The Whisper app is supposed to be "the safest place on the Internet" for users to share secrets they wouldn't feel comfortable sharing anywhere else. And, a lot of people are taking advantage. Whisper users are sharing up to 2.6 million secrets a day. But, those secrets might not be so safe after all. It turns out Whisper is tracking user locations and sharing other user data with the government.
Whisper encourages people to share secrets on its social media platform and ensures them that they'll be kept anonymous. That's why you should make sure your kids aren't using it. People on the app talk about everything from cheating on their spouse to the cleanliness of hotel rooms where they work.
The Guardian is reporting that Whisper developers created their own program to keep track of some users. Reporters from the publication witnessed Whisper's abilities first hand when they visited the company's headquarters in September.
Whisper has developed an in-house mapping tool that allows its staff to filter and search GPS data, pinpointing messages to within 500 meters of where they were sent.
Whisper can even keep track of users who have specifically turned off Whisper's tracking ability on their gadgets.
When users have turned off their geolocation services, the company also, on a targeted, case-by-case basis, extracts their rough location from IP data emitted by their smartphone.
That's very concerning for people who think they're sharing secrets on the app anonymously.
The Guardian has also revealed that Whisper is very open about sharing its data with the government. The app's developers have shared information with the FBI in the past because they believed a person's life was at risk, which is something many tech companies will do.
But privacy experts who reviewed Whisper’s terms of service for The Guardian said the company appeared to require a lower legal threshold for providing user information to authorities than other tech companies.
Whisper has also worked with journalists and news organizations, including The Guardian, to help them mine the app for possible stories or story subjects. It has plans to share the location data with some journalists in the future.
Not everything Whisper is doing sounds all that bad. In fact, the app claims it's trying to lower suicide rates among our military men and women by providing data to the Department of Defense. It's letting researchers know how often suicide and self-harm are being mentioned on gadgets that Whisper knows are on military bases, but not sharing "specific user data."
Just remember what I always tell you, if you're going to post something to the Internet, it's never truly private. Even "the safest place on the Internet" isn't actually all that secure.