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 back-pedalling harder than a spin class devotee on many of its accusations against Whisper.
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 fallout 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 defence 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 Defence’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.
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 scrutinising 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]