Whisper App in Trouble After Guardian Report

October 24, 2014
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Well that didn’t take long! Just last week I wrote about apps that were trouble just waiting to happen, and this week I come across The Guardians exposé on how popular anonymity app Whisper quietly tracks its users, even those that have opted out of geolocation services.

In their article The Guardian accuses Whisper of sharing information with the US Department of Defense, of tracking users (especially in the military) and of rewriting its terms of service and privacy policy after the article came out, amongst other things.

They write, “Approached for comment last week, Whisper said it “does not follow or track users”. The company added that the suggestion it was monitoring people without their consent, in an apparent breach of its own terms of service, was “not true” and “false”. But on Monday – four days after learning the Guardian intended to publish this story – Whisper rewrote its terms of service; they now explicitly permit the company to establish the broad location of people who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature.”

They also claim that the app secretly track users they believe to be ‘newsworthy’ and then sharing their content with media companies. Co-founder and CEO Michael Heyward had publicly defended his company for posting newsworthy celebrity gossip deeming them to be ‘Public domain’ while still maintaining that his app was to create a more honest and empathetic world.

Obviously the supposed “Safest place on the Internet” Whisper has quickly fired back and denied nearly all of The Guardians claims. Although that didn’t stop Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller from requesting Heyward outline his company’s privacy policy. He has presented the CEO with a number of questions that refer to the accusations made by The Guardian.

Rockefeller wants Heyward to clear things up in a staff meeting, specifically on “Whether and how WhisperText tracks or has tracked the location of its users who have opted out of geolocation services, and if it has, how does it or has it used that information,” and also how long do they hold on to information and where the data is kept. He also wants to know what Whispers policy is on sharing information with third parties and their practices on notifying users on updates to their privacy policy.

While Whisper may provide its users a unique social experience, the allegations in recent media reports are serious, and users are entitled to privacy policies that are transparent, disclosed, and followed by the company,” Rockefeller wrote in his letter.

The fact that the government is actually following up with the allegations made in The Guardian is actually pretty cool. I sure hope that something comes out of this.

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