The Wickr Timed Feed is a service that hides images in plain sight, slipping private pictures behind adorable cat photos, and allowing only authorized parties to see beyond the wall of fur.
The WTF feature is the latest creation from Wickr, which makes a private messaging platform for users to exchange secure communications. WTF, available only on iOS devices for now, uses the spy tactic known as steganography to hide a message in plain sight.
For cover, WTF uses pictures of cats to allow users to exchange private pictures in public places such as Facebook's news feed. Uninvited parties will only see cats doing cat things, while those privy to the hidden message will be directed to the location of the private images.
Images posted to Wickr's new service have a life span of 24 hours, which explains the "T" in WTF. WTF users can invite up to 151 friends to their WTF feeds, using the cat images to notify privy parties when new images are up.
Nico Sell, co-founder and CEO of Wickr, says his company picked cat images because media reports claim about 15 percent of all Internet traffic in 2013 was related to cats and 3.8 million feline videos were shared in 2014. Cats go viral more than any other animal and, according to Google, people search "cats" more than 30 million times per month, he says.
"As cats are tremendously popular on the Internet, this is the most fun and best way to hide secret messages," says Sell. "The people that you want to see the pictures can see them and the people that you don't, can't."
As with other private messaging platforms, Wickr has faced questions about the possibility of extremist groups using the service to communicate. About a month and a half before Wickr released WTF, Sell took to a blog to express his organization's stance on privacy.
Wickr believes enabling users to communicate safely helps preserve a free society, says Sell. Everyone from whistle-blowers and activists to journalists and gamers rely on tools like WTF, he says.
"People engaged in misconduct and violations of the law may be using Wickr," said Sell. "Just as they will also be using Wi-Fi, telephones, banking systems, automobiles and shoes, this does not mean that we should cease the use of high or low tech because some people have chosen to do wrong."