NGL Fooled Users Into Thinking They Had Friends Interested In Their Sad Little Lives

Users are increasingly claiming they got scammed by the app, and that the messages aren’t from their friends at all. 
Jules Roscoe
New York, US
Screengr from NGL'swebsite.
Screengrab from NGL's website. 

NGL is the latest installment in the craze of anonymous messaging apps. Post a link on your Instagram story saying, “Ask me anything!” and your friends will click it to respond with questions. At least, that’s what NGL says. 

But users are increasingly claiming they got scammed, and that the messages aren’t from their friends at all. 

One person wrote in a review that there was “something off about this app.” They had copied the link from the app, but had not yet posted it on their Instagram story, meaning no one would have access to it. They still got two messages from their supposedly anonymous friends. 

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A review for NGL on the App Store.

Screenshot from NGL reviews on the App Store.

Motherboard downloaded the app and copied the link onto an Instagram story, but took it down within five seconds of it being posted—nobody had seen the story. Exactly five minutes later, we got our first message request: “when was the last time you wet the bed?”

The questions posed by the app, like this one, are a bit off-putting. One NGL User, Caitlin Hsu, told Motherboard she posted a series of NGL responses on her Instagram story, but she thought some of them didn’t quite make sense.

“I got one that was like, ‘Do you have any piercings?’” she said. Hsu often posts updates on her piercings, and asks for advice on her story about new ones she should get. “I thought [the question] was weird, because I obviously do.”

Motherboard’s Rachel Pick, who posted some of her NGL responses on Twitter, said that while some of the questions she received were specific to her, “There were a couple that were suspiciously generic and reminiscent of party icebreakers or Reddit threads.” Pick gave the example question “what animal would you fight?” which is something I have definitely asked at a party before.

At 15 million downloads on Google Play and the App Store, and an average App Store rating of 4.8 stars, NGL seems pretty popular. And for a time, it was. Pick said she initially downloaded the app because it was a trend. “It was an ‘everyone else is doing this so let’s see if I get anything good’ thing,” she said. 

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But a keyword analysis of the app’s reviews run by TechCrunch, who first reported the story, revealed that many reviews reference words like “bots” and “scam.” The scam, beyond just pretending that you have friends who care about you, is that for $9.99 a week, you can unlock hints to help you figure out who sent a message. And the hints are not helpful at all. 

One user wrote in a one-star review that they paid for the hint, expecting something like an Instagram handle. Instead, they got, “they are near *location* on an iphone 11.” 

Another wrote that it’s the same hint for every question. A third wrote that the hints, an approximate U.S. state and phone model, were “2 things that could make them literally anyone if u have more then 200 followers,” and that they were “truly ripped off.”

Two additional reviews of NGL on the App Store.

Screenshots of two more reviews of NGL on the App Store.

Data from Sensor Tower, an app intelligence company, reveals that NGL has gained $2.4 million from users trying to buy hints, according to TechCrunch. The app offers an additional $1.99 charge for unlimited hints. 

When contacted for comment, NGL responded with an automated email saying it was “sorry to hear you’re not enjoying your NGL pro subscription.” It clarified that we could unsubscribe at any time by going to Settings in the app (Motherboard has not subscribed to NGL pro). Within Settings, however, there are only four options: instructions on how to share the link, following NGL’s instagram, “I need help”, and account deletion. “I need help” takes you to the app’s help email, which is unhelpful. 

Hsu said it was “a little disappointing” to hear that some of her questions were likely from bots, but that it would explain her confusion about the piercing question. “The vast majority of my questions seem to be from actual people, so I wasn’t really that affected by it,” she said.