[Cryptography] Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

John Ioannidis ji at tla.org
Fri Oct 17 10:36:25 EDT 2014

On Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 11:53 PM, John Denker <jsd at av8n.com> wrote:

> In case you missed it:
> The Whisper app is a product of WhisperText LLC.
> On the GooglePlay store it claims:
> > Whisper is an anonymous social network that allows people to express
> > themselves, connect with like-minded individuals, and discover the
> > unseen world around us. With Whisper, you can anonymously share your
> > thoughts and emotions with the world, and form lasting and meaningful
> > relationships in a community built around trust and honesty. If you
> > have ever had something too intimate to share on traditional social
> > networks, simply share it on Whisper
> Now there is a long, detailed article:
>   Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe
>   "Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users"
>   The Guardian, 16 October 2014 11.35 EDT
> http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users
> Apparently Whisper's notion of "anonymous" means they don't
> overtly ask for your name.  They do however capture and
> store all of your messages.  By default they also capture
> and store your GPS location.  If you opt out of "location
> tracking" they track your location anyway, using IP
> location and perhaps other means;  I don't know if they
> use cell tower triangulation.
> If you post something sufficiently provocative, they have
> staffers who undertake to track you "for the rest of your
> life."
> Also, the firm has cozy relationships with FBI, DoD, and
> news organizations.
> You can read the story:
> http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users
> My thoughts:
> Evidently "anonymity" is not the same as privacy.  AFAICT
> using Whisper is like running around in public all day every
> day, naked except for a tag that says "Hello, my name is
> Anonymous".
> I wonder how many of the folks who signed up for the service
> were aware of this.
> I wonder how many other "free" apps play by the same rules.
> Does anybody have any suggestions for how to prevent this
> sort of thing?
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The standard answer to all of these questions is that if you get something
for free, you are not the customer, you are the product. Do the people who
install whisper really think that the company that runs it does it out of
the goodness of their heart?

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