Anonymous chat app draws attention for founder's identity
Toilet aims to be the dark side of WeChat's moments, but most of the attention is on founder Wang Xin
Remember Secret and Whisper? The idea of anonymous social networks is apparently coming back in China.
Toilet -- and yes, that's really the app's name -- allows users to post a topic or question, then invite other anonymous users to join the conversation. The group is supposed to disappear after an hour.
But one of the reasons the anonymous app is drawing plenty of attention is the identity of its maker: Wang Xin, the CEO of once-popular streaming site Kuaibo, who served three and a half years in prison because Kuaibo gave users reason access to porn.
His new app touts itself as an answer to WeChat's famous Moments newsfeed.
“It’s a dark net of your contacts. It’s the shadow of your WeChat Moments,” says Toilet’s About page. “Everything you can’t see or hear on WeChat, or even those that are deleted, may appear here.”
One thing you won't find on Toilet's website? A download link.
That's not because it's also secret. It's because the app doesn't appear to work yet.
Many comments on Weibo are complaints from people who can't register accounts, something I had trouble with. After the app's official launch this morning, download links disappeared from the website, being replaced by a message saying servers are overwhelmed.
Of course, this isn't a new idea. In 2014, right after Secret and Whisper burst on to the scene in the US, Chinese companies quickly rolled out copycats for the country. Mimi, meaning “secret” in Chinese, was one of the most popular apps in the country. Just like Secret, it allowed you to post anonymously.
Mimi was soon removed from the iOS app store for reasons unknown to the public -- some speculated that it might be down to content problems like rumors and cyberbullying, while others suggested it might have been related to Secret’s CEO complaining that Mimi is a blatant copy. It's perhaps not a coincidence then that the app came back as Wumi, meaning “no secrets”. But that too was repeatedly scrubbed from app stores. The latest version, Mifeng, still seems to be active, but not nearly as popular as it once was.
Reaction to Toilet is mixed. Apart from complaints that the app doesn’t work, Weibo users also question whether it's really anonymous, since you have to register with your phone number -- which is linked to national ID numbers in China. In fairness to Toilet, this isn't necessarily a choice but a necessity: Chinese regulation requires apps like this to verify users internally, even if their public posts are anonymous.
Predictably, most of the reaction surrounded the app's name. And the explanation comes back to controversial founder Wang Xin.
His explanation? He’s a fan of Hong Kong singer Andy Lau, who has a famous song named Toilet, featuring the priceless lyric: “Every toilet is a hero. With the push of a button goes all your troubles.”