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Whisper is a mobile application that allows users to anonymously share secrets in the form of captioned images, similar to confession blogs like PostSecret or advice animals like Confession Bear and Confession Kid.
In March 2012, the app was conceived by Michael Heyward and Brad Brook as a sort of anti-Facebook, where people would share their secrets instead of bragging about good things in their life. In November that year, the app was officially launched.
On April 4th, 2013, the tech news blog TechCrunch reported that Whisper had received $3 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners as well as others investors such as Trinity Ventures. On September 4th, TechCrunch announced Whisper had received an addition $21 million in funding.
The app, which is free to download from the iTunes or Google app store, allows anyone to post an anonymous message in the form of an image macro or respond to messages posted by others, however, its private messaging service requires a monthly fee of $5.99. Users do not have a public identity on the platform and there are no means of directly contacting each others. From August 2012 to October 2013, Whisper curated a weekly “secrets” slideshow series on The Huffington Post’s teen section, presenting a slideshow of ten secrets related to each week’s special theme.
As of August 2013, the app was receiving 2.5 billion page views every month. As of January 2014, Whisper has an user base that’s 30% male and 70% female, with only 10% of their users outside the US. It has a very active user base, with 45% of users creating a secret post at least once a day. As of February 2014, its Facebook page has over 182,000 likes and its Twitter account has over 2,000 followers.
Some users have raised concerns that their messages might not stay anonymous. On January 24th, 2014, Forbes published a post titled “3 Reasons To Be Wary Of Secret-Sharing App Whisper’s Claim To Anonymity,” which examined concerns of possibilities that Whisper might try create viral content out of its submissions, could introduce ads, and the fact that it keeps tabs on users to enforce its rules means the app is technically not anonymous.
On October 16th, 2014, The Guardian published an investigative article asserting that the mobile app tracks the location of its users, including those who have explicitly opted out of the geolocation feature.
- Storage of user metadata, including information about the precise time and approximate location of all previous messages, for an indefinite period of time in a searchable database;
- History of sharing information with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Defense and the British intelligence agency M15;
- Planned development of an import version of the app that would be in compliance with Chinese censorship laws;
- Selective monitoring and location tracking of users that are deemed potentially newsworthy or subjects of interests, including U.S. military personnel and other individuals believed to be employees of Capitol Hill, Disney and Yahoo.
The article was also accompanied by two screenshots of the company’s in-house mapping tool in operation, one of a Google Maps image of the White House in Washington D.C. that has been marked with numerous pins indicating the location of the users in the vicinity of the building, and another Google Maps screenshot of users who have posted nearby the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Maryland (shown below).
The Guardian – Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users
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