Top anonymous social app NGL forced to stop tricking its users – TechCrunch

A popular anonymous social app that misled its users with fake messages was forced to change. Top app NGL, which became the #1 US app store in June, quietly rolled out an update yesterday that now lets users know when they’re receiving messages that aren’t from their friends – just like users are previously were previously made to believe. Previously, NGL would send these fake messages to create interactions and then charge for “tips” on the sender of the message.

The app has now also lowered its subscription prices, which promises to reveal details about who is behind the anonymous messages.

NGL is one of a handful of anonymous social apps that recently turned its attention to Instagram after Snapchat used its developer tools to crack down on apps of this type, as part of Snap’s broader effort to reduce harm to minors.

To use NGL, users tap a button in the app to copy a unique URL that they can share with friends and followers across the web.

Photo credit: Entry in the NGL App Store

While Snap could prevent direct integrations with its own developer tools, NGL users could still copy and paste the special link into their Snapchat stories or wherever they wanted – like Twitter or any other app. However, a “Share” button in the app made it easy to post directly to Instagram Stories. Then, when others saw the link in their friend’s story or post, they could click it to ask that person a question anonymously. These questions would appear as messages in the NGL app’s “Inbox” for users to read and respond to.

However, NGL had a trick up its sleeve. If users don’t get any interaction on their shared link, the app will automatically generate messages itself. Users had no real way of knowing that these messages were actually fake questions the app was sending them. But many suspected it was, as the questions sounded like things their friends wouldn’t ask. (We confirmed the messages were fake by generating an NGL link but not sharing it. We then received messages).

NGL’s app reviews were filled with complaints that their questions seemed to come from bots. Worse, the app developer demanded “hints” from users to learn more about who asked the question. This means that in some cases, users have paid for hints about bots! This could be seen as a scam. (We encourage affected users to request refunds from Apple.)

The NGL app takes its inspiration from competitor Sendit, a similar social app that also offers a variety of Snapchat games. In fact, the creator of Sendit is now suing NGL for stealing his ideas – the NGL developer previously worked on Sendit before realizing the potential of simply cloning the idea and raking in the money himself. As it turns out, there’s quite a bit to do here. By July, NGL had surpassed 15 million downloads and generated $2.4 million in revenue from the sale of its subscriptions.

TechCrunch had called NGL about their deceptive tactics and apparently someone was listening. (Actually, we heard there was a discussion between the developer and Apple about this). NGL has not commented.

Yesterday, NGL issued an update that now stipulates that it will tag its fake messages with a tag that reads “sent with ❤️ by the NGL team.” This is to indicate that the message is not from a friend but from the app itself. (The wording could arguably be clearer. Some users — particularly in the young adult demographic — might interpret this tag as simply conveying the message from the app.)

These messages also do not display a login prompt. In addition, the subscription cost has been reduced slightly, from $9.99/week to $6.99/week, and now includes features other than “Hints”. For example, it advertises that users get “early access” to exclusive games in addition to the anonymous questions and answers. One of the paid games is already included – an anonymous confession game.

App competitor Sendit’s Q&A feature had worked the same way, and it too just upgraded its subscription. Instead of charging just for hints, Sendit “Diamond members” can now reveal the sender’s name and Bitmoji (in some cases), access exclusive games, unlock a custom icon, and remove ads from the experience, the app claims. However, pricing still remains at $9.99 per week.

Although the viral excitement surrounding these apps has since died down somewhat, they still remain high-profile. NGL is the #9 lifestyle app on the US App Store and Sendit is the #12 social networking app. Top anonymous social app NGL forced to stop tricking its users – TechCrunch

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