Whisper is an app for iOS and Android that allows users to share private information anonymously, according to the app description issued by the company.
According to a report from The Guardian, Whisper is tracking the location of various anonymous users who specifically stated they do not want to be tracked. The report details various privacy and security concerns and it reveals that the company may be sharing information with the United States Department of Defence.
“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”.”
The report also quotes a portion of Whisper’s terms of service which states that opting into location tracking is completely voluntary. Here is a snippet from the company’s terms of service:
“Your permission to our access to and tracking of your location based information is purely voluntary, and, accordingly, you may freely opt-in of or opt-out of and determine the level of specificity of the same.”
Whisper then issued a response to the report from The Guardian saying that the app is not receiving any geographical coordinates from users who specifically opt-out of location sharing.
“This is not true. We neither receive nor store geographical coordinates from users who opt out of geolocation services.”
However, there terms of service aren’t entirely correct. In the company’s response to The Guardian, Whisper admits that they occasionally use the IP addresses of users to get a rough location of the people who use the app.
“User IP addresses may allow very coarse location to be determined to the city, state, or country level.”
Using an IP address to get location information can only get you so far. Generally it can be used to determine the city you reside in. Whisper says that because of this the user’s privacy and anonymity is preserved. The company then reassured it users that for those who opt-in to the locations services in the app, the geolocation data is obscured to 500 meters of the device’s actual location. Whisper than issued a statement to address the privacy concerns:
“The Guardian’s assumptions that Whisper is gathering information about users and violating user’s privacy are false. The privacy of our users is not violated in any of the circumstances suggested in the Guardian story.”
The Guardian discovered that the company changed their terms of service four days after the news publication learned about the privacy concerns. The Guardian has also stated that they will no longer be continuing their business relationship, in which they hoped to take on journalistic projects, with Whisper.