How a Little Secret Can Get You into Big Trouble

Many tech companies promise anonymity, but circumstances can change their minds — and users feel betrayed. We discuss why keeping your customers' trust should be your priority.

Truth telling copywriting services

Anonymous doesn’t always mean anonymous—just ask the 4.6 million Snapchat users whose private data leaked last year. Yet, more and more apps promise full or partial anonymity to users.

Controversial secret-sharing apps Whisper and Secret are the latest to make a splash among the media, parents, and techies. The apps allow users to create meme-style posts using text and a photo of their choice. A whopping 45% of Whisper users post something on the app every day.

Proponents applaud secret-sharing apps for creating safe spaces where people can share without judgment. Meanwhile, critics see the apps as platforms ripe for bullying and slander—and potentially dangerous exposure.

Building a Community on Anonymity

Perhaps riding the popularity of Frank Warren’s ongoing, interactive art project PostSecret, Whisper and Secret bill themselves as digital spheres where users can leave their egos at home and connect with one another on an emotional level.

Secret’s homepage reads: “It’s not about who you are—it’s about what you say. It’s not about bragging—it’s about sharing, free of judgment.”

In a recent TechCrunch Disrupt panel discussion, Whisper co-founder Michael Heyward said, “Whisper is all about creating a place of authenticity and a place of openness.” He also cited how constructed social media personas are and presented Whisper as a profound alternative.

A Safe Space… for Some

In the same TechCrunch panel, Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital (investors in Whisper) explicitly condoned whistleblowing on the Whisper app: “Whistleblowing has an important role [in creating a more tolerant society]. And you can think of some of the functions of Whisper as enabling… Grassroots whistleblowing.”

Here’s where things get hairy.  Both companies collect enough user information to easily identify users—and despite what Botha claims, will turn that information over to employers and law enforcement at the first sign of controversy. According to WIRED:

“[Whisper and Secret’s] broad exceptions in their anonymity protections make the companies’ services legal scandals waiting to happen at best. And at worst, they’re a trap for anyone who uses them to spill secrets that violate an NDA or a security clearance.”

When asked about whistleblowers after the panel, Heyward loosely quoted the Whisper Terms of Services: “This is not a place to come break the law. We’re not proponents of harboring criminals.”

An Image and Marketing Issue

Heyward claims, “[Whisper is] in the business of the truth.” However, based on its Terms of Services, Whisper feels no obligation to protect its whistleblowing users—even if what they say is true.

As copywriters, we believe in saying and writing what you mean. Whether you’re copywriting for a business or running it, you shouldn’t make claims you can’t back up. We understand the need to comply with law enforcement, avoid controversy, and honor NDAs. However, building an honest relationship with your end user is just as important as staying out of trouble.

If you say you’re in the business of truth, you better mean it, and be willing to face the consequences. And if you aren’t? Don’t give people the impression you are. That’s truth telling—and human marketing—101.


Photo courtesy of photostock /

Gregory Lewis

Gregory Lewis

A winsome wordsmith, Gregory M. Lewis loves nothing better than absorbing new information and crystallizing it into clear, captivating copy. Greg brings his incisive insight and easy-going approach to every project. In his free time, the Chicago native can be spotted at Nets games, art galleries, and local concerts in Brooklyn.

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