Whisper CTO says tracking “anonymous” users not a big deal, really

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that the developers of Whisper, a social media platform that allows individuals to post anonymous messages that can be seen by others based on a number of factors, isn’t all that anonymous after all. Whisper, which is advertised as “the safest place on the Internet,” tracks geolocation data of posters and uses their location data for a number of purposes—including censorship and reporting of posts from military bases to the Department of Defense. Whisper’s chief technology officer took to YCombinator’s Hacker News to defend the company against the report, but his explanation was torn apart by security and privacy experts in the discussion that followed.

Much like its competitor Secret, Whisper allows individuals to post anonymous messages overlaid on images or photos to share with others for comment. The application uses geolocation data to determine where the poster is and who should be able to see its contents.  It has become popular with a number of communities, including members of the military.

The Guardian was exploring a potential editorial relationship with Whisper, and staff from the news organization spent three days at Whisper’s offices in Los Angeles. While there, the Guardian team witnessed Whisper employees using an in-house geolocation tool to track posts made from various locations and found that the company is tracking specific Whisper users believed to be “potentially newsworthy,” including members of the military, government employees, and employees of companies such as Disney and Yahoo. The company also shares information about posters and their locations with the Defense Department, FBI, and the UK’s MI5, the Guardian’s Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe reported.

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