This week on Why'd You Push That Button?, we're talking about sending nudes. Sending a naked photo of yourself in 2017 doesn't need to be complicated, but with hundreds of thousands of messaging apps to choose from, deciding how to send that nude can require some thought. Do you take to Snapchat, iMessage, or Instagram DMs? What about sending them through your dating app?
We talked to two people about how they make sense of this messaging app utopia. An anonymous man named Frank primarily uses gay dating apps like Grindr and Scruff to send his nudes because they feature built-in camera functions, while our other interviewee, Eden Rohatensky, chooses their platform based off the recipient of the message. Someone new might get a nude through Snapchat, whereas their friends might receive them in iMessage. Eden also tells us how they send nudes platonically with friends in an effort to build body positivity, which is fantastic. They wrote a Medium post about this exact thing earlier this year.
We then take all our messaging thoughts to Eric Silverberg, CEO and co-founder of gay dating app Scruff. He explains why he built a camera function into the app and how he thinks the feature will eventually trickle down into straight apps. Scruff tells us that more than a million photos and videos are sent over chat daily.
Listen to the podcast above and read the transcript below.
Ashley: Before we get into photo sharing and everything like that, can you just tell us a little bit about Scruff? How old is the app? You created it, things like that.
Eric Silverberg: Sure. Scruff is more than seven years old. We are one of the largest gay dating apps on iPhone and Android, and one of the first gay dating apps to really go global. We are extremely popular here in the United States, down in Latin America, Western Europe. And we have one of the most unique communities on Scruff. It really is a social app the encompasses everything gay guys like to do online, whether it's meet, chat, hook up, but also connect to events, connect with guys when they travel. We're a pretty broad and encompassing app for a pretty special community.
Ashley: Okay, and you totally created it, right?
Yes. My co-founder and I started it back in 2010.
Kaitlyn: That's older than Tinder, right?
Yeah. We predate Tinder by at least two years.
Ashley: For this episode, we're specifically talking about sending nudes, but really how we ended up coming to you was that one of our interviewees that we talked to mentioned that he uses gay dating apps, and he takes advantage of the cameras that are built into these apps. So I'm just wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about the camera function in Scruff, like how it works and what it's designed to do.
So Scruff gives you a number of ways to share content and share images with other people. You can take photos directly within Scruff and send them in chat. You can also select photos from your camera roll that you've already taken. We also let you archive images, so you can send it from the cloud, if you will, as well. I think one of the unique use cases for gay men and gay apps in particular, is that I think gay guys share nude photos. Gay guys share explicit content. In addition to everything else that I think people will share, especially when they're getting to know each other.
When we were building our photo sharing functionality, we knew that would be a core use case. As we grew, and as it became kind of more central to the app, we built functionality called private albums. So you can, in addition, share a collection of photos or unshare a collection of photos based on your preference.
Kaitlyn: Tinder doesn't have any photo sharing ability in messaging. Not only can you not take photos in the app or store photos in archive, you literally can't share them. So I'm curious how you would think about this feature, if you had made an app that also has women on it. Because I'm guessing that that is a major reason that Tinder is set up that way.
It's a great question. There is a fundamental difference, in my opinion, between apps that cater to gay men and apps that cater to men and women. I think it's rooted in the fact that there is a fundamental power imbalance between men and women, and there is a fundamental question of safety and security, physical safety and security, that exists between men and women that is still present between two men, but I think it's much closer to being equal.
I think because of that asymmetry that, perhaps it's a social construct, but that perceived asymmetry in power, you will see a lot more ... You'll see different design decisions. I think, for example, if a woman received content from a man that was perhaps risque or perhaps explicit, I think her reaction to receiving that kind of content would be very different than on Scruff, where if someone shares a private album with you and it's explicit content, the social construct behind that action and the emotional reaction to that, I think it's just very different.
And so, I can understand why if you're creating an app for men and women, you might want to essentially lock down what you can do and what you can share. And really tune it to, and prioritize, the experience of the women on your app first and foremost.
Ashley: Do you have any warnings about the camera at all? Do you say, "Hey, think before you share," or something like that? I don't know. Because one of the people we talked to mentioned that he was Googling, I guess, because he came on. He was like, "Whoa, I didn't realize that maybe I shouldn't be sharing my dick pics this much. Because, well, that's my body."
Kaitlyn: He also said that he kind of felt like the fact that Grindr offers the photo archive is sort of a feature that enables more sharing and quicker sharing, because you don't have to go onto your phone, scroll back through your camera roll, figure out where the photo was. You're just like, "Here's my nude bank." Or whatever. Like, it's very fast.
So I guess we're curious about what kind of security features, how do you think about security on that specific feature?
Ashley: Yeah. He specifically mentioned Grindr, in that case. Do you give users any sort of warning, or a "think twice" type of thing?
