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This new app may be spamming your phone — here's what you should know
Young happy excited laughing woman texting on mobile phone isolated outdoors city urban background. - photo by SIphotography/Deposit Photos

It’s tough to know these days if certain texts we receive are legit or spam. Over the past month or so, I’ve received several texts telling me that someone has given me a compliment, or that I have been nominated for something. It’s very flattering of course, but what to do? There is always a nondescript link at the bottom with an emoji at the end, along with the options to reply INFO for info, or NO to unsubscribe.

My thought process tells me never to click on a link, and never to reply because the potentially spammy texter will know I'm a real person. Since many of my friends asked me about these texts — because they had been receiving similar ones — I tracked down the origin.

These texts are coming from an app that launched in February called IRL, an acronym for “In Real Life.” The app claims it provides a way to do more of what you like with the people you like, in real life.

A phone number is required to register for the app. Information that is not required — but that many people are offering up voluntarily — include the user’s age and school, and access to contacts and location. This is where the spammy texts may come in.

When I registered for the app, I did not divulge any of this information, yet the app immediately told me I had four nominations from people. One was for the “Indiana Jones of Cyber-exploration” and another for “Joymaker.” You can request to see who made the nomination (which I did because I wanted to see who had spammed me), but that was weeks ago and my nominator is still unknown to me.

Nearly any button tapped on the app goes back to asking users to enable location tracking and contacts. The message says, “Your contacts are needed to connect you to your friends and it’s how you invite and nominate people. Location is used to connect you to local events and personalize your experience.” I can see how many unsuspecting teenagers would decide to upload their locations and contacts. But syncing all contacts is rarely a good idea in an app, because inevitably there are people in your contacts who would be fine for one app, but inappropriate for another.

So, how am I getting all these texts?

I spoke with Abraham Shafi, the CEO of IRL, and he told me if I’m getting a text, it is definitely legit.

“Texts come from people who are on the app,” he said, “and your number is in their contact list.”

Shafi also said if users reply NO to any IRL text, the app will never text again.

“We don’t want to touch people who don’t want to be texted,” Shafi said.

But app developers have found many people do want to be texted. Shafi said when the app first launched, they were surprised by how users reached out.

“A good percentage of emails were just people telling us they were lonely.”

This app’s developers hope it may solve that problem for people. IRL allows users to compliment friends, nominate them for things, set up events and invite other people to join them. You can invent your own ideas, but the app gives suggestions like having a taco night, stargazing or watching the NBA playoffs. Then you start inviting people.

“One of the biggest reasons no one makes a plan is the fear that no one will join them,” Shafi said.

In this app, those who are invited don’t have the ability to say no. The only options are to answer “I’m in” or “Next time.”

If you decide not to sync your contacts, once you register for the app, IRL tries to connect you with people. If one of your friends uploads their contacts to the app, then IRL will suggest that person as a friend for you because it knows you are in their contact list.

Users are only able to interact with people in their phone’s contacts list, or friends of friends — a good safety feature.

“We think our app is incredibly safe,” Shafi said. “We’re not building social media. For us this is real social. These are friends you actually go to the movies with.”

Some people who don’t feel comfortable sending out a group text to invite people to hang out may find this app helpful. Just know that if you decide to invite people to use IRL, they will get a text that looks like spam.

But Shafi said using this app and sending people nominations helps to boost their confidence.

“Right now there’s no social media app making people feel seen,” he said. “If you’re going to be playing video games, at least do it with a friend.”

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