Facebook unveiled an anonymous app Thursday, entering an increasingly crowded field of startups offering nameless and pseudonym-only sharing. In order to set itself apart, Facebook’s version, called Rooms, is designed around old school chat rooms.
The standalone app doesn’t require a Facebook account or the use of any identifiable information to participate, and making use of chat rooms was a direct nod to the early days of the Internet when the virtual spaces thrived, an experience that Facebook Product Manager Josh Miller says hasn’t yet translated to mobile.
“Our whole thing is creating corners of the Internet for people like you,” said Miller, whose startup Branch was acquired by Facebook in January. That doesn’t mean anonymous chatting with your friends like Secret, or anonymous chatting with nearby people like Yik Yak, but rather, chatting with people who simply care about the same stuff you do, he continued.
On Rooms, users can create a room with any theme, from parkour to beatboxing. The chats are invite-only, and users can join a new room by using a circular QR code that existing Room members can pass along by posting it online anywhere or even as a printed photo offline. People can join the room by taking a photo or a screen shot of the code, which will be recognized by the app.
Rooms is the latest standalone app to emerge from Facebook Creative Labs, the initiative within the company to build more standalone apps under the broader Facebook umbrella. The New York Times reported earlier this month that Facebook was working on an anonymous app.
Like Slingshot, an ephemeral messaging product Facebook released in June, you wouldn’t know at a glance that Rooms is a Facebook product. It has no Facebook branding and doesn’t require a Facebook account to operate (although Facebook encourages you to hand over your email in case you ever need to restore your account).
This was by design, says Miller, who wants Rooms to serve as a platform for chat rooms similar to how WordPress or Tumblr serve as platforms for websites. If the app is successful, he says, it’ll be — for all intents and purposes — invisible, simply operating in the background.
Of course, there are issues with anonymous apps; Facebook will have to monitor user safety in an environment where people can hide behind whatever username they choose. Facebook has worked hard to prevent bullying on its core social network, and Miller says the company is trying to get ahead of any potential issues with Rooms. The app includes moderation tools, like the ability for room creators to review posts before they’re published, or set an 18-and-over age limit. Users can also flag inappropriate content which is then transferred to a team of human moderators at the ready 24 hours a day, he adds.
Whisper, another anonymous messaging app, created a stir last week when a report from the Guardian reported it was tracking and monitoring user location data without their consent. (Whisper has since denied the allegations.) Miller says Rooms does not track user locations. Messages are stored on Facebook servers, he says, so if you give Rooms the same email you use for your Facebook account, it would make sense that the company could match your posts to your Facebook identity.
Miller says that this isn’t the intention, however, and user information is stored simply as a backup for accounts.
Miller says Facebook has no plans to create any media partnerships either, a practice that helped Whisper promote its content in the media but that has since led to issues. Miller says he and his team will reach out to influential individuals within certain industries to encourage them to create Rooms, but has no plans to actively pitch media members on specific stories.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.