byttow

Earlier this month, Pando’s Sarah Lacy wrote that Secret’s investors should “stop trying to justify the lies and libel of Secret.” In response, Secret’s co-founder, David Byttow responded in the worst possible way, revealing that he only cared about teen bullying and suicides if they threatened to cause a PR backlash.

A few minutes later, that backlash began.

First the Huffington Post picked up our story, linking to it from their front page, under the headline “Founder of hit app pretty much doesn’t care if causes teen suicides.” Other news outlets were quick to follow up, with Fortune’s Dan Primack delivering a hell of a scoop: That Secret wasn’t deleting blatantly libelous posts, in breach of their own safety guarantees. Campaigners for teen mental health soon weighed in, with one telling Pando that Secret was “too busy raising money to care” about teen suicide.

Speaking after their purchase of Ask.fm, Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds was quick to distance himself from the company’s past, but also from apps like Secret, telling Pando: “A lot is being allowed to happen [in bullying apps] due to the philosophy of leadership.” Just this past week, Brazil became the first country to attempt to ban the app over bullying concerns.

Today, almost a month after Pando’s initial report, Secret has finally responded to the still-mounting backlash, updating its app in an apparently serious attempt to clamp down on bullying. In doing so, however, it has been forced to block much of the functionality that made it popular in the first place.

In a blog post published earlier today, the company announced a number of feature updates in its new app.

First, Secret is taking steps to block users from using real names in posts. It’s much harder (but not impossible, obviously) to libel someone if you can’t use their name.

We’ve learned that the vast majority of great secrets don’t have names in them, and the few that do usually aren’t productive and can even be harmful. We’ve changed our position on the use of real names and, in addition to discouraging their use, we’re actively blocking posts containing names of private individuals whenever possible. We will invest heavily here to make sure the system improves over time.

Also, as we reported here, teen users were flooding Secret’s app store reviews to beg the company to stop allowing bullies to post unflattering or even pornographic photos of their victims. Today Secret banned this too, banning uploads from users’ photo albums and insisting that only photos taken through the app can be uploaded. Again, there are ways to hack that system, but it’s a big positive step.

Images were always intended to be the backdrop and set the mood for your words. As of today, you’ll have access to billions of high quality photos from Flickr to use as the backdrop of your Secret. In exchange, you’ll no longer be able to use images from your photo library – but you can still take photos in real-time.

In addition, the company claims it is continuing to beef up its detection and prevention technology. It’s also implementing a more simple method of preventing cruel messages from being posted: A pop-up which asks users if they’re sure they want to post something that appears to be bullying.

The idea of forcing teens to rethink before posting was recently mooted by Illinois 8th grader, Trisha Prabhu, at a Google Science Fair event. Explains Elite Daily

Her project, entitled “Rethink,” is an app that allows the user to give a second thought to a potentially harmful post.

It would be compatible with various social media apps, and work as an add-on that automatically sends a notice to the author to rethink his or her post, giving the user a chance to change or delete something that could potentially cause great damage.

It’s not clear if Secret was inspired by Prabhu’s project or if David Byttow is, yunno, as smart as an 8th grader. Either way, it’s another significant move towards cleaning up the app.

For all the company’s better-late-than-never efforts, however, there might be another reason why Secret is about to get a lot less scandalous, and a lot less popular. A few hours before Secret announced its upgrade, Wired reported a major security hole that allowed Secrets to be connected to their original poster…

At this moment, Caudill could type in any Secret user’s e-mail address or phone number and decloak that person’s secrets… In an interview with WIRED this week, Secret CEO David Byttow confirmed the vulnerability, and said the company has blocked the attack and begun a post-mortem.

If any more vulnerabilities like that come to light, maybe the next big change Secret makes will be to rebrand itself as “Crickets.”