Is Facebook horning in on the anonymous app wave?
(CNN) — As the reigning champion of social media, Facebook has adopted a fairly consistent strategy in dealing with upstart competitors: If you can’t buy ’em, copy ’em.
And it looks like the burgeoning field of anonymous sharing apps may be next.
Facebook is working on a standalone app that would let users post under assumed names, according to the New York Times. That would be a major reversal of the main site’s stance that users should use their real names or, at the very least, a name by which they are widely known.
According to the Times, the mobile app, which is due to be released in the next few weeks, is being developed by former team members of Branch, an app that created small personal social groups. Facebook purchased Branch in January.
Over the past year or so, apps like Secret and Whisper, which let users share anonymous photos and written posts, have taken off, particularly among young users. Whisper lets users view all posts or focus on those near them, and Secret shares your posts to members of your extended online network but without revealing your identity to those friends.
If Facebook is, in fact, planning to launch its own similar app, it would be keeping with an established pattern. Though it’s hands-down the most popular social network with upward of 1.3 billion accounts, the service has seen upstarts chip away at its dominance, particularly with teens and 20-somethings, in recent years.
Facebook bought WhatsApp, a messaging app particularly popular in countries where Facebook hasn’t gained a solid foothold, this year for about $22 billion.
It similarly scooped up popular photo-editing and sharing app Instagram in 2012 for a reported $1 billion.
For the most part, Facebook has let those apps and some others it has purchased just keep doing what they were doing, satisfied with bringing a potential rival under the company banner. Others, like Branch, have been rolled into Facebook’s larger product.
But when a buyout wasn’t in the cards, Facebook hasn’t been shy about borrowing ideas.
In January, Facebook launched Paper, a mobile app that focuses on magazine-style story reading in much the way Flipboard does. In June came Slingshot, a Snapchat-like app that lets users share photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds.
And more than a few changes to Facebook’s News Feed, introduced in 2006 and overhauled multiple times since then, have been perceived as an effort to behave more like Twitter.
It remains to be seen how Facebook, which has aimed to be home to its users’ “real” online persona on a Web with a host of anonymous corners, would police an anonymous app. Bullying, graphic sexual content and scam attempts have all been reported on anonymous apps.
A Facebook spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company does not comment on “rumors or speculation.”