The WhatApp service is being proposed as a Consumer Reports-style resource for software. Developed by the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford, it will cover downloadable desktop software, in addition to software for mobile phones, and online applications for social services such as Facebook and Friendster.
"It focuses specifically on privacy, security, and openness," said Ryan Calo, project manager for the service. "Experts will be able to rate and review applications, so that individuals can get greater information about things before they download them, and make comparisons."
WhatApp will be based around 'application detail pages' that provide a mixture of news stories, Wiki entries, and other, user-contributed notes. It uses a mixture of manual ratings and written reviews. There will also be an automated news feed that grabs related news on a software application from Google News. It alerts users to any stories that relate to the privacy and security of that application.
"In addition to this, there are developer's notes, which is where the developer gets to brag about anything good that they've done with the application related to security and privacy," Calo added.
The service will include a quantitative rating badge using three measures – privacy, security, and openess – with a rating from 1 to 5. The ratings are based on questionnaires submitted to experts. "We won't vet experts tremendously heavily, because we think that ultimately, users will help to identify them, and experts will also have to prove their expertise." Mirroring other user-generated content sites such as Wikipedia, the project is relying on community policing to get rid of trolls, dilettantes and other outliers.
The project is similar to StopBadware.org, a project recently spun off from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, but it tackles a slightly different base of products. StopBadware targets software that is explicitly badly behaved, whereas WhatApp will be more subtle.
"We're trying to tackle that mid market between combating outright malware, and the market for ordinary likeability and useability of products. We think there's a market in between for privacy and security," concluded Calo.