Whisper App Is Not Anonymous, Stores User Data Indefinitely & Shares With Law Enforcement

Whisper, the social messaging app produced by Whispertext, purports to provide anonymous messaging and benefitted tremendously as a result from the post-Snowden increased concerns over privacy. However, according to report by the Guardian newspaper, it turns out that Whisper has been secretly tracking the locations of its users (even when users opt-out of geolocation services) even while company officials assert it “does not follow or track users” and shares user data with government officials.

The moral of the story: Just because a company claims its product provides anonymity doesn't mean you can trust its claims.

  • 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”.
  • A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool. Among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill.
  • Whisper’s policy toward sharing user data with law enforcement has prompted it on occasions to provide information to both the FBI and MI5. Both cases involved potentially imminent threats to life, Whisper said, a practice standard in the tech industry. But privacy experts who reviewed Whisper’s terms of service for the Guardian said the company appeared to require a lower legal threshold for providing user information to authorities than other tech companies.
  • The company is cooperating with the US Department of Defense, sharing information with researchers investigating the frequency of mentions of suicide or self-harm from smartphones that Whisper knows are being used from US military bases. Whisper stressed that “specific user data” is not being shared with the DoD, adding that the company was “proudly working with many organisations to lower suicide rates and the US military is among them”.
  • Whisper is developing a Chinese version of its app, which received a soft-launch earlier this month. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are banned in mainland China. Whisper executives said they had agreed to the demands China places on tech companies operating in its jurisdiction, including a ban on the use of certain words.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users
 
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