March 11, 2015

Wall Street Journal | Guardian

Last October, the UK Guardian ran a contentious story alleging that managers of Whisper, a mobile app that is designed to enable users to send messages anonymously, learned that the paper was investigating them and rewrote their terms of service and privacy policies, in possible violation of federal law. Today, the newspaper issued a “clarification” to its original story, writing that the company’s managers had in fact rewrote its terms of service two months earlier, before the newspaper began its investigation.

Guardian reporters Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe claimed that Whisper was encouraging its users to share personal data with the company with the tacit expectation that Whisper would keep this information private, when in fact it was sharing some information with the United States Department of Defense. In addition, they claimed, Whisper managers rewrote their terms of service four days after they learned that the Guardian was investigating the company.

In fact, Guardian editors now acknowledge, Whisper’s amendment to its terms of service happened before the newspaper began researching the story.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian has pulled an opinion essay denouncing Whisper’s practices.

Here is the text of the clarification:

Since we published our stories about Whisper between 16 October and 25 October 2014, the company has provided further information. We confirm that Whisper had drafted the changes to its terms of service and privacy policy before Whisper became aware that the Guardian was intending to write about it. We reported that IP addresses can only provide an approximate indication of a person’s whereabouts, not usually more accurate than their country, state or city. We are happy to clarify that this data (which all internet companies receive) is a very rough and unreliable indicator of location. We are also happy to make clear that the public cannot ascertain the identity or location of a Whisper user unless the user publicly discloses this information, that the information Whisper shared with the US Department of Defense’s Suicide Prevention Office did not include personal data, and that Whisper did not store data outside the United States. Whisper’s terms for sharing information proactively with law enforcement authorities where there is a danger of death or serious injury is both lawful and industry standard. The Guardian did not report that any of Whisper’s activities were unlawful. However, we are happy to clarify that there is no evidence for that suggestion. Whisper contests many other aspects of our reporting. The Guardian has clarified an article about Whisper’s terms of service and removed an opinion piece entitled “Think you can Whisper privately? Think again”.

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