At my birthday party last week, my friend Ebby walked over and asked a group of us “What’s this Gather app all about?”
I instantly felt a bit insecure. Of that particular group of friends, I should have been the one with a ready answer. I’m supposed to know about hot new apps. But Gather was a mystery.
The next morning, hungover and recovering from the post-birthday blues, I received a text message: “You have been invited to Gather with 6 of your friends on Gather – DOWNLOAD LINK.”
The text was sent from a five-digit number, meaning it came from a server instead of a real human’s phone number. But just the night before I had heard a rather reliable friend mention the app, which piqued my curiosity. I downloaded the app but stopped short of creating a username and password. I had already, at least in that moment, lost interest.
Skip forward to that afternoon. My lovely girlfriend walked in the front door and asked if I downloaded something called Gather. She’s smarter than me, so she looked up app reviews before she thoughtlessly followed the instructions of the invite text.
“Yeah, you spammed everyone,” she said. “Look at this review.”
Let’s do that.
Deep in the weeds of the App Store reviews — most of which are glowing and composed of near-perfect grammar and spelling (red flag!) — there is a one-star review with the title “DO NOT GET!!! ITS JUST SPAM”
This app is seemingly a wonderful idea, and looks well made. Despite this, it has a major inconvenience due to the fact that it SENDS A MESSAGE TO ALL OF YOUR CONTACTS ONCE YOU MAKE AN ACCOUNT. This is not only embarrassing to the person supposedly sending the message but unprofessional of the app. It is convenient to be able to send invites to who you want, but that should be OPTIONAL. I received one of these texts saying multiple of my friends invited me to join the app. I downloaded simply to see what it was, but later found that more people from my contacts had been sent the same message without me authorizing it. It was embarrassing to me and it is a terrible awy to try and expand an app such as this. I do not recommend even downloading this app, and I especially do not recommend creating an account.
Now, I can’t verify the authenticity or inauthenticity of all those four-star and five-star reviews praising Gather’s ease of on-boarding and how insightful it is to have an app that lets you meet up with friends (as though the same app idea hasn’t launched and failed throughout the years, over and over). I can, however, verify that the review above is pretty damn accurate.
In fact, you don’t even have to create an account with Gather to trigger the SMS spam-fest that will soon land in your friends’ (and family’s and colleagues’) inboxes.
A little more investigating yields this Reddit thread from a poor guy who had the same exact experience as I did. And then there’s this website, with a couple of reviews warning of the spam attack.
And let’s not forget Twitter:
Now, Gather appears to be a real app. It has a cute little website, and the app (or, at least, the on-boarding screen) looks well-designed. The support email address listed on the website also works, as I received a response from the support team when I originally reached out: “We’re happy to talk about questions or concerns.” So I asked to speak to the CEO/founder about the spam marketing. I’m still waiting to hear back.
I could check out the app and tell you what it does, and if it might somehow overcome the many obstacles plaguing social planning apps and totally change the world. But I won’t.
Gather does not pass go. It will not collect $200.
It’s one thing to send a pop-up within the app asking to “Invite your friends.” It’s also mildly tolerable to send the App Store pop-up asking for access to Contacts, which then auto-texts your contacts with an invite to the app, though that’s not the best way to build good will with users.
It’s an entirely different thing to mine a user’s contacts the moment they download the app (before they’ve created an account or granted any permissions) and spam everyone that they know from a five-digit server number.
It’s not 2009.
I’ve considered not saying a word about Gather on TechCrunch, so as to not publicize a bad actor. But given the fact that this shit is spreading like wildfire, I’m officially warning you.