There's no warning in any of the gay apps when it comes to actually sharing image content with other members. That said, Scruff is unique in its ability to allow you to both share and unshare collections of your private album, so collections of photos.
Scruff is also unique in that we do allow our members to unsend photos in any message if they later change their mind. Now, neither one of these approaches is 100 percent foolproof. Anyone, once they receive content from you, can screenshot it. Even if you were to write the most sophisticated code possible, you could literally take a second smartphone and take a picture of the first smartphone, and thus have exfiltrated that content.
I think this is as much a social issue as it is a technical issue. I think what we are seeing is the social landscape change significantly from when we started more than seven years ago. I think you're seeing, not only gay men sharing personal content, explicit content in some cases, but you're also seeing straight men and women doing the same thing, especially with the rise of apps like Tinder.
That's, I think, also part of the reason why we're seeing lawmakers starting to pay attention to some of the worst case and most problematic consequences of sharing that sort of content. I know lawmakers in California were close to passing a law, I don't recall if they have yet, but they were debating a law on the topic of revenge porn and using explicit content, essentially resharing explicit content without permission for the sake of embarrassing someone else.
I mean, I can guarantee you there will come a point when our lawmakers themselves have revenge porn being leaked out onto the internet. Whether it's 2020 or 2030, there will be an American president one day who shared naughty photos when he or she was young. And so I think there is very much a social change that is happening.
I think making people more aware, not only of what could happen when they share something in private, but more importantly, making people aware of what could happen if they take private content and publish it publicly, knowing that they could get sued, fined, maybe even go to jail. I'm hopeful that that will change things for the better.
Ashley: ODo both parties have to agree to message each other, or can someone send a picture without an agreement on the other end, consent on the other end?
And also, I'm not sure if you've done any research into this, but do you know if people ask often if they're comfortable with photos being sent to them? Consent on the recipient's side, as opposed to the sender's side.
Messaging in Scruff is open, so anyone is free to initiate conversation with anyone else. Anyone's free to send content unsolicited to anyone else. Now, that said, you can block. Certainly, you can block other members, and you can clear conversations. So if you receive content you don't like, you can clear it, block the member, and if necessary, you can report them, if they're violating our community guidelines.
I think that the protocol in the gay community and the reaction by the gay community to receiving content, solicited or unsolicited, I think it's just different than it is in the straight community, so it's not as big of an issue. Typically, the content that you're receiving is of the person who's sending it, so it's not as much of a concern as is, will the person that I sent my content to turn around and reshare it without my permission.
Ashley: Could you explain some of your guidelines that you've developed over the years? Because, I don't know if you developed them from the onset, or incidents happened, or whatever. Just, could you explain some of your community guidelines that you've developed?
Sure. Yeah, we have a set of community guidelines that we have developed over the years. In addition to strong prohibitions about misrepresenting yourself, using fake images, catfishing, ... some of the most important guidelines are centered around your conduct, and the things that you say to other members, and the things that you say in your profile and in your profile text.
A critical feature of an app like Scruff is making sure that our community feels safe and feels welcome. If we have members of our community that are disruptors for some reason, they're uploading very offensive profile imagery, or have profile text that's threatening in some way, or perhaps more often the case, are simply being harassing in chat to other members, that's when our support team will step in and take action, and let people know this is a different kind of space. This is not like Twitter, where it seems pretty much anything goes, right?
This is not a publishing platform, if you will. This is a space where people who, generally speaking, are complete strangers, are coming together to try and meet one another to learn something about each other, maybe share content with one another, hopefully meet up. And as a result, we have a different and, I think, more stringent set of concerns.
That's why we have published a very complete set of community guidelines. Not only that, we enforce those guidelines. I think that's one of the key differentiators to the community that is Scruff compared to any others.
Kaitlyn: I'm assuming that people are sharing photos that aren't nudes, too. Probably just sharing photos of their faces or photos of a dog they saw. I don't know.
Kaitlyn: But is there anything specifically protecting nude photos? Just from like a very basic ...
Ashley: Are you encrypting the files, the actual security.
Kaitlyn: Yeah. It just seems like something people are thinking a lot more about. People are wary of, I mean ... I didn't know the word encryption until I was 19. I don't know.
Sure. So, and I think that you've, or perhaps the creators of that app, have identified a real issue, which is you don't want to have X-rated content, or explicit content, in your camera roll, because a lot of times you're loaning your camera out to someone to take a picture, or you're flipping through it with a friend. That's one of the big reasons why Scruff built its private album functionality. So you could essentially take that content off of your phone and send it and secure it up into the cloud. We ensure that information in transit is definitely encrypted.
