Unseen, the private photo sharing app, has become a popular outlet for anonymous sharing on college campuses across the nation. We corresponded with Unseen CEO Michael Schramm on the app’s policies, the recent direct messaging update and how secure users’ photos really are.
Sidelines: How did the app come about? What did you hope to accomplish by creating Unseen?
Schramm: We created Unseen for the generation that has come of age using Facebook. There’s a huge amount of pressure to look cool and employable online, so people get wrapped up with their own image on social media. Not to mention, you don’t really own any of the information you post to your public profiles. We wanted to create a place where users could share experiences, without having to worry about what their friends are going to think or if their digital footprint is going to come back to haunt them one day.
Sidelines: Why only photos as opposed to a text-based system that apps like Yik Yak use?
Schramm: When it comes to sharing real-time events and experiences, there is an air of authenticity associated with photos that’s missing from text-only mediums. You can write 200 characters about how your roommate is a slob, or you can take a picture of his side of the room. Photos are raw and allow people to draw their own conclusions; they aren’t shaped by the person taking the photo to the same extent that a textual account is shaped by the person writing it.
Sidelines: There are many pieces of content on Unseen that many think are inappropriate, whether it be sexually explicit, drug-related, etc. Tell us a little about the moderation process and what is deemed acceptable/unacceptable on the app.
Schramm: A big part of the reason we created Unseen was so that people could share images and say what’s on their mind without having to worry about people judging them. So as moderators, we don’t judge. Want to get feedback about how your butt looks today? Go for it. Want to brag about how much weed you smoke? Go for it. Allowing for content like this lets users know that when they have a deeper issue to talk about one day, say, body image issues, or drug addiction, they can do that on Unseen.
Legally, we have to remove posts that solicit the sale of drugs, and in order to be in the app store, we have to remove posts that depict full nudity. But beyond that, we want Unseen to be a place where anyone can feel comfortable hanging out and contributing, so we work hard to remove content that can ruin that for others. Nobody wants to be in an app full of trolls. If something is graphic or offensive purely for the sake of being graphic or offensive, we take it down.
Sidelines: The most recent update added a direct messaging function to the app. How did that come about?
Schramm: In the previous version of Unseen, we built the app with user privacy at the top of our priorities list. All of the content was public, but we made sure that there was no metadata that could possibly link the content you post to the device you posted it from. But what we saw was that users were really eager to connect with one another outside of the app, and would often swap Snapchat handles or phone numbers in the comments. We thought it was great that people were meeting through Unseen, but we wanted to make sure that identifying info wasn’t being shared out in the open. Introducing direct messaging was the natural progression.
Sidelines: With the recent iCloud and Snapchat hacks, many are hesitant to use apps like Unseen. What security measures have been implemented to ensure photos are truly anonymous and not able to be intercepted by third-parties?
Schramm: As we build Unseen, events like this are at the forefront of our thinking, too. The direct messaging function on Unseen is incredibly secure. All of your messages are encrypted end-to-end with keys that are generated and stored only by the sender and recipient. That means that no one could intercept them in transit, or access them by hacking into our servers, or build a third-party app around our platform.
If you want to read more about the specifics of how secure our direct messaging feature is, we’ve written a blog post that goes more in-depth: http://blog-getunseen.tumblr.com/post/102908087322/introducing-secure-private-messaging
Sidelines: What are the plans for the future of Unseen?
Schramm: We’re rolling out to more schools every week! We’re growing fast, but taking the time to make sure we grow right.
For our list of essential apps for college students, click here.