Rockefeller Raises Questions Over WhisperText's Privacy Practices

October 23, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today raised questions over the privacy practices of the web-based social media application “Whisper,” after media reports alleged that WhisperText LLC had violated its own privacy policies after promising users that the application is the “safest place on the Internet.” Whisper claims to allow its users to post and share anonymous messages about their personal and professional lives online.

In a letter sent to Michael Heyward, the CEO of WhisperText LLC, Rockefeller requested a briefing from the company regarding its privacy practices.

“As the Chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission and consumer protection issues including online privacy, I take this matter seriously,” said Rockefeller in the letter. “As Chairman, I have made consumer privacy a top priority, and the Committee has actively exercised its jurisdiction over commercial data practices and data security. While Whisper may provide its users a unique social experience, the allegations in recent media accounts are serious, and users are entitled to privacy policies that are transparent, disclosed, and followed by the company.”

Last week, media reports raised questions about WhisperText LLC’s privacy practices and commitment to the terms of its own privacy policy. Specifically, news reports claimed that WhisperText had allegedly:

·         Tracked the approximate location of users who had opted out of location-based tracking despite provisions in its privacy policy that promised users that permission to access their location-based information is “purely voluntary”;

·         Set up an office outside the United States to review user data while its privacy policy stated that the company only processes and stores information in the United States; and

·         Entered into relationships with third parties such as media organizations under which the company shares Whisper content with the organizations.

“It is questionable, at best, whether users seeking to post anonymously on the ‘safest place on the internet’ would expect that WhisperText has information sharing relationships with third parties such as media organizations,” Rockefeller added.

Rockefeller has been an advocate for consumer privacy online not only to give consumers the ability to opt-out of certain tracking practices, but also to bring transparency to companies that collect and sell consumer data. As part of these longstanding efforts to protect consumer online privacy, Rockefeller introduced the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013, which would allow consumers to control their personal information and prevent online companies from collecting that information for profit. He also introduced the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act to provide consumers access, correction, and opt-out rights regarding data held by data brokers.

To access a copy of Chairman Rockefeller’s letter to Michael Heyward, click here.