U.S. Senator demands Whisper outline privacy policies

Steven Loeb · October 24, 2014 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/39f5

Whisper has been accused of collecting user data and giving the information to the DoD

14837_big

When Vator Founder Bambi Francisco, interviewed Whisper CEO Michael Heyward at Vator Splash LA earlier this month, he called the service, "the safest place on the Internet."

What he was referring to, of course, was how it protected users from each other. But who watches the Watchmen? Is anyone making sure that Whisper users are being protected from Whisper itself? 

That's the question that people have been asking ever since the Guardian newspaper wrote a bombshell report that accused Whisper of not only collecting user data, but of sharing it with the United States Department of Defense. 

Though Whisper denied the report, a sitting U.S. Senator is now looking for answers.

Jay Rockefeller, the senior United States Senator from West Virginia, wrote a letter directly to Heyward earlier this week, in which he requesting a staff briefing regarding what was true and not true in the Guardian report.

"In an October 18, 2014 blog post, you state that WhisperText does not 'actively' track users but acknowledge that the company does collect data that can be used to approximate a user's location," Rockefeller wrote. "You also defend your company's relationships with media organizations and note plans to continue such partnerships."

In particular, Rockefeller wants Whisper to address four issues:

  • Whether, and how, Whisper is tracking the locations of its users
  • How much used data is being stored
  • How Whisper shares data with third parties, and if those policies have changed
  • How Whisper notifies its users regarding its privacy and security policies

"While Whisper may provide its users a unique social experience, the allegations in recent media accounts are serious, and users are entitled to privacy policies that are transparent, disclosed, and followed by the company," the Senator wrote.

Whisper, for its part, says it will comply with Rockefeller's request, even though it does not think there is anything to be revealed.

“We share the Senator's interest in protecting consumer privacy and will respond shortly. Though we disagree with the Guardian’s reporting, we welcome the discussion and opportunity to correct the record," Heyward told VatorNews.

The original Guardian story accused Whisper of intentionally tracking users who had turned off their geolocation services, as having a team, led by editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, who is "closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy." That means diving into their activity history and tracking their movements through the mapping tool.

The Guardian says that, "among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill."

In addition, Whisper is accused of supplying information to the DoD. At Splash, Heyward did reveal that the company talks to the police at least twice a week, but giving such information to the federal government, who could use it to track people, is a whole different matter. 

When talking to Heyward, Francisco tried to get him to talk about his privacy policies, but nothing concrete was said about them, so this is an area most people didn't see. The company, instead, expressed concerned about the 1% of bad actors on Whisper that it had to fend off.

If these allegations are true, though, it is actually Whisper who is guilty of being a bad actor. It's the one targeting people and watching them if they should be "newsworthy" subjects.

We've seen so many technology companies accused of being in cahoots with the government recently that this is hardly surprising. Just disappointing.

(Image source: chrisluckhardt.com)

Read more from our "Trends and news" series

More episodes

Related Companies, Investors, and Entrepreneurs

Whisper

Startup/Business

Joined Vator on

Whisper is an anonymous social network that is revolutionizing the way millions are interacting and expressing themselves online. At Whisper, they believe you can only truly be yourself when no one else is watching, so they've built a cloaking device for your thoughts. Untraceable, invisible, no restrictions.