Facebook Launches Rooms for Anonymous Chatting

I am having a cognitive dissonance - Facebook and anonymity!

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Rooms – Create Something Together [iOS, Android pending]
By Facebook, Inc.

Not long after Edward Snowden’s online interview to New Yorker Festival via Hangouts, where he told citizens to get off the Facebook needle, Facebook releases a new social app for mobile devices dubbed Rooms. It is said to be fully anonymous – it does not tap into your Facebook account, or email, nor does it tap into your address book, or location. What it does, though, seems a bit difficult to get the knack of, so let us see some details.

No Facebook Sign-In

Currently, the app is available for iOS devices only, and we’ve yet no information concerning the Android port. The app is a standalone piece that does not rely on your Facebook account, although considering the fact it is not open source, we have yet to see what its code does beneath the surface.

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Invite Friends and/or Strangers

It lets you create a room or join an existing one, provided you have an invite QR code. You can send invite codes to your friends, or post them in public forums, or Twitter for everyone interested to join. If you distribute the code among your friends, it’s really not anonymous, but if you post the invite on public boards, chances are you might get some anonymity, indeed.

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Customize Your Room, Add Content

In terms of customization, Rooms is meant for fun. You can color-code your Room, and your QR code will be of the same color, too. You can add pictures, movies, text, add a description to your room. Hence, you sort of try to attract audience to your room.

Facebook says Rooms is meant to let people communicate anonymously on particular topics, events, locations. Say, you want to discuss makeup, or politics, so you can create a dedicated room and invite a bunch of people, and if the group is large enough you may hope nobody singles you out by your verbiage.

QR Invites

The use of QR codes makes perfect sense since the app is mobile, and QR codes work best with mobiles. Here is how it works: once you’re done creating and customizing your room, the app generates and color-codes the QR code matching the color of your room. From there, you can send the code via email, the app itself, or post it online. If you are the one receiving the code, the app prompts you to screen capture the code and open it with Rooms. VoilĂ , you’re in.

As with any QR code, you can print it and post it on a wall wherever you think it might get noticed.

User IDs

When you create the room, or when you join an already existing room, you can choose whatever moniker you like, and have a different id in each new room.

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Concerns

We have yet to see if Rooms gets enough traction, but considering it’s an app from Facebook, it is safe to assume it will. I anticipate users can make use of it for a good cause, like discussing topics of interest – art, local events and news. On the other hand, anonymous chats are always a safe haven for cyber bullying. Apparently, the app is not moderated, so we have yet to see how users tackle the bullying and harassment challenge. Whisper and Secret have been quite popular until users admitted the apps were harmful.

Another thing to consider is privacy and security. You do know the images you upload online have metadata that can be traced back to you, so provided you upload something personal to Rooms, it might potentially jeopardize your anonymity. Also, it would be interesting to see how rooms get deleted, and what remains on Facebook’s servers when users delete rooms and IDs.

Obviously, users won’t use Rooms for serious confidential communication, even though the app was designed for anonymous chatting. Rooms is “a tool for empowering individuals,” said Josh Miller, project manager for Rooms – a perfectly vague description.

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Critically Thinking

There might be a bright future for Rooms, with beautiful and inspired people discussing exquisite recipes of the French cuisine, the latest movies of Scarlett Johansson, or events in Ferguson. I also envision it becoming a yet another disputable anonymous chatting app heavily inhibited by people with sexual disorders who couldn’t find a date on Tinder, or “friends” looking to spread gossip about one another. Whatever it becomes for you, remember that it is up to you to join or quit it.