TEL AVIV – A new Israeli invented app backed by popstars including Nicki Minaj and will.i.am has generated outcry among parents and politicians who are claiming that the anonymous text messaging platform is a weapon for cyber-bullying.
Blindspot, launched by Israeli company Shellanoo, has attracted 700,000 users since it was launched last month, making it Israel’s most downloaded social app during that time.
Advertisements for the app, which is being heavily marketed in the United States and Britain, ask, “What would you say to people you know if you were anonymous?”
According to Reuters, some teenagers love the app. “I use it a lot,” said Michael Bob, a high school student. “I curse out all the people who I hate and the ones I love I also curse… because I can.”
However Blindspot has been targeted for helping to create a virtual schoolyard where bullies can operate with impunity.
“Why wait for the next young person to commit suicide? Let’s stop this now,” 16-year old Ofri Atarchi told Channel 2 television.
Israeli lawmakers, as well as parents’ associations, are urging people not to allow their children to download the app. Blindspot’s disclaimer says users under 16 should have parental approval.
A free, Israeli-designed counter-app called Safe Spot was even released with the aim of alerting parents to Blindspot use by their children.
However, Shellanoo claims that it is being singled out because of its famous backers and celebrity links. Dor Refaeli, an employee of the company and the brother of supermodel Bar Refaeli, said that he was being bombarded with hundreds of abusive messages after someone published his phone number online.
“It’s a little ironic that I am being accused of bullying and shaming and the only one who’s under attack is me,” he said, adding that Blindspot was conceived to give shy people a voice.
Blindspot requires users to register with their phone number, which is withheld from texts they send. Recipients, prompted by SMS, must themselves download the free app to see any messages, photos or videos sent.
Secret.ly was a similar U.S. app that was shut down last year after its founder acknowledged complaints about abusive messaging.
Blindspot offers a block function that prevents a user from using the app with his or her phone number after three blocks are sent by message recipients. Users can also flag abuse to the company itself, which according to its founders, has happened with less than 1% of the 50 million texts sent so far.
The chairman of the Israeli Knesset’s house committee is so alarmed by Blindspot’s potential as a vehicle for bullying that he has introduced a proposal that would make the company legally responsible for any bullying and could ban the app.