Facebook is preparing to launch a mobile app that would enable users to interact online anonymously.
For a social networking site that has built a worldwide base of more than 1 billion users on the ideology of connecting people and helping them create their online identity, anonymity might seem like an odd move.
Industry analysts are torn between thinking that such an app could be a great business move for Facebook or one of its creepiest moves yet.
"These days, Facebook appears to be testing anything and everything to improve their service's metrics," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "If not handled well, this could be extremely creepy, particularly because it comes from Facebook, who seems to step on users' privacy with reckless abandon."
The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported last week that Facebook is weeks away from launching a mobile app that will let users interact without using their real names. That would go against the site's long-standing policy requiring people to idenifty themselves with their actual names.
Without a real identity, Facebook's stated plan to help people plot out their network of friends goes out the window.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
The social network, though, has shown some signs of relaxing its real-name policy. Earlier this month, for instance, it folded under pressure from drag queens who wanted to use their stage names online instead of their legal names.
"Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name," wrote Chris Cox, Facebook's Chief Product Officer, in a blog post on Oct. 1. "The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess."
However, Cox also noted that Facebook has set itself apart as a social network and protected its users by mandating that users identify themselves.
"First, it's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the Internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm," wrote Cox. "Second, it's the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it's both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good."
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