In the past month, the new social app Yik Yak has gained notable popularity in middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country. It’s described as a “location bulletin board for your area [that] allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them.” Brooks Buffington, one of the creators, rejoices in its anonymity because “that guy in the back row of your science class might be the funniest guy you never hear.” However, the app’s younger users quickly proved that the information people shared, enjoyed and “upvoted” wasn’t as harmless as its creators thought it would be. While Yik Yak may feel anonymous, it’s impossible to completely strip us of our identities because it utilizes the Internet and our cell phones.
Yik Yak changed its rating to “17+” due to the frequent use of material such as “intense horror/fear themes, intense profanity or crude humor, intense alcohol, tobacco, or drug use and intense sexual content or nudity.” Additionally, after an influx of complaints that the app was a new forum used strictly for cyberbullying, Yik Yak paired up with a company called Maponics to build “geo-fences” — virtual geographic perimeters — to prevent certain areas such as high schools from utilizing the app.
It’s evident that this app, much like others, has its downside — it can be, and often is, used viciously to make statements and jokes at the expense of other’s feelings. However, as people are realizing the effect it can have on others, they are failing to realize how it is going to affect themselves.
In the past decade, we’ve learned that although the Internet may be free, we are ultimately paying for it with our own personal information, which is stored in massive databases. We know that some companies, such as Google, sell our information to other companies in order to allow them to produce highly targeted advertising. However, our search terms are only a microscopic portion of what has been and is being collected by companies and the government and, the truth is, we really don’t know what is happening or will happen with our information.
In regards to privacy, Yik Yak states, “We have never and will never require any information from you other than your location.” However, although they may not require your personal information, it doesn’t mean it isn’t attached to each and every post you make.
Under its legal terms and conditions Yik Yak states, “By submitting content through the Yik Yak service, you grant Yik Yak a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display, and distribute such content in any and all media or distribution methods.” They also state that if you use Yik Yak, “you understand that the content, organization, graphics, design, compilation, magnetic translation digital conversion, and other materials related to the Yik Yak service are the property of Yik Yak.” Ultimately, anything you post on their app belongs to them, not you. And with every “yak” you submit, your name, location and phone number are tied to it at the very least.
Don’t believe it? Consider an incident in February when a student in Mobile County, Ala. was arrested after making threats via Yik Yak to commit a school shooting. Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich told the local FOX 10 News affiliate, “As soon as we became aware of the post, we went into action. We contacted the marketing director for the app and we began downloading and getting information sent to us.” FOX 10 News wrote that although it is supposed to serve as an anonymous message board, investigators were able to get an exact address and cell phone information from the app alone. It’s an extreme case, but it should serve as a warning sign to all of us — they have our information, and if they want to, they can use it and give it away.
Our personal information is encrypted in every online action we make, as well as what we do on our mobile devices. We need to consider each of these actions carefully, not only because of how it can affect others, but also because of how it can affect ourselves — both now and in the future. If you wouldn’t “yak” something if your name was next to it (or at the very least own up to it), you probably shouldn’t yak it at all. Your information is right there, hidden underneath the threat, secret or confession you just released to your entire city, parents and future children and employers.
Kristen Baker is a junior media arts and design major. Contact Kristen at email@example.com.