions and getting free therapy from strangers.  

They’re part of the privacy theme which - in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden affair - is all the rage in the tech world.  Yet it’s important to note that Secret still requires you to register via your phone number or email address and Whisper uses your device’s ID which is linked to your real identity.  

It seems to me that the whole point of remaining anonymous is that you aren’t letting anyone know who you are.  Regardless of whether Obama calls for an end to the NSA spying on your communications in the next few days, most of us have had experience of our data being hacked. Apps like those mentioned above still leave you open to that. 

One of the reasons WhatsApp gained 465 million users was because it doesn’t require a real name, a birthday, an address or an email address to join (only a phone number.) Ongoing concerns over privacy are so great that Facebook last week publicly announced they’d keep the same policy once the deal goes through. 

Another company launching last week - Cloaq, as opposed to Cloak (surely we’ll soon run out of secretive names to eponomise these companies?) - promises to shroud your identity even further than Secret and Whisper by using a unique @id number. They claim, "even if there’s a hack, there’s no information to retrieve". 

While privacy concerns are indeed paramount, I think there's something deeper going on. 

I was struck by the huge popularity of the book ‘Quiet’ which promotes the power of introverts in a world where extroverts are constantly rewarded for getting ahead.  In this digitally connected world it’s near-impossible for even the most committed introvert to stay hidden all of the time.  

Meanwhile, even for the most electronically outgoing and social of us all, there are always questions we’d like answers to - or things we’d like to share - to which we’d rather not attach our names. This new movement has the ability to allow the most communicative - and the most cautious and restrained - some space to breathe that they didn’t have before.

Secret is the new Social. · 

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