I think, that said, it's up to everyone, whatever service they're using, whether it's Scruff, whether it's iCloud, to make sure that they are practicing security, or best practices when it comes to security. Use a strong password. Don't share your password with other people. Take advantage of two-factor authentication, especially for services that offer it.
Ashley: Do you have two-factor on Scruff?
It's something that we are definitely looking into for the future.
Ashley: And then, you mentioned it in transit, do you store these on Scruff's personal servers? When it's on the server, is it encrypted? What kind of protections do you have on the server?
We take a number of steps to secure our network. Encryption is a multifaceted and multilayered question and process. Yeah, I can say that the technical architecture of Scruff is one that we have had very smart people look into. We've worked with security researchers and security experts to ensure that the data that's on Scruff stays safe and that our members can use Scruff with confidence and know that their information isn't going to be disclosed to unauthorized parties.
Kaitlyn: So, it sounds like to you ... To go back to when you were building the app, it sounds like you always knew that you had to include this feature. What kind of user research did you do around that, and what kind of user research do you do now around that?
It's a great question. I think really when we started we were building Scruff for ourselves and kind of making a lot of ... Really going with intuition and going with our gut. We were learning as we go and evolving with the platform. The iPhone itself was much different. The capabilities of the iPhone were much different back then.
Today, we have a very full featured app. We are taking a renewed ... We've started renewed effort around user research, and doing some deep ethnographies where I think most recently we've interviewed more than 30 users for an hour each, to really build a complete and robust profile of how our members use the app, both here in the United States and abroad. I think the way people use Scruff and the way people use apps itself has evolved from, perhaps, just being about hookups in the beginning, to something bigger and much broader today. We know people on Scruff use it to make friends. They use it to learn about events and meet people who are attending events coming up.
We also know that travel is a huge use case for Scruff, which is why we built a feature called "Scruff Venture" that enables you to connect with other guys who are traveling in the same city, as well as connect with guys in the city who are happy to answer questions about where to go and what to do.
There's been a lot of evolution in how people use gay apps. We're at an inflection point where we really are trying to dig deeper to make the app, or continue to make the app, as useful and as fun as possible.
Ashley: Was video initially, when you first launched Scruff, part of the camera function, or is that newer?
It was not initially part of it, frankly, because the devices themselves weren't really ready to handle it. I think we launched it around 2013. We let you kind of record videos up to around 30 seconds length, and include those in your private album or show them in chat.
Ashley: What was your thought process when it came time to add video? Were you just sort of like, "The phones can handle it now. We wanted to do this before, but just the tech wasn't there." Or was it more of a considered decision that you guys made?
We knew our members wanted to share video and were sharing video via other means, whether it was other services or just kind of sending MMS messages. So we wanted to make it easier for people and we wanted to integrate it directly into the app. Yeah, it was around 2013 when the technology really made that achievable and allowed you to share what, frankly, are much larger files more efficiently. We probably launched video soon after Snapchat had really gotten its start.
Ashley: Is there anything from dating apps now that you're hoping in the future trickles down into the broader culture?
Yes. I think that, especially unique to gay dating apps, we enable our members to be very upfront in expressing their sex preferences. There's sexual preferences, which refer to if you want to have sex with men, you want to have sex with women. And then there are sex preferences. In the gay world, frequently, that's like top, bottom, versatile. The expression of these preferences often invites discomfort, scolding, shame, et cetera. I get it. This is a very sensitive topic. People have different levels of exposure to that, but I'm hopeful that in the future when people express their sex preferences, it will be seen as something that's normal and accepted.
Something that, sure, is a feature or field included on straight apps, too. Other people still see Scruff as a hookup app that's somehow illicit or doing something out of the norm, especially because of features like that. Scruff is not illicit. Wanting to have sex is not something out of the norm.
I'm hopeful that in the future that stigma or that cloud that kind of hangs over apps that cater to the gay community will have dissipated.
Kaitlyn: Yeah. This really gets to the thesis of our show. What you're saying here is that designing this type of app with these sets of features almost tells people, "No, you're not being weird or gross by wanting to express this about yourself. Lots of people want this and that's why this exists." The same thing with an app that would sort your nudes out of your camera roll. That's a company saying, "Lots of people have nudes in their camera roll, enough for us to do this," or whatever. Not that I need like a corporation to tell me that my sexual behavior is okay. But it really does seem like the little bonus implied in these apps that have it.
Ashley: Yeah, it brings it into the popular conscience. It's just like, "Oh, this is something that not just I would want to do, or think about doing, but product designers, people out there who are creating ways to express ourselves are giving us those options and are thinking about it, too." That's really cool.
Kaitlyn: And a lot of the paranoia just comes from the normal fear of being vulnerable. The paranoia about sharing a nude photo is not so different from the general fear of just being naked in front of somebody or whatever.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, Eric, thank you so much for coming on the show. You've really been a great interview and taught us so much.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.