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Whisper (app)

Whisper
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 .shwhisper

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.

Contents

  • Features 1
  • User base 2
  • Concept 3
  • Controversy 4
    • Privacy policy 4.1
    • The Guardian allegations 4.2
    • Xipiter report 4.3
  • Technology 5
  • Corporate 6
  • Your Voice 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Features

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

In April 2015, Whisper reached 10 million monthly active users.[7] Stories about the app have appeared in Forbes,[2] USA Today,[8] The Washington Post,[9] and Huffington Post,[10] and Heyward was featured on Forbes' Top 30 under 30 in Technology list in January 2014.[11] 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.[12] Whisper has 10 billion monthly page views as of Spring 2015.[13]

Concept

The app purports to promote online anonymity. The developer claims this will prevent and combat cyberbullying.[14] 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."[15] 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.[16] Business Insider, Forbes, and The Daily Dot have called it "the anti-Facebook,"[2][9][17] and Forbes Tech drew a contrast in stating that, "Whisper, even more than Snapchat, is the anti-Facebook."[18] 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."[19]

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.[20][21]

Controversy

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.[22]

In May 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.[23]

Privacy policy

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.[24] 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."[25]

The Guardian allegations

In October 2014, The Guardian newspaper alleged that:[26][27]

  • 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.[28]
  • 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.[29]

Whisper disputed nearly all the Guardian allegations[30] and made a point-by-point response to the Guardian.[31]

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.[32][33]

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.[34] 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."[35] The retraction was covered by several news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal,[36] CNN Money,[37] TechCrunch,[38] and Mashable.[39]

Xipiter report

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.[40] 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.[41] Xipiter's claims have yet to be validated or disproved by independent security researchers.[41]

Technology

Development of the system was outsourced to Inaka,[42] a web and mobile app development consultancy based in Seattle, Washington and Buenos Aires, Argentina.[43] The original system back end used the Riak NoSQL database, but after performance problems with Riak the system was converted to use MySQL[44] and Apache Cassandra.[45] Since 2013, Whisper has brought it's technology team in-house. Whisper now has 25 engineers in Venice, CA.[46]

Corporate

The company, WhisperText LLC, is led by CEO Michael Heyward.[47] The company is based out of Venice, 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 Capital, 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] In May 2014, Whisper confirmed that it raised an additional $36 million in venture funding from Shasta Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Thrive Capital, and Lightspeed Ventures.[52] Whisper has raised $61 million in total venture capital funding.[53]

Whisper has experimented with advertising by working with Fox Studios, MTV, Universal, Hulu and FX on customized branded campaigns.[54][55][56] In September of 2015, Adweek revealed that Coca-Cola was using Whisper to market its #makeithappy anti cyber-bullying campaign to Whisper's users.[57]

Your Voice

Whisper Text LLC claims to have set up a companion National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[59]

See also

References

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c
  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
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  22. ^ http://www.wcvb.com/news/police-teenage-girl-made-columbine-threat-to-school/33276352 Teenage Girl Makes Columbine Threat to School
  23. ^
  24. ^ http://www.wired.com/2014/05/whistleblowers-beware/
  25. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users
  26. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/17/-sp-whisper-tracking-location-users-facts-response
  27. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-whisper-privacy-policy-terms-of-service
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External links

  • Official website
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