Guardian issues 'clarification' on Whisper bombshells

the guardian

The Guardian has issued a "clarification" to several critical stories about the mobile app Whisper, a walk-back on reporting that appeared to have cost four Whisper employees their jobs.

The original stories, which ran last fall, raised serious questions about Whisper's privacy policies. Whisper, an app that launched in 2012, enables users to post messages anonymously.

In its reporting, The Guardian's stories included three main issues: that Whisper violated users' privacy, secretly tracking their location even if they opted out of the feature that revealed such detail, that Whisper provided user information to the Department of Defense to assist in the agency's research on suicide prevention, and that Whisper updated its terms of service and privacy policy as a response to the British newspaper's inquiries.

On Wednesday, The Guardian acknowledged that Whisper had "provided further information" that ran counter to its reporting.

In a note posted on its website, The Guardian said it was "happy to clarify" several points that contradicted its previous reporting.

The newspaper made it clear that "the public cannot ascertain the identity or location of a Whisper user unless the user publicly discloses this information," and that "the information Whisper shared with the U.S. Department of Defense's Suicide Prevention Office did not include personal data."

Whisper's practice of "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 wrote.

It also confirmed 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."

The Guardian characterized its statement as a "clarification" rather than a "correction."

Those stories, which were published in October, now include notes to reflect the new information. An opinion piece, which ran under the headline "Think you can Whisper privately? Think again," has been scrubbed from The Guardian's website.

The Guardian's reporting prompted BuzzFeed and Fusion to suspend partnership deals. Four members of Whisper's mobile app news division was suspended, and later dismissed.

Related: The disturbing consequences of ultra-connectivity

One of those employees, former news editor Joshua Chavers, reacted on Twitter to The Guardian's backpedaling.

"So, can I have my job back?" Chavers tweeted Wednesday.

Whisper's news team was to be guided by Neetzan Zimmerman, who left Gawker to become editor-in-chief of the app in early 2014.

Zimmerman strongly and publicly challenged The Guardian's claims at the time, vowing to debunk the newspaper's reporting.

"The Guardian made a mistake posting that story and they will regret it," Zimmerman tweeted in October.

Zimmerman, who is currently senior director for audience and strategy at The Hill, did not respond to CNNMoney's request for comment.

Representatives from BuzzFeed and Fusion did not respond to CNNMoney's request for comment.

The Guardian's reporting raised ethical questions at the time. The newspaper was prompted to write the stories after it met with Whisper representatives to discuss a potential editorial partnership. Chavers, who remains unemployed, was critical of how The Guardian landed the story, which he called "really bizarre."

Chavers insisted that he harbors no ill-will toward Whisper, and said he would still "go to bat" for the vision offered up by the company's CEO Michael Heyward.

"The layoffs occurred with everyone having a mutual understanding that the only reason it happened was due to the brand damage that the false reporting did to the company," Chavers said.

In a statement, Heyward expressed relief at The Guardian's update.

"We appreciate the Guardian issuing the corrections and setting the record straight.," Heyward said. "For us, this isn't about vindication. It is vital that our users and partners know that Whisper is and always has been totally committed to the privacy of everyone who uses our product."


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