Anonymous App Whisper Hits Back at Privacy Claims

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The CEO of so-called “anonymous” social media app Whisper has hit back at allegations that it may be illegally monitoring and tracking users.

Reports in The Guardian last week alleged that the app – which claims to be “the safest place on the internet” and allow users to “anonymously share your thoughts and secrets” – tracks users via an internally developed mapping tool.

Those who have opted out of GPS tracking are still located via their IP address, the report claimed.

What’s more, data including anonymous postings that users believe they’ve deleted is actually stored in a searchable database indefinitely, The Guardian said.

Certain users whom the editorial team believe are “newsworthy” are singled out for special attention, it added.

Privacy experts have called on the FTC to investigate the company, however Whisper responded that it does not collect or store any personally identifiable information (PII) and is completely anonymous.

CEO Michael Heyward then penned a blog post over the weekend to try and clear the mess up.

He repeated the line about not collecting PII and only collecting GPS data via opt-in, however his response was more measured than that of editor-in-chief Netzan Zimmerman who claimed The Guardian was actually lying.

“We realize that we’re not infallible, and that reasonable people can disagree about a new and quickly evolving area like online anonymity,” said Heyward. “So we’re grateful to those who have shared thoughtful feedback over the last few days.”

Mark James, security specialist at Eset, told Infosecurity that personally identifiable information may mean different things to different people.

“Privacy often comes a close second to actually being able to use the app and sadly the providers of the software are fully aware of this,” he added.

If I want to join the crowd and use that app I will need to search, locate and install that app on my smartphone, I will almost certainly be presented by a list of things it can or cannot do and most people will never read them or take any notice at all - because if they accept, they can’t install the app.

TK Keanini, CTO at Lancope, claimed that there’s still “quite a way to go” before privacy issues on the internet are resolved.

“The reality is that there is still a very diverse definition of what people believe should remain private and to whom. You cannot talk about information as private or public unless you also specify to whom and for how long,” he told Infosecurity.

“Once an assertion is made in this manner, the right technology and process can enforce the policy for the community.”   

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