Will the Real Ethan Please Stand Up?

October 16, 2014

Blog | Technology | Will the Real Ethan Please Stand Up?
Will the Real Ethan Please Stand Up?

The interwebs is chock-full of the name Ethan these days. Do you know Ethan? Does anybody really know Ethan?

Ethan is Ethan Gliechtenstein, the creator of Ethan, an iOS app that allows people to send him a message. He’ll respond as he sees fit. People are flocking to use it, seeking  advice ranging from what to eat for lunch and what movie to see, to which outfit looks better and what to name their pets.

Frenzy aside, it begs the question: Who is, or who owns, Ethan? Is there a random person sitting with his device sifting through hundreds – or thousands – of messages per day? CollegeHumor made a parody series very similar to this entitled “What If Google Was a Guy?” My vote? I don’t buy it.

The back story is that Ethan wanted a way for his close friends to be able to contact him, without having to check each individual app. Sounds a bit fishy when you consider that most smart phones cull notifications for you. Supposedly, his circle of “friends” on the app grew and suddenly, it was installed on devices owned by people he no longer knew.

Putting aside the technicalities of having to sift through and respond to all the messages in a meaningful way, there are physical limitations to consider. There are only so many hours in a day.

Consider this: in May of this year, Marcel Fernandes broke the world record of texting speed on a smartphone, using the Fleksy app, typing a 25-word paragraph in just over 18 seconds.

The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.

Definitely not an easy feat; I don’t think I’ve even typed some of the words in the required paragraph. Given that Ethan must respond to all received messages, and given that the average texter uses plenty of shortcuts in their messages, it’s probably safe to assume the response can’t be crafted in a matter of seconds.

Whether or not a single person is behind the responses, there’s a larger question at hand: WHY?

Could this all be some kind of social experiment to determine just how much information people are willing to to share with a complete stranger? It may be innocent enough to ask whether lunch should be Chinese or Italian, but it becomes more personal as Ethan responds  depend on where you live. You’re now freely reporting the state, city, or even the neighborhood where you reside, to some random person, or persons, on the internet!

Perhaps Ethan is a giant data mining operation from a large corporation determined to create an even larger social graph. Like Facebook or the NSA. No one seems to know.

Separate from all this, is the issue of security. Who’s to say the data won’t be made public? With sites like Reddit and 4chan garnering huge attention when leaks occur, there’s nothing stopping Ethan from releasing every single question sent to the app, or any other information that could be gathered from repeated use, to make a mess of things.

As a developer, I admit, the app is interesting. I’m more interested, however, in learning about the back-end and Ethan’s plans for the data. Until those questions are answered, I think it’s safer to steer clear of this one.

Have you installed Ethan? If so, what questions have you submitted? Tweet to us @Geekhive.

Phil Azzi, Developer, GeekHive

Phil Azzi

Technical Lead
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