Photo by Sarah G… (CC BY 2.0)

The company behind Whisper, the social media app that promises users anonymity and encourages them to disclose intimate details about their private and professional lives, is tracking the locations of its users — including those who specifically ask not to be followed — and sharing information with the U.S. Department of Defense, The Guardian reports.

The app is popular among college students and claims to be “the safest place on the Internet.” The U.S. version enables users to circulate short messages superimposed on images without revealing the users’ identities to the audience. The service has attracted millions of users, including military personnel who use it to make confessions they likely would not publish elsewhere.

The Guardian continues:

Currently, users of Whisper are publishing as many as 2.6m messages a day. Facebook is reportedly developing its own Whisper-style app for anonymous publishing. The trend toward anonymity in social media has some privacy experts concerned about security.

Approached for comment last week, Whisper said it “does not follow or track users”. The company added that the suggestion it was monitoring people without their consent, in an apparent breach of its own terms of service, was “not true” and “false”.

But on Monday – four days after learning the Guardian intended to publish this story – Whisper rewrote its terms of service; they now explicitly permit the company to establish the broad location of people who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature.

The paper explains that the company’s staff has developed an in-house mapping tool that can filter and search GPS data, allowing people inside the company to track an individual user’s movements over time. This capability can be used even for users who turn off the app’s geolocation service.

The Guardian also reported that:

A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool. Among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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