Whisper — a new social network that claims to provide anonymity — has been accused of secretly tracking users. The allegations were made by the Guardian newspaper, provoking renewed scrutiny of a multitude of data privacy claims made by software companies.
Makers of the Whisper application, which was launched in March 2012, claim that anyone that posts thoughts or secrets on their web site will remain anonymous. In the last 30 months, the company has exploded in popularity with over 2.6 million posts a day, notably by college students, who use the application to put up a picture and a line of text for anyone to read.
But Whisper also secretly mines the posts to send out hundreds of pitches a week to over 75 media organizations ranging from serious newspapers like the Guardian and the Washington Post to blog sites like Mashable and low brow entertainment web sites like Total Frat Move. The media can also request information on a certain topic or help finding sources.
The Guardian revelations were made after newspaper executives met with the company to discuss deepening their collaboration. The newspaper says it was astonished to discover that the company was secretly storing users posts as well as rough location data in an in-house searchable database.
The application data can also be provided to governments. “Whisper is also sharing information with the U.S. Department of Defense gleaned from smartphones it knows are used from military bases, and developing a version of its app to conform with Chinese censorship laws,” wrote Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe in a Guardian article published Thursday.
The Guardian articles said that the data shared with the Pentagon was intended to prevent suicides and self-inflicted harm. It also claimed that Neetan Zimmerman, the editor-in-chief, was using the data stored to track individuals that Whisper believed worked for companies like Disney and Yahoo as well as on Capitol Hill.