Whisper (app)

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This article is about a product of WhisperText LLC. For WhisperPush, an implementation of an encrypted messaging protocol, see TextSecure.
Whisper
Whisper logo.png
Developer(s) WhisperText LLC
Initial release March 31, 2012 (2012-03-31)
Development status Active
Operating system iOS, Android
Type Social Networking
License Proprietary
Website whisper.sh

Whisper is a proprietary iOS and Android mobile app available without charge, which says that it allows users to send messages anonymously, and to receive replies.[1][2][3][4] Users post messages which are displayed as text superimposed over an image, similar to greeting cards.[5] The app was launched in March 2012 under the original name WhisperText by CEO Michael Heyward and Brad Brooks, who is the CEO of mobile messaging service TigerText.

Features[edit]

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic describes the service as follows:

Anyone can post an anonymous message to the service in the form of an image macro: text overlaid on a picture. When you open the app, you see six such images. Each one has a "secret" on it. You can respond to a message publicly or privately, choosing a public anonymous post or a private pseudonymous chat. Users don't have a public identity in the app. While they do have persistent handles, there's no way to contact them except *through* the messages they post.[6]

User base[edit]

Whisper has become popular on college campuses,[7] with usership at several large universities throughout the United States, including Pennsylvania State University, Arizona State University, University of Florida, Ohio State University, and University of Texas at Austin.[8][9] Stories about the app have appeared in Forbes,[2] USA Today,[10] The Washington Post,[11] and Huffington Post,[7] and Heyward was featured on Forbes' Top 30 under 30 in Technology list in January 2014.[12] In early November 2013, Whisper was reported to have reached 2.5 billion monthly page-views and nearly 3 billion page-views in December 2013.[13] In April 2015, Whisper reached 10 million monthly active users.[14]

Concept[edit]

The app purports to promote online anonymity. The developer claims this will prevent and combat cyberbullying.[15] This anonymity is claimed to have fostered a support network where concern and care among users has developed: according to Mashable, "The team regularly hears from users that the network's community has helped them stop self-harming behaviors."[16] Another premise behind the service was to counter the "best possible self" ego-driven self-aggrandizing "vanity" posting done on Facebook, and as an antidote to the phenomenon of "oversharing" and "too much information" that young users engage in online.[17] Business Insider, Forbes, and The Daily Dot have called it "the anti-Facebook,"[2][11][18] and Forbes Tech drew a contrast in stating that, "Whisper, even more than Snapchat, is the anti-Facebook."[19] The digital-news website SMU SMC summed up all these points together: "In addition to preventing cyber bullies, Whisper gives users the opportunity to confess to things that could potentially ruin marriages, friendships or result in loss of job, without suffering consequences. You can over share without any repercussions."[20]

Whisper has also been used as a platform for citizen journalism. In June 2014, amid widespread violence and unrest in Iraq and the Iraqi government's blocking of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, many Iraqis downloaded and used Whisper as a means of acting as real-time reporters, posting news and updates hours before the mainstream media, as well as sharing political views and personal thoughts and feelings.[21][22]

Controversy[edit]

The Whisper app has been criticized for requiring access to smartphone features such as the camera and the user's contact list, which is disclosed when the app is downloaded on the Android platform.[23][self-published source?]

In May of 2015, a 15-year-old girl from Bolton, Massachusetts was charged with making a threat on Whisper towards a school, referencing the Columbine shootings; she was tracked down using Whisper and GPS. [24]

Privacy policy[edit]

The company's privacy policy reveals that it will turn over information in the case of requests from law enforcement in order to comply with applicable laws for enforceable government requests such as a subpoena.[25] The Electronic Frontier Foundation's attorney Hanni Fakhoury commented in early 2014 that while Whisper may have no legal choice in the matter, "it’s the doublespeak that’s problematic." Fakhoury elaborated that: "You have to be very careful about selling a program as a secure way to secretly communicate, and then reserve the right to turn over that information whenever necessary."[26]

The Guardian allegations[edit]

In October 2014, The Guardian newspaper alleged that:[27][28]

  • Whisper retains every user's posts indefinitely in a central database (including "deleted" posts), together with each post's timestamp and approximate geolocation, even if the user has opted out of geolocation;
  • Whisper allegedly stores or processes user information outside the United States despite having told its users that "we process and store all information in the United States". Whisper has said that while it does use an outsourcing firm for content moderation based in the Philippines, no data is stored outside the US.[29]
  • Whisper allegedly provides data it gathers (including geolocation data) to the FBI, and MI5. Whisper participated in a DOD project about suicide prevention by sharing aggregate mentions of certain words on military bases.[30]

Whisper disputed nearly all the Guardian allegations[31] and made a point-by-point response to the Guardian.[32]

On October 23, 2014, U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller asked Whisper's CEO to appear before him and the staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to explain Whisper's tracking systems, tracking data retention, and data distribution. Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Fusion (TV channel) suspended their partnerships with Whisper.[33][34]

