A popular anonymous social app that was misleading its users with false reports was forced to change. Top rated app NGLwhich became app #1 in the US App Store in June quietly rolled out an update yesterday that sees it now inform users when they receive messages that aren’t from their friends – as users were previously led to believe. NGL used to send these fake messages as a means of creating engagement, then charge for “hints” to the sender of the message.
The app has already reduced its subscription price, which promises to reveal details about who is behind the anonymous messages.
NGL is one of a handful of anonymous social apps that have been around recently turned their attention to Instagram after Snapchat cracked down on apps of this kind using its developer tools, as part of Snap’s broader efforts to reduce harm to minors.
To use NGL, users will tap a button in the app to copy a unique URL that they can share with friends and followers on the web.
While Snap may prevent direct integrations with its own developer tools, NGL users can still copy and paste the special link into their Snapchat Stories or wherever they choose — like Twitter or any other app. However, the Share button in the app makes it easy to post directly to Instagram Stories. Then, when others see the link to their friend’s story or post, they can click it to anonymously ask that person a question. These questions would appear as messages in NGL’s in-app “Inbox” for users to read and respond to.
However, NGL had a trick up its sleeves. If users have not engaged with their shared connection, the app itself will automatically generate messages. Users had no real way of knowing that these messages were actually fake questions that the app was sending them. But many suspected this was the case, as the questions sounded like things their friends wouldn’t ask. (We confirmed the messages were fake by generating an NGL link, but didn’t share it. Then we got messages).
Reviews of NGL’s app are full of complaints that its questions seem to come from bots. Worse, the app’s developer charged users for “hints” to learn more about who was asking the question. This means that users have paid, in some cases, for advice about bots! This could be considered cheating. (We would advise affected users to request refunds from Apple.)
The NGL app got its ideas from rival Sendit, a similar social app that also offers a variety of Snapchat games. In fact, The manufacturer of Sendit is now suing NGL for stealing his ideas — the NGL developer had previously worked on Sendit before realizing the potential to simply clone the idea and make the money himself. As it turns out, there is work here. By July, NGL had surpassed 15 million downloads and has grossed $2.4 million in revenue by selling their subscriptions.
TechCrunch called out NGL for their misleading tactics, and apparently someone was listening. (In fact, we understand there was a discussion between the developer and Apple about this). NGL has not commented.
NGL issued an update yesterday that now sees it label its fake messages with a label that reads “sent with ❤️ by the NGL team”. This means that the message is not from a friend, but from the app itself. (Arguably, the wording could be clearer. Some users—especially among their target market of young adults—could interpret this tag to mean that the message is simply being delivered by the app.)
These messages also do not show a subscription prompt. In addition, the subscription price was slightly reduced, from $9.99/week to $6.99/week, and now includes other features beyond “tips”. For example, it advertises to users that they will get “early access” to exclusive games in addition to anonymous questions and answers. One of the paid games is already included — an anonymous confession game.
The Q&A feature of the rival app Sendit used to work much the same way and has just updated its subscription. Now, instead of just charging for tips, Sendit “Diamond members” can 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, its price still remains at $9.99 per week.
Although the viral buzz surrounding these apps has died down a bit since then, they still remain highly ranked. NGL is the number 9 app on the US App Store lifestyle charts, and Sendit is the number 12 social networking app.