Instant messaging has certainly come a long way since the 1990s. Once dominated by giants AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo, the IM landscape has shifted towards cross-platform, multimedia-focused applications like iMessage and Hangouts. Besides prettier graphics and desktop notifications, though, not much has changed: instant messaging is still the utilitarian form of communication it was two decades ago. At least, that was probably 14 year-old Daniel Singer’s thought when he designed Backchat, an app that uses IM as a vehicle to turn the concept of digital anonymity on its head.
Backchat, which launched as Backdoor on iOS last summer, is a playful answer to the troubling questions posed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s and others’ revelations. Basically, you start a chat with either a Facebook or Google+ friend, and then try to deduce who you’re talking to using free and in-app purchased “clues”. It almost seems like a commentary on the state of privacy in the US, an invitation to step into the shoes of a government agent by connecting pieces of digital metadata to narrow down an identity. It’s both fun and terrifying.
Backchat has skyrocketed in popularity recently; the app attracted investor attention, and in December of last year secured $200,000 in funding. It’s definitely worth a download, but don’t be frightened by how few secrets you’ve managed to keep from your internet buddies.