Report: Whisper Monitors Users, Collects and Stores Their Data [UPDATED]

A damning report about the supposedly anonymous messaging app Whisper alleges that the company tracked and stored user data.

The Guardian published a damning report today on the anonymous messaging app Whisper. The article is filled with worrying allegations against the company. The doozy is the allegation that the company tracked users’ locations, even if they opted out of geo-location services.

When approached about this practice, Whisper denied ever doing so. Then, after they found out The Guardian would publish the report, the company changed its terms of service to say: “bear in mind that, even if you have disabled location services, we may still determine your city, state and country location,” and also added the line that its geo-location service could “allow others, over time, to make a determination as to your identity.”

This is very worrying, especially for users who trusted the app as a safe place for anonymous sharing. Whisper editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman was quick to dismiss the report:





Here are some of the other very worrying points from the report:

  • The company has an in-house mapping tool to search for GPS data.
  • The company has determined the approximate locations of users that have opted out of geo-location by using IP data from smartphones.
  • User data (sans usernames and phone numbers) is collected on a searchable database.
  • A team monitors “newsworthy” individuals — those who work for the military, Yahoo, Disney and the U.S. government.
  • Whisper is developing a Chinese version, and will cooperate with government censorship.

The report points to specific instances of location monitoring. When Guardian journalists visited Whisper, they learned:

In July, during the recent Israeli war in Gaza, Whisper was able monitor Israeli Defense Force soldiers on the frontline. “We had 13 or 14 soldiers who we were tracking – every whisper they did,” one Whisper executive said during the Guardian’s visit.
Separately, Whisper has been following a user claiming to be a sex-obsessed lobbyist in Washington DC. The company’s tracking tools allow staff to monitor which areas of the capital the lobbyist visits. “He’s a guy that we’ll track for the rest of his life and he’ll have no idea we’ll be watching him,” the same Whisper executive said.

The publication has worked with the company on stories in the past, says it is “no longer pursuing a relationship with Whisper.”

For more, head over to The Guardian:
Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users
Whisper app rewrites terms of service and privacy policy

UPDATE — Whisper provided the following statement to SocialTimes:

Whisper does not collect nor store any personally identifiable information from users and is anonymous. There is nothing in our geolocation data that can be tied to an individual user and a user’s anonymity is never compromised. Whisper does not follow or track users. The Guardian’s assumptions that Whisper is gathering information about users and violating user’s privacy are false.

Around the same time, Zimmerman offered this tweetstorm:

Publish date: October 16, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT