Whispers, an app that allows users to share secrets and confessions anonymously, is found to be exposing user information for years. Whisper started in 2012 and gained instant popularity for its concept. The app allows users to share confessions and secrets while staying anonymous with a global community. However, as per new reports from The Washington Post, it has been found that the app has been exposing sensitive information of its users for years. This is the second time that Whispers has been caught in such a scandal, and this one is not going to go away soon.
Whispers: The Secret-Sharing App
Whispers came out in 2012. The entire point was to offer users a platform where they can speak their hearts and minds out without fearing judgment and revelation of identity. In a year people of all ages were flooding on the app sharing all kinds of thoughts, mischiefs, and highly sensitive personal experiences on the app.
A lot many people came out through the app anonymously, revealing their sexual orientation. A lot of others were teenage sexual encounters or similar encounters between adults and teenagers (which is a felony in most of the states in the US). Amidst this controversy, it was found that there are 1.3 million users aged under 15 along with a total of 30 million users registered as active in the app database.
The Data Exposure
The Washington Post queried the app database in real-time to find that the user’s information, which should’ve been kept private, has been exposed. Since Whisper is designed to hide real names, it did that pretty well. But a lot of other private and identity-sensitive information such as users’ nicknames, locations, ethnicity, residence, and in-app group details were neither encrypted nor protected.
As per the reports, the leaked information belongs to around 900 million users that at one point created a profile in the app. This accumulates more than eight years of data the app servers may have gathered since its launch.
This violates all sorts of privacy laws, as well as poses severe dangers to children who have used the app. The app is already at downfall is no longer as popular as it was in 2012-2013, and such negligence can cost the app its very existence.
Discovery of the Exposure
Independent researchers discovered the exposure, and the information retrieved was shared by the researchers with The Washington Post. The Post immediately contacted MediaLab to comment on the exposure. MediaLab has since disputed the findings and has blocked access to the researchers.
The researchers have claimed that they were able to read every single confession along with the user’s location and residence information. The negligence can be treated as a major crime if the app developers are found guilty. The app’s promotions have “urged” users to confess their faults and tell secrets known to none, assuring safety and protection of their posts. Such exposure accounts for a major accusation of misleading advertisements and lying to the consumers.
This is Not the First Time
Whispers is not new to the controversy surrounding negligence towards the identity protection of its users. In 2014, Whispers was found to be gathering users’ locations without their consent. The app’s developer company MediaLab was called to answer for the allegations by the Senator Commerce Committee. At that time, Whispers claimed that the IP addresses of users give a hint of location, but the database does not track user location directly. As it turns out, despite Whisper’s negligence blew out previously, it never stopped tracking user location.
For now, MediaLab has straightaway denied such accusations and has disputed the findings. The spokespersons from MediaLab has stated the information does remain public to other app users; however, location-sharing is meant for adding authenticity to posts and reduce the chances of spam. But that’s not enough and MediaLab has to come up with credible answers to counter these accusations and that too soon. Because given the tarnished reputation of Whispers, this second scandal won’t be forgotten by users so easily.