A popular anonymous social app that tricked its users with fake messages has been forced to change. The top-ranked NGL app, which became the #1 app on the US App Store in June, quietly rolled out an update yesterday that sees it now notify users when they receive messages that don’t come from not from their friends – as the users had done. been led to believe before. Previously, NGL sent these fake messages as a way to create engagement and then charged “hints” on the sender of the message.
The app has also dropped the price of its subscription, which promises to reveal details about who is behind the anonymous posts.
NGL is one of the few anonymous social apps that has recently turned its attention to Instagram after Snapchat cracked down on apps of this nature using its developer tools, as part of Snap’s broader efforts to reduce damage to minors.
To use NGL, users had to press a button in the app to copy a unique URL that they could share with friends and followers on the web.
Picture credits: NGL App Store Listing
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, such as Twitter or any other app. However, a “Share” button in the app made it easy to post directly to Instagram Stories. Then, when other people saw the link on their friend’s Story or post, they could click on it to ask that person a question anonymously. These questions would appear as messages in NGL’s built-in “inbox” for users to read and respond to.
However, NGL had a trick up its sleeve. If users got no engagement on their shared link, the app itself would automatically generate posts. Users had no real way of knowing that these messages were actually fake questions that the app was sending them. But many suspected that was the case because the questions sounded like things their friends wouldn’t ask. (We confirmed the messages were fake by generating an NGL link but not sharing it. We then received messages).
NGL’s app reviews were filled with complaints that its questions appeared to come from bots. Worse still, the app developer was charging users for “hints” to find out more about who was asking the question. This means that users were, in some cases, paying for bot hints! This could be considered fraud. (We advise affected users to request a refund from Apple.)
The NGL app got its ideas from rival Sendit, a similar social app that also features a variety of Snapchat games. In fact, the maker of Sendit is now suing NGL for stealing its ideas – developer NGL has worked on Sendit before realizing the potential of simply cloning the idea and raising the money themselves. Turns out there’s business to be had here. By July, NGL had surpassed 15 million downloads and generated $2.4 million in revenue from selling its subscriptions.
TechCrunch had called out NGL for his deceptive tactics and apparently someone was listening. (In fact, we understand there was a discussion between the developer and Apple about this). NGL had no comment.
Yesterday, NGL released an update which now sees him label his fake posts with a tag that reads “sent with ❤️ from the NGL team”. This is meant to indicate that the message is not from a friend but from the app itself. (The wording could probably be clearer. Some users, especially among its target market of young adults, might interpret this tag to mean that the message is simply being delivered by the app.)
These messages also do not display a subscription prompt. Additionally, the subscription cost has been reduced slightly from $9.99/week to $6.99/week, and now includes more features besides “hints”. For example, it announces that users will have “early access” to exclusive games in addition to anonymous Q&As. One of the paid games is already included – an anonymous confession game.
The app’s rival Sendit’s Q&A feature had worked much the same way, and it had just upgraded its subscription as well. Now, instead of just charging for hints, 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 app. experience, says the application. However, its price still remains $9.99 per week.
Although the viral buzz around these apps has died down a bit since then, they still remain highly ranked. NGL is the #9 app on the US App Store’s Lifestyle charts and Sendit is #12 among social networking apps.