New smartphone app promotes voyeurism

The makers of a new and much-anticipated smartphone app called Color are operating on this principle: “We’re all inherently voyeuristic,” said Peter Pham, president and co-founder of the Palo Alto, California start-up.

Color, however, is a location-based, photo-sharing app that takes voyeurism to post-Twitter level by letting users see all of the photos that are being taken by strangers who happen to be within a 150-foot radius of the user’s smartphone.

Photos taken through the app, which launches on Thursday morning, are public by default. They’re stored on Color’s servers and the company owns them, said Pham, who co-founded the 30-person company with Bill Nguyen, previously of and a force to be reckoned with in the tech world.

Only other users of the app will have access to those photos, and only photos taken by people using the app will be shared.

Pham described the effect of using the app as a sort of bug-eye experience — one where you’re seeing the world through dozens of lenses at once. Imagine sitting in a restaurant and being able to see all of the photos that are being taken, or have been taken, by nearby patrons. This mosaic of photographs — depicting the world within eyeshot — shows up on the screen of your phone.

“Essentially, everybody is sharing one lens,” said Pham.

They’re also sharing a window into each other’s personal lives. Color users can dive into nearby users’ public photo “diaries,” including photos that were shot at other locations or on other days.

“All these people that are near me, I can click on any one of them and take a look at their life and how they’ve used the app and their diary — and what they look like,” he said. “This is a completely open application.”

Pham said Color is taking the Twitter concept to the next level. The app differs from other photo-sharing apps like Instagram and PicPlz in that it lets users see all of the public photos of everyone that’s nearby. Those other apps operate off of friends’ lists, even if the photos people post are technically public.

On Color, users don’t even log in with an e-mail address or password.

The app certainly has the backing of tech’s financiers. The company so far has received $41 million in investment, said Pham.

Other apps or websites that allow strangers to share photos and videos of themselves — think Grindr, the gay dating app, or Chatroulette, the live online video chat that got tons of buzz last year — have had problems keeping photos streams on the up-and-up. There’s something that feels a little grimy about seeing the photos of dozens of strangers suddenly populating your screen, especially since you can’t remove them from your feed.

Pham said vulgarity won’t be a problem with Color because peoples’ photo streams follow them throughout the day. So you wouldn’t want to play a prank by posting a gross photo at a bar only to have your co-workers see this when you show up to work the next morning and they open the app.

As for privacy concerns, Pham dismissed those.

“If you don’t feel comfortable having that public, then don’t use our application,” he said.

Color is free and will be available for Apple iOS and Google Android.

Friends — and strangers — can share photos between those operating systems without any trouble, said Pham.

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