[IMGCAP(1)] South Korea-based app Blind just launched for the Big Four, giving firm employees access to a completely anonymous forum where they can vent, share ideas and gossip.
If you have any familiarity with Yik Yak, you’re halfway to understanding the new app, Blind. Both are anonymous messaging platforms, allowing users to sign up with email but make posts without any identifying information.
Similarly to Facebook, Yik Yak was first launched for college campuses only (since it is location based, if you happen to live around a college, you can use the app with reasonable ease, too). Blind, on the other hand, is exclusively for employees of businesses — all kinds.
The company allows users to sign up with a verifiable company email address. The app can be used by employees of a certain company only once a certain threshold of employees sign up as users—usually 50 to 100, Blind’s head of operations expansion in the U.S., Alex Shin, told me. Blind allows employees to say whatever they want, like ask touchy questions or even gossip, without fear of repercussion.
The launch for Big Four occurred after several audit, tax and advisory employees from the firms got wind of Blind and signed up to its waitlist this summer. Blind then launched in order of the number of people on the waitlist, starting with PwC. Within two weeks of launching for PwC, Blind became available for EY employees and at the same time, opened up an inter-company channel it calls the “lounge” for all Big Four users. Now it is available for Deloitte and KPMG too.
Signing up with a work email seems like a risk to anonymity, but Blind has patent-pending technology that makes user information completely disappear once a user is signed up. It’s not even viewable or accessible in any way to Blind, Shin claimed, which if true would mean the company would not be able to produce user information even if required to by a hypothetical legal investigation.
A Need for Stress Relief
This month, Blind was launched for the Big Four. Through networking with friends in San Francisco, where the app has found a strong foothold among tech companies, Shin discovered that there was an untapped market among stressed-out young firm employees looking for a venue to vent.
“We had some friends who worked in the Big Four, and to our surprise, considering how prestigious they are, their work hours are insane and most of them that come to us are interested in transitioning to industry,” Shin said. “They want to put in their firm hours and leave. I heard stories about drug use to stay awake – lots of high pressure.”
Overworked employees? Drug use? This is the perfect environment for an app that broke the Korean Air “nut lady” story that went viral in 2014. That year, Heather Cho, vice president of the company and daughter of the (now former) Korean Air CEO, was flying as a passenger, and caused a major disruption on board her Korean Air flight by throwing a fit over how the nuts were served. The story might have remained contained to those who witnessed the incident if it hadn’t spread like wildfire on the Korean Air Blind forum.
A PwC employee who wished to remain anonymous told me that in the month he’s been using the app, compensation and exit options were some of the most popular topics. But aside from such typically taboo topics, “It’s also nice to see perspective from all PwC regions across the United States, as opposed to just being focused on your one region or market,” he said.
He compared the platform to well-known forums such as Reddit and Glassdoor, on which users can remain relatively anonymous. “I think Blind is unique – it’s user friendly because it’s a mobile app platform, and for users it’s easier to use. It’s more focused on discussion and community as opposed to Glassdoor, for instance, which is review focused. I like to see that differentiating aspect.”
A Deloitte user said the stripping away of titles and hierarchies makes the app fun. Information flows much faster through Blind, he said, than it would or could through official company channels.
“Let’s say for compensation -- there’s no way you can find out about that kind of thing,” he said. “You’d need to have friends in other offices. But because we have this lounge where all the Big Four firms can talk to each other, you can see what other people are getting.”
A user from Ernst and Young told me that all the Big Four accounting firms’ internal social websites feel like places “to propagate the firm’s vision,” but that Blind sidesteps that and “closes the huge gap between leadership and general employees.”
All three accountants who spoke to me did have initial qualms about security, but those dissipated after they used the app. Whether that has more to do with actual security or with a false sense of security from an app that’s addictive remains to be seen.
In the two years that Blind has been in operation, it has been the center of one or two big news stories, but none to do with compromised user identities. Last year, Starbucks’ South Korean operation had to apologize publically because screenshots from the app that showed users disparaging customers were leaked. Embarrassing for Starbucks, but not for the users, who were never identified.
Blind is not unique. It joins the ranks of apps such as the aforementioned Yik Yak, Whisper and Secret, all of which are (or were) targeted to different markets but had the same basic function of anonymous messaging. Secret, which was aimed at specific real-life friends networks, was shut down last year after its founder said the malicious gossip and rumors spread on the app went against his original vision for the platform. Whisper has been criticized for asking for access to users’ smartphone cameras and contact lists. Last year, Yik Yak was exposed for systematically deleting user posts that mention competitor apps.
And another outlet, Going Concern, will be familiar to readers. The blog-cum-news aggregator-cum-comment forum is popular among Big Four CPAs. Users vent and share stories similar to what they might share on Blind. However, the major difference is that the comments are more publicly viewable than comments on Blind, as anyone, user account or no user account, CPA or not, can view the comments. Understandably, users do anonymize themselves.
So far, Blind has avoided damaging controversy. It takes an extremely hands-off approach to user content, not censoring or curating it in any way. Its key feature is its much-hyped anonymizing security feature. Once the patent for that technology is filed, Blind will be at a different stage of growth. It will be interesting to see whether Blind’s popularity in the Big Four will be sustainable, and how it will hold up against established forums for accounting pros such as Going Concern.
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