Whisper CEO Michael Heyward says that the unknown employee who promised to track a user for life will be fired, assuming reports about what the employee said are true. Heyward, who was speaking at the WSJD Live event today in Southern California, addressed a report in The Guardian this month that said Whisper monitors some users' locations even after they opt out of tracking. Heyward called the report deeply misleading, and said Whisper is simply incapable of tracking users in the manner suggested by the newspaper.
Heyward said users must opt in to tracking, and that even then their location is "fuzzed" to within 500 feet. But the most explosive quotation in the Guardian story involved a Whisper user who identified as a lobbyist. "He's a guy that we'll track for the rest of his life and he'll have no idea we'll be watching him," the newspaper quoted an unnamed Whisper executive as saying.
"The important thing to remember is what the platform actually can do, versus what somebody might say."
Whisper's editor in chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, initially dismissed the report as "a pack of vicious lies." But Heyward later suspended unnamed members of its editorial team pending an investigation. Today, when asked by interviewer Evelyn Rusli whether he would fire the employee who said Whisper would track the user for life, he responded simply: "Yes."
But the question is complicated because every post on Whisper is already public — and in that sense, Heyward argued, the company doesn't know much beyond what the public does. (The big caveat is the user's IP address, which Whisper says it purges after a week.) If a lobbyist posts about his activities on the platform, anyone could theoretically keep track of those posts.
The question is whether Whisper has better tools to monitor and organize those posts than its users, and whether its employees will treat those sensitive posts with care. "The important thing to remember is what the platform actually can do, versus what somebody might say," Heyward said. "The challenge with this undercover reporting is that everything is unattributed. But obviously, we take it very seriously. We put the members of the editorial team who dealt with The Guardian on leave while we investigate it."