According to a report in the New York Times, Facebook is reportedly working to launch a mobile app that allows users to interact with each other anonymously, similar to apps such as Secret and Whisper.
According to the report, the standalone app could be released within a matter of weeks and allow people to communicate with other users keeping their identity hidden from that user or to the world by using pseudonyms so they can discuss about topics which they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names.
The news comes at a time when Facebook has been on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism in recent weeks over its handling of the issue of real identity. The social network faced backlash after reports emerged that it was locking drag queens and transgender people out of their accounts for not identifying themselves by their real names.
Last week, it issued an apology to drag queens, and promised to update its guidelines but didn't offer specifics about what would be changing.
"The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life," wrote Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, in a statement. "We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the Internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it's the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm."
The project is reportedly headed up by Josh Miller, who joined Facebook after the company acquired his startup called Branch that focused on creating social networks based around conversations. According to reports Miller and his team have been working on the anonymous chat app for the last year.
Earlier this year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that releasing new standalone apps would be the top priority for the social network. Since acquiring WhatsApp, messaging apps have been of particular interest for the company. The company also launched an ephemeral messaging app, Slingshot, and made a new push to compel mobile users to use Messenger for in-app messages.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook also released a standalone private messaging app, Bolt, which is only available to users in certain countries.