This Thursday, allegations surfaced suggesting that the privacy-centric social media app Whisper had been tracking user information, logging GPS locations, and handing over sensitive data to law enforcement without the knowledge or permission of its users.
Whisper, the social media app which prides itself first and foremost on user privacy, has been steadily gaining traction over the last year as privacy concerns flared up in the wake of the Snowden leaks and the reveal of covert NSA surveillance programs contained within the documents he released.
Now, the Guardian has published a new article alleging that Whisper is not nearly as secretive as it claims to be on the surface, and could potentially be turning bits of logged information over to local and federal law enforcement agencies when requested for internal investigations.
According to their report:
“User data, including Whisper postings that users believe they have deleted, is collated in a searchable database. The company has no access to users’ names or phone numbers, but is storing information about the precise time and approximate location of all previous messages posted through the app.
The data, which stretches back to the app’s launch in 2012, is being stored indefinitely, a practice seemingly at odds with Whisper’s stated policy of holding the data only for ‘a brief period of time,’” the paper reported this week.
Many of these practices directly contradict the supposed “anonymous” nature of the program, and if true, would likely cause its sizable user base to abandon the app in droves.
The editor-in-chief of Whisper, Neetzan Zimmerman, took no time at all to hop on Twitter and fire back at the author, calling the Guardian article “lousy” and “full of falsehoods”.
“Clearly, their intention was for absolutely no reason to write a hit piece about us and try to scare away our users,” Zimmerman said in a reportedly irate phone interview with the Washington Post.
First response: The Guardian’s piece is lousy with falsehoods, and we will be debunking them all. Much more to come.
— Neetzan Zimmerman (@neetzan) October 16, 2014
Despite their statements and backtracks of the past 24 hours, according to the service’s website, Whisper is “committed to being a safe place for our users to anonymously share their innermost thoughts, secrets and feelings. That’s why we place so much focus on protecting your privacy and personal information.”
The whole situation certainly looks fishy, with Whisper supposedly changing the wording in their Terms of Service to include their ability to essentially “do whatever they like” with the data they gather a mere four days before The Guardian announced to the company they would be publishing the piece.
Whatever the actual result of the investigation, The Guardian has announced they will be severing ties with the app developers (which previously included a close relationship to aid several journalists embedded in Iraq), and have promised to back up their statements with documents of fact once the initial uproar over the issue calms down and the developers have enough time to dig themselves a large enough hole that could prove impossible to get back out of after the dust finally settles.