There once was a time when Internet users occupied what was once “Ask me anything” and “Like for a truth.” These anonymous confession trends have basically become NGL, which is an app where users receive anonymous questions from friends, but a recent lawsuit alleges that might not be the case.
NGL’s gimmick was supposed to be simple. Users could sign up for the app and receive anonymous questions through the app’s inbox. NGL’s main appeal was that it offered integration with Instagram, so users could post a prompt (in the form of a link) for anonymous questions and answer them via their Instagram stories. The app also had a feature that would allow the user to receive hints on the identities of those who asked them questions for a cheap $US9.99 ($14) every week. It was some good, clean fun that took Millenials and Zoomers back to the days of Formspring and “Like for a truth” posts on Facebook, but a complaint filed earlier this month with the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County alleges not only that NGL could be ripped off from another app, but also accidentally reveals that both of these apps are tricking its users into believing that they are really connecting with their friends.
Raj Vir is a software engineer that was hired on a contract in September 2018 by Iconic Hearts to help develop an app called Sendit, which is an anonymous Q&A app with Instagram integration. Sound familiar? The filing, which was obtained by TechCrunch, explains that the first Sendit app is called “sendit — get it now,” released in November 2018, while the second Sendit app is called “sendit — Q&A on Instagram,” which was released on June 21, 2022. For reference, NGL was launched on November 7, 2021 as seen on the app’s website, which was seven months after Vir was offered a full-time position at Iconic Hearts. The complaint insinuates that Vir did not accept this offer and Vir’s website seems to corroborate this as it makes no mention of a full-time stint at Iconic Hearts. Iconic Hearts claims in the complaint filing that Vir used his access to confidential data and information on the Sendit apps to build his own, similar app, which became NGL.
“Vir used his friendship with Iconic Hearts’ founder, Hunter Rice, and his role as a consultant and developer for Iconic Hearts to deceptively gather information about Iconic Hearts and the sendit Apps,” the filing reads. “Upon information and belief, Vir did this so that he could jumpstart NGL.”
Alas the story doesn’t end there. Iconic Hearts alleges that one of the specific pieces of information that Vir used to build NGL was “engagement messages,” a proprietary notification system that Iconic Hearts developed to ping users after periods of reduced activity. However, language in the filing indicates that these messages take the form of fake questions, which may lead a user to think they’ve been sent a question by an actual human. Iconic Hearts says in the complaint:
Iconic Hearts had also developed a unique system, “Engagement Messages,” which sends content to a user’s inbox if interactions with the user had been idle over a certain period of time. “Engagement Message” re-trigger a user to use the app. This generates more “shares” on the app, more density within a user’s trend network (i.e. more people sharing more times), which adds to an app’s saturation, the most critical measure of success and growth.
This confirms that the Sendit apps are using auto-generated notifications to increase use of the apps, and alleges NGL is doing the same, but doesn’t specify that those notifications are fake questions. TechCrunch, however, investigated this claim by posting two links from each app to solicit questions from users on Instagram, before immediately deleting the posts. Despite no one seeing these links, TechCrunch says that they still received a series of questions from each app.
Iconic Hearts and Raj Vir did not immediately return our request for comment.