Alexa Szafranski (9th grade) celebrated along with her classmates when the freshman class emerged victorious in Color War this past Tuesday. She was thrilled to belong to the first freshman class to win in many years. But her mood sunk when she received a text from an unknown California number stating that she was tagged on the After School app, quickly followed by another four texts. Szafranski was frightened, as the app knew her name and school, despite the fact that she never downloaded the app.
“I got the texts like once every two weeks and then around five the day that Color War ended,” Szafranski said. “I don’t and never did have the app. The texts said my name and my school, which really creeped me out.”
The After School app allows teens to post messages and pictures anonymously in a message board type interface. Two years ago, it became popular in the school, but the anonymity allowed for bullying. Most students left the app and forgot about it. However, this Tuesday, several Hebrew Academy students began receiving the texts from After School App, telling them they were tagged in a post and spurring them to download the app. But by Tuesday night, students became aware that the app was invading their privacy by randomly posting pictures from their camera roll without their consent. Word spread throughout the school, and there was a mass exodus from the app. Students who had only downloaded it a few hours before were now deleting the same app.
While Szafranski did not download the After School app, many of her peers installed it in a rush to view what others were saying about themselves.
“I was getting messages on my phone, so I decided to download the app to see what was going on,” said Cathy Safdie (11th).
Cathy soon realized her mistake. A new feature called Photo Roll enables users to view the entire camera roll of any student at their school. The Photo Roll feature must be enabled by a user, but many students just press “allow access” without thinking about it. Cathy was horrified when an image of her passport appeared on the app. She swiftly deleted the app.
“Once I downloaded it, I just went through the app, I allowed this, I allowed that, without even reading it, so apparently I agreed to people seeing my pictures,” Safdie said. “People were screenshotting my [passport] pictures and then calling me, texting me, telling me to disable it, so then once I disabled it people still had my pictures.”
The Warrior Word spoke to After School Communications Manager Michael Luchies about the app. Luchies said the Camera Roll is a new feature that the company is still working on. According to Luchies, the user selects which photos they want to share and which to protect and the photos are then available for others to view within their school’s network. However, many Hebrew Academy students said they did not see any selection options, and that the app simply posted random photos from their roll without their consent.
“They tricked you,” said Sherri Shahar (10th). “They said ‘you wanna see other people’s pictures?’ I’m like yeah, sure, and they start accessing your pictures and I’m like, oh heck no, I’m deleting this.”
The app was pulled from the app store in 2014 after problems with bullying and was reinstated a few months later once they installed new safety features. Now, the app is able to detect and filter key words to prevent bullying, Luchies said. It also added a new feature which allows students to speak to a counselor if they need to.
Although students report that this past week when they uploaded the app again, they did not see any bullying, it was the privacy issues that concerned them.
“The fact that it potentially invades our privacy as students and as minors is scary,” said Raquel Zohar (11th). “Who wants their pictures being shared? It’s bizarre and scary.”
Zohar said she downloaded the app this Tuesday until her class group chat lit up telling users to delete it immediately.
The app was created by Corey Levy and Michael Callahan to help connect people. They noted that teens weren’t able to truly express themselves when their name is attached, so Levy and Callahan created an app to serve as an anonymous safe space.
The breach of privacy also extends towards third parties including advertisers, but the app has not been monetized yet.
“We reserve the right to use anonymous data for any purpose and disclose anonymous data to third parties in our sole discretion,” the policy says.
While most students deleted the app, a few are keeping it.
“I think that the thing about it accessing your photos should not be allowed, but just the actual thing is not bad,” Shayna Boymelgreen (11th) said. “Some people say positive things about people. It can be used for good things.”
By: Jack Benveniste-Plitt (11th Grade), with additional reporting by Jeremy Dobin (9th Grade)