The Guardian issues clarification on controversial articles about anonymous app Whisper

12 Mar 2015

The Guardian newspaper has issued a clarification about a series of controversial articles it published about anonymous messaging app Whisper.

The Guardian originally reported allegations that Whisper had violated users’ privacy in terms of location data and the sharing of data with law enforcement authorities.

The reports alleged Whisper changed the terms of its privacy policy when it learned The Guardian was investigating the service.

Whisper vehemently denied and disputed the claims.

In the clarification, The Guardian said: “We confirm that Whisper had drafted the changes to its terms of service and privacy policy before Whisper became aware that The Guardian was intending to write about it. 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 Defense’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. The Guardian did not report that any of Whisper’s activities were unlawful. However, we are happy to clarify that there is no evidence for that suggestion.”

Michael Heyward founded Whisper two years ago, and its headquarters are in California. The aim of the service is to allow anonymity and prevent cyberbullying.

While it has been used by citizen journalists in many of the world’s hotspots to get information out without risk to themselves, critics of the platform have focused on its terms and conditions that include references to sharing information with legal authorities, as well as why the app requires access to smartphone features such as camera and contacts lists.

Privacy image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years