Israeli ‘anonymous flirting’ app raises ire at Knesset

Lawmaker takes aim at messaging service co-founded by Bar Refaeli’s brother, Dor, charging it can be used to ‘harass, bully, and threaten’

A Blindspot ad in Tel Aviv (Screenshot)
A Blindspot ad in Tel Aviv (Screenshot)

A Knesset member has appealed to Apple and Google to remove an Israeli-developed app called Blindspot from their downloading sites or face legislative measures to compel their compliance.

The hubbub surrounds the latest in instant messaging technology called Blindspot, which allows users to anonymously send messages to anyone on their contact list. Announcing the app last week, the Israeli firm behind Blindspot, called Shellanoo Group, called it “a wacky anonymous messaging app that gives people the opportunity to say what they really feel.”

Dor Refaeli, brother of supermodel Bar, and Israeli app developer Lee Greenberg are co-founders of Blindspot.

Fun and “perfect for flirting or chatting,” said the company, Blindspot is “surprisingly addictive and opens up a whole new world of conversations,” according to the company.

Dor Refaeli (Facebook)
Dor Refaeli (Facebook)

It also opens up a whole new world of harassment possibilities, Knesset member Meirav Ben-Ari of the Kulanu party said in a letter to Apple Israel CEO Aharon Aharon and Google Israel CEO Meir Brand Wednesday.

“I wish to express my opposition to the marketing of this app, and my concern about how teens and kids will use it,” Ben-Ari wrote. “It appears to me that this app will provide a whole new way to insult people. We already have so much denigration, insult, harassment, and shaming on the web, and that is with people being able to identify each other. Why add to it?”

“We are planning to hold a hearing on this app at a special meeting next week of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee,” said her spokesperson. “MK Ben-Ari, along with other Knesset members, is convinced that this app is a disaster, and will be used to harass, bully, and threaten people on a wholesale basis.

“If the App stores do not remove Blindspot from their list of downloads, we will pursue legislation to ban it,” said the spokesperson.

Already, said the spokeperson, at least one MK – Michal Rozin of Meretz – has agreed to co-sponsor a bill to ban the app, and Ben-Ari is positive that many others will volunteer to do so as well.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, November 26, 2013 (photo credit: Flash 90)
Meretz MK Michal Rozin attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, November 26, 2013 (photo credit: Flash 90)

Citing “many complaints” she had received from parents, as well as concerns expressed by teachers, community workers, and the Israeli Internet Society, Ben-Ari asked that the companies “prevent Israelis from being able to download the app from your sites.”

A copy of the letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds the communications portfolio, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee MK Yaakov Margi (Shas), and chairman of the Knesset Science Technology Committee MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism).

It isn’t clear whether Israelis can be prevented from having access to the app. Ben-Ari’s spokesperson admits that legislation, should it be enacted, would only affect the Israeli app stores, and Blindspot is already available at download sites around the world. For Android users, the fact that they can download apps from any source and not just the Google Play store means that it’s unlikely that access to the app can be limited in any way.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that the company “removes applications that violate our policies, such as apps that are illegal or that promote hate speech. We don’t comment on individual applications.” Apple had no comment.

Shellanoo could not be reached for comment.

Blindspot has attracted wide attention worldwide, with colorful figures such as multi-billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich, singer Nicki Menaj, rapper, French DJ David Guetta, and other entertainment business luminaries investing in the app.

Some of the investors are repeat customers for Shellanoo. Minaj, for example, also invested in the app developer’s Music Messenger, which lets users send songs and music videos as greetings; unlike Blindspot, its users are not anonymous.

The company went on an aggressive social media campaign for the app, prominently posting its eye-patched pirate smiley face at key sites in the Tel Aviv area on large multi-story signs. After thousands of people downloaded it this week, the social media reaction was swift and negative with thousands of commenters responding as Ben-Ari did. One Facebook post trashing the app garnered nearly 20,000 likes in the space of a day.

Apparently anticipating the negative reaction, Blindspot creators Rafaeli and Greenberg said in a press release last week that the app is all in good fun.

“Most users want to flirt, play jokes on friends or share secretive information they would otherwise be scared to reveal,” they wrote. “There’s so much fake comment on social media – it can be like an airbrushed version of life. We want people to have fun, and most of all we want people to be real with one another.”

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