In March 2015, The Guardian published a clarification of the October 2014 piece in which it had made numerous allegations about Whisper's privacy protection and metadata policy.[35] The Guardian clarified the claims regarding user location, data storage, changes to Whisper's terms of service and security policy and the sharing of user data with the US Department of Defense. It also removed an opinion piece titled "Think you can Whisper privately? Think again."[36] The retraction was covered by several news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal,[37] CNN Money,[38] TechCrunch,[39] and Mashable.[40]

Xipiter report[edit]

On March 22, 2015, a security startup called Xipiter published a report in which they outlined serious security concerns and the resistance they met when trying to bring these concerns to the attention of Whisper.sh. They claimed that they could hijack a users' account, post (publicly or privately) as a hijacked user, and view all of a user's current and past private messages.[41] In response, Whisper's co-founder Michael Heyward and its CTO Chad DePue claimed that it is not possible to do such things with their app and accused Xipiter of fabricating their proof of concept video.[42] Xipiter's claims have yet to be validated or disproved by independent security researchers.[42]

Technology[edit]

Development of the system was outsourced to Inaka,[43] a web and mobile app development consultancy based in Seattle, Washington and Buenos Aires, Argentina.[44] The original system back end used the Riak NoSQL database, but after performance problems with Riak the system was converted to use MySQL[45] and Apache Cassandra.[46]

Corporate[edit]

The company, WhisperText LLC, is led by CEO Michael Heyward.[47] The company is based out of Santa Monica, California.[48]

WhisperText LLC received its first round of venture-capital funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners for $3 million in April 2013,[49] and then a second round of funding from Sequoia Capital, Trinity Capital, Krum Corporate, and Lightspeed for $21 million in September 2013.[50] PitchBook, an independent private equity and venture capital research firm, forecasted in November 2013 that Whisper is one of the likeliest social platform IPOs, with a pre-money valuation of $85 million.[51] According to Om Malik, Founder and Senior Writer of GigaOM, Whisper was already, as of July 2013, valued at $100 million.[47]

WhisperText's early revenue came from its service charges for private messaging, however, messaging is now free. WhisperText has experimented with advertising as of 2015.[52] However, Tim Dotan of the Los Angeles Business Journal asks "Would it be a violation if, say, a person who anonymously comes out on Whisper starts getting ads targeted at a gay audience?"[53]

Your Voice[edit]

