Apparently Whisper Doesn't Really Track Its Users After All?

Illustration for article titled Apparently Whisper Doesnt Really Track Its Users After All?

Last year, anonymous secret-sharing app Whisper got chewed out for tracking its users in a brutal expose from The Guardian. Only now, months later, The Guardian is backpedaling harder than a spin class devotee on many of its accusations against Whisper.

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The original report accused Whisper of pinpointing users' exact locations even after they opted out of geo-tracking, among other privacy infractions. This made Whisper look like crap, because the app toted its ability to protect its users, and there it was, stalking them. The fall out was severe: Whisper's partnership with Buzzfeed got put on hold, and its editor-in-chief (and former Gawker writer) Neetzan Zimmerman got suspended after defending the company on Twitter.

Well, now it looks like Zimmerman's bullish defense of his (now former) employer was founded. The Guardian basically redacted its most damning accusation, that Whisper was geo-stalking users and behaving in ways that threatened anonymity:

We reported that IP addresses can only provide an approximate indication of a person's whereabouts, not usually more accurate than their country, state or city. We are happy to clarify that this data (which all internet companies receive) is a very rough and unreliable indicator of location. We are also happy to make clear that the public cannot ascertain the identity or location of a Whisper user unless the user publicly discloses this information, that the information Whisper shared with the US Department of Defense's Suicide Prevention Office did not include personal data, and that Whisper did not store data outside the United States. Whisper's terms for sharing information proactively with law enforcement authorities where there is a danger of death or serious injury is both lawful and industry standard.

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Of course, this doesn't meant that we should take all apps that promise anonymity and privacy protection at their word and use them without scrutinizing their policies. But in this case, it's nice to know that a company wasn't quite as skeezy as it looked. [The Guardian via Wall Street Journal]

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DISCUSSION

gramercypolice
gramercypolice

It was interesting how many people embraced the original Guardian report without realizing how full of hot air it was from the get-go. Whisper actually had a good answer for virtually all the claims made against them and posted most of those immediately. To the company's credit, they also held off on fighting back on certain points while they investigated the claims, to make sure they didn't mount a defense that would later be proven untrue or simply a knee-jerk corporate reaction. In truth, that caution cost them, because people eager to believe The Guardian's story inferred from Whisper's delays that they knew the reports were true and were hoping they would go away in time. And Neetzan got in most of his trouble for coming out swinging, calling bullshit on their reporting and saying they would regret publishing it. And he was right.

Although, from the milquetoast 'corrections' (read: 'retractions'), maybe he wasn't right. Maybe The Guardian doesn't regret publishing things that any first-year web engineer could've told them were inaccuracies and misinterpretations of how web and networking actually work.

It's great that you posted this, but I feel like it would be fair to come down a lot harder on The Guardian, both for their silly reporting in this case, and for their weak response, five months later.