Following the Guardian’s recent exposé on Whisper’s consumer-privacy practices, alleging that the social-media app that supposedly allows people “to anonymously share [their] thoughts with the world . . . in a community built around trust and honesty,” in fact tracks the geolocation of users who opted out of such data collection, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) has made an inquiry into the company’s practices and policies.  Specifically, Rockefeller has requested from Whisper a staff briefing on the following issues:

  1. Whether and how Whisper has tracked the location of users who opted out of geolocation services, and if it has, how Whisper has used that data.
  2. The extent to which Whisper retains user data and where user data is processed and maintained.
  3. Whisper’s data sharing with third parties, including when and how those practices have changed over time.
  4. Whisper’s practices of notifying users about the company’s privacy and data-security policies pertaining to user data, and any changes to those policies.

Rockefeller’s inquiry appears to be a direct result of the Guardian’s reporting, which is cited throughout the Senator’s letter to Whisper and mentioned as a “recent media account[ ]” that has “raised serious questions regarding Whisper’s practices and commitment to the terms of its own privacy policy.”  As we’ve previously reported, Rockefeller has been a long-time and ardent advocate for stronger consumer-privacy protections.  Most recently, before focusing on Whisper specifically, Rockefeller has been active on the hot topics of data breach and big data as it relates to the practices of data brokers.

For its part, Whisper has published numerous separate responses, through various channels and company representatives, attempting to address with the public the Guardian’s accusations.  These include two statements from the company’s co-founder and CEO Michael Heyward, entitled “What Whisper Is All About” and “Setting The Record Straight,” and the first full statement from Whisper’s editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman.  Initially, Zimmerman also had taken to Twitter to respond in a piecemeal fashion to the allegations.  In the wake of Rockefeller’s request for more information about the company’s privacy practices, however, as mentioned in his most recent response, Heyward has placed members of Whisper’s editorial team on administrative leave pending the results of an internal review.