Whisper Text LLC claims to have set up a companion nonprofit for its users called Your Voice, which, according to its web site, is "dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues on college campuses". The site claims to provide resources and support for college students dealing with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sexuality and LGBTQ issues, bullying, suicide prevention, and stress management.[54] The web site provides links to various services run by other organizations, but offers no services of its own. The contact telephone number on the web site to call for help is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[55]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lawler, Ryan (May 16, 2013). "Now With More Than 1.5B Page Views A Month, Secret Sharing App Whisper Launches On Android". TechCrunch (San Francisco, California). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Geron, Tomio (June 24, 2013). "The Return Of The Anonymous Social Web". Forbes (New York, New York). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  3. ^ https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=sh.whisper
  4. ^ https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/whisper-share-express-meet/id506141837?mt=8
  5. ^ Gannes, Liz (September 5, 2013). "Why Should You Care About Whisper, the Secret-Sharing App That VCs Are Pouring Money Into?". All Things D (San Francisco, California). Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Secret Lives Of College Students: Anonymous Posts Shared By Whisper Users". Huffington Post (New York, New York). August 23, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ Williams, Elizabeth (November 26, 2012). "New iPhone app lets college students whisper their secrets". The Daily Texan (Austin, Texas). Retrieved December 25, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Largest Colleges and Universities". CollegeStats.org. 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  9. ^ Reimold, Dan (March 22, 2013). "Students 'Whisper' secrets on popular mobile app". USA Today (Tysons Corner, Virginia). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Tsukayama, Hayley (May 25, 2013). "Whisper lets you anonymously share your deepest secrets". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  11. ^ Bertoni, Steven et al. (January 6, 2013). "Forbes' Top 30 under 30 in Technology". Forbes (New York, New York). Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  12. ^ Shontell, Alyson (December 16, 2013). "Secret-Sharing App Whisper Is Nearing 3 Billion Monthly Pageviews Because It Does Something Facebook Can't". Business Insider (New York, New York). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  13. ^ Shontell, Alyson (May 4, 2015). "After Passing 10 Million Monthly Active Users, Whisper Hires Its First President". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 29, 2015. 
  14. ^ Collier Cool, Lisa (September 4, 2013). "The Technology That Increases the Risk of Cyberbullying". Yahoo Health (Sunnyvale, CA). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  15. ^ Fox, Zoe (October 31, 2013). "Is Anonymous Social Media the Answer to Cyberbullying?". Mashable (Palo Alto, CA). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  16. ^ Gannes, Liz (August 2, 2013). "I’m So Over Oversharing: On Making Our Digital Lives More Real". All Things D (San Francisco, CA). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  17. ^ Dickey, Megan Rose (September 5, 2013). "VCs Bet $21 Million That You'll Want To Start Sharing Stuff Online Anonymously". Business Insider (New York, NY). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Whisper, even more than Snapchat, is the anti-Facebook.". Forbes Tech News - Twitter feed (New York, NY). June 25, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  19. ^ Farrell, Mackenzie (November 1, 2013). "Whisper App: Anonymity Prevention of Cyber Bullying". SMU SMC (New York, NY). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Frightened Iraqis take to anonymous app". CNN (Washington D.C.). June 16, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2014. 
  21. ^ Rusch, Michael (June 16, 2014). "Iraqis Take To Whisper After Government Blocks Most Social Networks". BuzzFeed (New York). Retrieved June 16, 2014. 
  22. ^ Brooks, Clark. "Whisper: Are You Really Anonymous?". Illinois: Photo News. 
  23. ^ http://www.wcvb.com/news/police-teenage-girl-made-columbine-threat-to-school/33276352 Teenage Girl Makes Columbine Threat to School
  24. ^ "Whisper Privacy Policy". Whisper (Los Angeles, CA). October 13, 2014. Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  25. ^ http://www.wired.com/2014/05/whistleblowers-beware/
  26. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users
  27. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/17/-sp-whisper-tracking-location-users-facts-response
  28. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-whisper-privacy-policy-terms-of-service
  29. ^ Hill, Kashmir (October 30, 2014). "This Is The Suicide Info Whisper Gave To The Department Of Defense". Forbes (New York, NY). Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  30. ^ Heyward, Michael (October 18, 2014). "What Whisper Is All About". Medium (Los Angeles, CA). Retrieved October 25, 2014. 
  31. ^ Heyward, Michael (October 24, 2013). "Setting The Record Straight" (PDF). AmazonAWS (Los Angeles, CA). Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  32. ^ Rockefeller, Jay (October 22, 2014). "Letter from Sen. Rockefeller to Whisper CEO". United States Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 6, 2014. 
  33. ^ Lewis, Paul, and Rushe, Dominic (October 23, 2014). "Top senator demands explanation from Whisper after user tracking revelations". The Guardian (Manchester, England). Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and Fusion have suspended their pre-existing partnerships with Whisper in the wake of the Guardian’s revelations. 
  34. ^ "Corrections and clarifications: Whisper – a clarification". The Guardian (London, UK). March 11, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  35. ^ Bright, Peter (March 11, 2015). "Guardian backtracks, says Whisper doesn't spy on its users after all". Ars Technica (New York, NY). Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  36. ^ Dwoskin, Elizabeth (March 11, 2015). "Guardian Backpedals on Whisper App Privacy Violations". The Wall Street Journal (New York, NY). Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  37. ^ Kludt, Tom (March 12, 2015). "Guardian issues 'clarification' on Whisper bombshells". CNN Money (New York, NY). Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  38. ^ Ha, Anthony (March 11, 2015). "The Guardian Publishes A Pretty Amazing Whisper "Clarification"". TechCrunch (San Francisco, CA). Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  39. ^ Bell, Karissa (March 11, 2015). "The Guardian backtracks privacy allegations against Whisper". Mashable (New York, NY). Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  40. ^ ""A confederacy of 'privacy' dunces": What we found under the hood of an 'anonymous' chat app used by millions". Xipiter. March 22, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  41. ^ a b Julie Bort (March 23, 2015). "Inside the 'bizarre' public fight anonymous app Whisper is having with a security startup". Business Insider. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  42. ^ "Inaka - What We do: Whisper". Inaka. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Inaka Founder Talks Argentina, Agile and Lean". Boundary. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  44. ^ "Case Study: Inaka deploys Boundary to monitor its Amazon Cloud and Storm On Demand servers". Boundary. 
  45. ^ "The story of Whisper - How the largest anonymous social network in the iTunes app store was built in Erlang". Erlang Solutions. 
  46. ^ a b Malik, Om (July 31, 2013). "Rumor Says: Whisper, the anonymity mobile service raising big money, valued at $100M". GigaOM (San Francisco, California). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  47. ^ Dotan, Tom (April 22, 2013). "Privacy Apps' Popularity Spreads". Los Angeles Business Journal (Los Angeles, California). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  48. ^ Griffith, Erin (April 4, 2013). "Lightspeed invests $3 million in Whisper, the "secrets" app with Snapchat-like adoption". PandoDaily (San Francisco). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  49. ^ Lawler, Ryan (September 4, 2013). "Secret-Sharing App Whisper Snags $21 Million From Sequoia, Adds Roelof Botha To Its Board". TechCrunch (San Francisco, CA). Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  50. ^ Griffin, Tessa (November 8, 2013). "PitchBook's Friday 5: What Is The Next Social Platform IPO?". Pitchbook (Seattle, Washington). Retrieved December 23, 2013. 
  51. ^ Castillo, Michelle (January 30, 2015). "Americans Created 45000 pieces of branded content". Ad Week. 
  52. ^ Dotan, Tim (April 22, 2013). "Privacy Apps' Popularity Spreads". Los Angeles Business Journal. 
  53. ^ "About Us". Your Voice (Los Angeles, CA). Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  54. ^ "Your Voice". Whisper Text LLC. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 

External links[edit]