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Anonymous Social Networking App Works Hard to Keep Users Unseen

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After realizing users were making themselves seen to continue anonymous exchanges via outside messaging services, the developers behind the Unseen social network app have sewn end-to-end encryption and ephemeral messaging into the platform's network.

Developed by startup Bearch of Austin, Texas, Unseen seeks to capitalize on the increasingly popular types of off-the-grid social networks people flock to in order to avoid the eyes and assumptions of co-workers and casual associates. Even Facebook has opened its new Rooms platform and is ushering in those who seek a bit of privacy.

Unseen users trade messages anonymously, but in an open group chat forum. When Unseen users wanted to move the conversation out of the app to direct messaging, they would first publicly swap Snapchat IDs or phone numbers in the group comments, explains Michael Schramm, co-founder and CEO.

"We thought this was awesome, but it raised some security concerns that people were publicly posting identifying info," Schramm tells Tech Times. "We addressed this concern by introducing a secure, direct messaging piece with our latest version. So now, if people want to exchange phone numbers, they can do that in private instead of out in the open."

Now, when a pair of Unseen users initiate a conversation, the app hands both parties a pair of randomly generated keys so devices can unlock the encrypted messages they to each other send over Bearch's servers.

"The recipient is the only person who can retrieve the message because their device is the only one with a key that can decrypt its contents. And after the recipient has read the message, it self-destructs," Schramm explains.

Because it's the app that generates the keys, even Unseen's developers are unable to decrypt any messages that pass through or sit on the company's servers. All of the messages on Unseen's servers are "scrambled beyond recognition," protecting user exchanges from security breaches, says Schramm.

A recent Pew Research Center study reported 44 percent of respondents erroneously believe a privacy policy inherently protects their exchanges from being shared. While that figure is down from 57 percent as reported in a 2003 University of Pennsylvania study, it illustrates the continued confusion over data ownership.

"A significant portion of the public has been burned by cryptic privacy policies or security vulnerabilities in the products they use, and it's becoming increasingly clear that people wish they had more control over their personal information and photos," says Schramm. "If Unseen is going to empower consumers to use technology to speak openly, then our users need to trust that their communications are safe."

The Unseen photo-sharing app is available in both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store. There is a wait list for the app, as Bearch intends to keep Unseen's growth consistent with its own, and it serves mainly colleges thus far.

"We're growing fast, but we want to make sure we grow right," says Schramm. "The wait list helps us keep expansion in check so we can ensure that everyone using Unseen enjoys the experience."

Right now, the Unseen updates have only been applied to the iOS version of the app. Bearch hopes to refresh the Android version of Unseen at some point in January of 2015. Bearch raised a $2.1 million seed round of financing in August.

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