JERUSALEM – It was supposed to be another fun way of connecting with people, but the anonymous messaging app Blindspot, launched last month by Israeli company Shellanoo, has come under fire from parents, educators and lawmakers who believe it’s a new way for cyberbullying to flourish.
Billed as a “fun, anonymous messaging app that allows you to express yourself freely with friends,” Blindspot is already one of the most popular downloads in Israel’s iPhone and Android app stores.
More than 720,000 people have downloaded it worldwide, and the company is gearing up for a big promotional push in the U.S. next week. In less than a month, 54 million anonymous messages have been sent using Blindspot.
Forbes has called it "the next big messaging app."
“What would you say to people you know if you were anonymous?” ask the creators in the online description.
The logo is a cheeky yellow emoji with a menacing eye patch and teasing red tongue.
“If you are going to say something nice, you wouldn’t send it anonymously,” said lawmaker Meirav Ben-Ari, according to newsagency AFP. During a stormy session in Israel’s parliament last week, political leaders said the app could be used for bullying that might even lead to suicide. They want it banned.
Social activists have also protested the app by releasing a 20-second video clip depicting distraught parents reciting the Jewish burial prayer as another emoji, its mouth turned down at the corners, is placed in a grave.
High schools countrywide have warned parents against allowing their children to download it (messages can only be read if the app is installed) and some of the reviews in the App Store are simply creepy:
“My son killed himself,” reads one posting from Ymac101. “He killed himself after kids from his school mocked and cursed him in this darn app. When I found him it was too late.”
Another reviewer calls Blindspot a “Bullies Shelter.”
“I think the concern is not just about Blindspot but about all new technology in general, and I can understand that,” said David Strauss, head of media relations at the Shellanoo Group.
But, he said: “There is no such thing as a mean app or a mean knife, there is only mean people. Bullying existed before Blindspot and will exist after it, too.”
It's possible that the app has courted such controversy because of the host of celebrities involved in its financing and development.
Shellanoo, which produces security software and other technology products, counts among its shareholders musicians such as Nicki Manaj, Will I. Am and DJ David Guetta. Businessman and British football club owner Roman Abramovich is also an investor.
In addition, the team that developed the app includes Dor Refaeli, the brother of Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli.
Strauss said that even though Dor Refaeli is not a shareholder of the company, “he has been made a target” of the anti-Blindspot campaign. As part of the backlash, an Israeli journalist published Dor’s private phone number on Facebook and invited people to send him anonymous messages of their own.
Dor received hundreds of phone calls, including many death threats, Strauss said.
“Blindspot is definitely one of our livelier products and I understand that anonymous messaging is controversial but we did not invent the concept,” he said.