Controversial messaging app Sarahah returns to Google Play a year after being banned

Sarahah, the anonymous messaging app that rose to prominence in the app stores before being banned in February 2018 over accusations it was facilitating bullying, is back in the Google Play store.

The enhanced app offers a suite of features that its developer said are designed to boost user privacy and safety. Sarahah’s messages are now processed by Google’s Perspective machine learning platform to provides advanced filtering.

Cyberbullying among teenagers has become increasingly prevalent around the world. In the US alone, nearly 87 per cent of teenagers have witnessed cyberbullying, with more than one-third having experienced it personally. Consequently, parents and online safety organizations have grown increasingly vocal about cyberbullying and its potentially deadly consequences, prompting companies like Facebook and Instagram to implement tools and improve their algorithms to curb the risk of bullying on their platforms.~

In light of this, Sarahah’s developer said it has taken concrete measures to discourage cyberbullying on its platform and encourage positive rapport among community members.

“We built Sarahah to be a platform for people to feel comfortable sharing and receiving honest and helpful feedback,” said Zain-Alabdin Tawfiq, founder and CEO. “We’re protecting this mission and the users on our platform by implemented (sic) significant and tangible updates to prevent cyberbullying on our platform. We’re excited to have world-class technology and experts to better guide policy as we take concrete steps toward providing a better and safer service.”

Sarahah’s upgrades centre on enhanced internal filtering technology that works in tandem with Google’s marquee Perspective platform, which employs an advanced machine learning API to identify and disable inappropriate messages that contain negative sentiment. Now, sentences like “jump off a cliff” that cannot be filtered by simple keyword filters can be culled out. The technology has filtered over 3m negative messages since its deployment returning the focus of the app to providing users aged 17 and over with a safe space for feedback and self-improvement.

Pallavi Pareek, managing partner of Ungender, an India-based organization working to address gender inequality in the workplace, welcomed the return of the app. She said: “Sexual harassment directly affects absences and attrition of women in the workplace but the fear of losing the hard found job discourages women from talking about it openly. Sarahah opened up a safe avenue for women to ask questions about workplace sexual harassment issues which (before the #metoo movement) was not a common topic of discussion.”

Other updates to the app include increased privacy measures. Sarahah has no access to personal contacts. Friends are only able to access a Sarahah page if a user chooses to share his or her link directly or intentionally lists the link to make it publicly searchable.

Users can also limit receiving feedback from logged-in users or even use their account only to give feedback. They can also flag accounts misusing the platform with a single click, and reports are categorized to make sure that the violations are properly detected. Users also have the option to disable targeted ads, and they can link opinions or thoughts to their profiles reducing the potential for bullying related to anonymous comment threads.

Sarahah describes itself as “a self-development platform where users share honest and constructive feedback”. Unfortunately, first-time round, some of the feedback users received was anything but constructive, with one 13-year old user receiving anonymous messages suggesting she should kill herself. Her mother posted a petition on calling for the app to be removed from the App store and Google Play. The petition attracted almost 470,000 signatures and the app was duly removed from both stores.