Facebook Kitties: How Wickr Plans To Hide Encrypted Photos In Plain Sight On Facebook

Author

Kate Vinton, Forbes Staff

January 27, 2015

Imagine if the endless cat photos on your Facebook newsfeed weren’t just the product of shutter-happy pet owners but instead were being used to pass on hidden messages. Sound like a spy novel?  It’s becoming reality thanks to a new feature from encrypted messaging app Wickr.

On Tuesday, Wickr launched a new feature called Wickr Timed Feed (WTF). WTF adds a social media element to the messaging app that lets users share photos in a social stream with up to 151 friends on Wickr. The posts will stick around for 24 hours before self-destructing, and users can decorate the photos with stickers before posting as well as pick exactly who can see the photos. “In the simplest sense, it’s an Instagram killer,” says Wickr CEO Nico Sell.

That is, it would be a killer if Instagram’s approximately 300 million users cared as much about privacy as the roughly 5 million people in 196 countries who have downloaded Wickr. “It’s not meant for public posts,” Sell notes. “This is all about private sharing with the people you trust who are closest to you.”

In addition to the Timed Feed, Wickr is attempting to make privacy popular to the masses through an integration with Facebook’s API. When a user uploads photos to WTF, a prompt will appear, asking if the user would like to secretly share the photo to Facebook using a “decoy image.” If the user agrees, Wickr will post a photo of a cat on Facebook. The only people who will see the actual image are fellow Wickr users who can click on the cat and redirect to Wickr to view the original image (if it’s been shared with them). “You can’t see the picture unless you have the key,” Sell says. “And that’s what Wickr is at the heart, a key management system.”

Why cats? The choice is inspired by the spy technique Wickr is emulating with this integration–steganography, or hiding messages in plain sight.  ”Right now there’s two main ways spies conceal messages on the internet–through cats and through porn–because they are the most popular images on the internet,” Sell says. “Obviously, we couldn’t do porn and…we started with cats.”

Through these cat pictures, Sell says Wickr is trying to show that security doesn’t have to be all work and no play. “We’ve got really serious technology here that’s used to fight dictators every day, but we think that this is something that needs to get out to the mainstream,” she says. “If security is fun, people are going to like it and have good associations with it.”

The choice of the acronym WTF was also intentional. “That’s what people are going to say when you go to your Facebook page and it’s covered in kitty-cats,” Sell laughs.

Sell is unsure how Facebook will react to Wickr’s integration after the launch. Wickr applied and easily received approval for the integration, but the application didn’t require detailing its plans to use steganography. Sell thinks the integration should be positive for Facebook as it allows users who were previously uncomfortable with Facebook’s privacy settings to securely share photos. On the other hand, Facebook can’t collect data off the decoy photos in the same way it can with regular posts. Most likely, Wickr might not attract Facebook’s attention at all–Wickr users make up less than 1% of Facebook’s audience, and there are already plenty of cats on Facebook.

But for those interested in encrypted messaging, WTF with Facebook integration is way to differentiate the Wickr app from other encrypted messaging apps. While WTF is currently only available on iOS, Wickr is planning to expand the feature to Android, as well as to other social media sites with public APIs. Wickr launched a desktop app in December and raised $30 million in Series B funding in October.

Check out Wickr’s demo video below:

This article was written by Kate Vinton from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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