‘Anonymity is relative’, warns lawyer on how Sarahah works

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Sarahah is an anonymous messaging app that has become a fever in more than 30 countries, including Brazil. Controversial for not revealing the data of those who send feedbacks, the app ends up becoming a full plate for criminals who practice cyberbullying. The operation of the service is very simple: when creating a profile and posting it on the Internet, the user can receive anonymous comments, without the option to reply to them.

Despite having a noble objective – to receive constructive criticism -, malicious people took advantage of the sensation of anonymity to propagate hate messages and even threats through the application. What many victims do not know is that it is possible to demand breach of confidentiality and identify the sender of a comment in situations that violate the law.

Meet Sarahah, new anonymous messaging app

Meet Sarahah, new anonymous messaging app

Beyond Sarahah: remember other anonymous messaging platforms

To understand to what extent the messages sent by Sarahah are anonymous, we talked to lawyer Luiz Augusto D’Urso, a specialist in cybercrime. He said that despite being based in Saudi Arabia, Sarahah – and any other online service that works in Brazilian territory – must follow the laws of our country.

According to the Marco Civil da Internet (law that regulates the use of the network in Brazil), anyone who connects to the internet must be identified by their IP number and access time. In this way, even registrations made with e-mails and false names can be tracked, ensuring greater protection against cybercrime.

This means that, in practice, the anonymity of Sarahah and other similar apps, such as Secret, is relative – and can be overturned in cases of cybercrime.

1 of 2 Sarahah interface for Android – Photo: Ana Marques / dnetc

Sarahah interface for Android – Photo: Ana Marques / dnetc

How to tell if an unpleasant message is criminal (subject to prosecution)

While it is annoying to receive unpleasant messages, not all inconvenient comments break the law. To fit that profile, there must be a crime against honor. An example is hate speech against a race, color, ethnicity, religion, origin or the condition of an elderly person / person with a disability.

«Because it is a private network – more like a messenger than a social network – messages received on Sarahah cannot be the target of defamation lawsuits. This is because the content is not open to the public, as on Facebook», explains D’Urso. Users must be aware of injury situations (Art. 140 of the Penal Code) and even threats.

It is worth mentioning that, according to Marco Civil, Sarahah is obliged to keep the IP history for up to six months. After this period, there are no guarantees regarding the location of a user who may have committed an illegal action.

2 of 2 Messages received on Sarahah can be favored, shared or blocked – Photo: Tainah Tavares / dnetc

Messages received on Sarahah can be favored, shared or blocked – Photo: Tainah Tavares / dnetc

How to act upon receiving a criminal message in Sarahah

According to the expert, the first step is to record evidence – that is, take a screenshot of the screen showing the application and the message with criminal content. Then it is necessary to go to a police station to make a police report (BO), so that an investigation can be initiated in which the complaint will be investigated.

If the crime is confirmed, the court can determine the breach of confidentiality to identify and prosecute the offender.

D’Urso also says that the international cooperation agreement that Brazil has with Saudi Arabia tends to facilitate compliance with the law. In any case, the app’s opposition to a Brazilian court decision may result in the Sarahah being blocked in the country – which would take the site down and the Google Play Store and App Store apps off the air.

To protect himself, the user can also block the sender of an unpleasant message, even if anonymous, by the application itself. Another option is to prevent people not registered with the service from sending comments.