IRL app raises suspicions with text messages

A mobile app intended to bring people together in real life has created a firestorm of controversy and fear. IRL, or In Real Life, encourages its users to send anonymous text messages to their contacts.

Facebook posts about the text messages have been shared 25,000 times that claim the messages are from a sex trafficking ring, that anyone who clicks the attached link will have their phone tracked, and that girls are disappearing just by using the app.

The text messages read “Someone has complimented you. See More,” and include links to the app in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. There’s no evidence that any of these text messages do anything else.

Here’s what this app is all about: IRL is popular among older teens and people in their 20s. Users are encouraged to invite their friends in their phone contacts to dinner, or movies, or
hiking trips. If you invite someone on an outing, that person will receive an invite but they must download the app to see it.

Another feature of the IRL app is for users to “nominate” someone for silly titles. After I downloaded the app, I was asked to nominate — IRL calls them noms — one of my friends who can make the best brunch, or dunk like Lebron, or is the best cheerleader. Because I gave it permission to see my contacts, four of my contacts showed up on the screen as answers to the question. If I were to tap one of their names, the app would send the nom over a text message to their phone.

Of course, my friend wouldn’t see that I sent it, only that someone had recommended them. I have thousands of people and phone numbers in my contacts list, some of whom I don’t even remember, so this app has access to every person’s name and phone number now. The app’s FAQ claims no one will get a text message from a stranger, only from people who have their contact information on their phone.

I applaud IRL for encouraging people to get off their phones and do something in real life, but its method is crazy. People hate being bothered with text messages, especially anonymous messages that include links. After using the app for a few minutes for this story I deleted it, but whether the app still has access to my contacts is another thing. You don’t know.

If you do receive one of these messages and you won’t nothing to do with the app, you should reply to the text with the word “Stop”. The company states those who opt out this way will no longer receive a text message no matter how many times they are nominated.

IRL is a nuisance to most people but there’s no evidence that its part of a sex trafficking ring or that anyone has disappeared after clicking the link.