x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Former UAE student launches anonymous chat app

Mohamad Nour, 24, from Syria, said worries over surveillance of chat and social media apps was the motivation for launching tellM.

DUBAI // A former American University of Sharjah student who has been compared with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has helped launch an anonymous online chat app that could become a hit in the region.

Mohammed Nour, 24, from Syria, said concerns about surveillance of chat and social-media apps had motivated the development of tellM.

The app offers a public messaging board, but the twist is that users’ identities are never disclosed, even to the people they chat with.

“It’s perfect for the Middle East because people here are normally more conservative about what they say,” said Mr Nour, who was one of the developers of the app. “This allows people to freely speak their minds without fear of being socially accountable for that.”

The app was launched last week on the UAE app store and around the world.

It has been downloaded about 1,500 times in the US, but has yet to be downloaded in the UAE.

Mr Nour, who now lives in Germany, lived in the UAE as a teenager. He caused a stir in 2010 when he collected the Facebook photos of thousands of his fellow students at the American University of Sharjah without their permission and used them in an application in which users could decide whether they found them attractive or not.

The prank, which earned him a suspension, was inspired by Mr Zuckerberg’s “Facemash” site, a precursor to Facebook, as seen in the film The Social Network.

Mr Nour left the college soon after and launched a UAE start-up called “Shoutit”, a website that matched buyers with sellers based on their interests.

His latest app is unique in that after a person registers, using their mobile phone, their number will be encrypted so it cannot be read even by the company’s own servers.

“The information you send cannot be read by anyone outside your circle of friends, and your identity is not even known by us,” he said.

However, he said that if any individuals abused the app’s anonymity to promote a political agenda or engage in harassment, they could be blocked using the registration details they provided.

He said the app was not breaching the UAE’s telecommunications policy.

“It’s no more a violation than Whatsapp and Facebook, and they both have a huge following already in the UAE,” he said.

mcroucher@thenational.ae