Earlier in the week Estadão reported on the civil action in more detail. relating that the Public Ministry of the state of Espírito Santo (a public prosecutor's office of the government similar to the state Attorney General's office in the United States) had sought the removal of the 'Secret' app from Apple and Google app stores, as well as its removal from devices that already had it installed.
A prosecutor in the city of Vitória initiated a civil action last Friday asking that the app stores from Google, Apple and Microsoft make the app unavailable for Brazilians. According to public prosecutor Marcelo Zenkner, "the Brazilian Constitution does not allow anonymity. Therefore, this application has to be uprooted."
Zenkner says he's been contacted by victims in his state who claimed they were being harmed by posts made anonymously via the application. The prosecutor cited as an example a student that stopped going to school due to rumors spread via Secret by classmates. In other words, cyberbullying is in play here. As he puts it in rather picturesque fashion: "The person is suffering 'bullying' without knowing who is attacking. It's like being in a dark room being beat up."
The prosecutor also says that the application not being based in the country hinders the removal of content that offends the image and honor of its members. "There are mechanisms for removal, but the complaint must be made in English. To go to court, the judge here has to send a letter of request to an American judge via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an expensive and slow process. When you have damage to your reputation, a single day is already a long time."
Secret is distributed in Brazil via Apples App Store and the Google Play application. For Windows phones the service is available through a different app, called Cryptic. The user must login using his or her mobile number or Facebook account, and can post messages or pictures without their identity being revealed. Since this information is stored by the app, it is debatable whether the app can truly be described as completely "anonymous."
In addition to the request for the removal of applications of virtual stores, the prosecutor also sought that the companies responsible for the operating systems (Apple and its iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone) remove the applications already installed on smartphones. I'm not sure how this will work, although I've given to understand that it's possible. When Flappy Bird was taken down by its owner, for example, it remained on the smartphones of users as long as they did not delete it. Perhaps there's a mechanism in place for pulling such apps. I'll be interested to find out.
The civil action was referred to the 5th Civil Court of Victoria. After receiving the notification, the companies have 10 days to remove the app and delete it from users' smartphones. The daily fine provided for noncompliance is R$ 30,000, roughly equivalent to US$13,245 at current rates
What we are seeing here is a very different culture of freedom and anonymity from that of the United States, where Secret is hosted. The Brazilian constitution prohibits anonymity in order to prevent people from causing damage to others with impunity, not allowing for defense. As I mentioned above, Secret has user information, including either phone number or Facebook profile (for login) as well as usage, so it would be possible through legal action to have a judge request this information. Secret's anonymity is ultimately an illusion that could well be dispelled through individual cases even if the judge's decision is somehow reversed