Whisper CEO Michael Heyward has turned more forceful in dismissing allegations from The Guardian that his anonymous app was tracking users, including people who opted out of geolocation before sharing their secrets.
On stage WSJ Live last night, Heyward didn't deny that Whisper has an internal mapping tool, but he implied that the paper confused GPS and IP addresses. "Nobody can track GPS location but Apple or Android and you ask them for the permission," he said. "The entire internet collects IP addresses. That's like trying to make a phone call without a phone number." Whisper was actually more protective, he implied, because it deletes IP addresses after seven days.
Heyward left it to users to judge whether the Guardian was right or wrong to have reported the story in the way it did. "The Guardian came into our offices under false pretenses," he said. "They made a lot of technical inferences from talking to non-technical people. They got the facts wrong."
Heyward sounded much more tentative when the story first broke, saying that he welcomed debate with The Guardian. "We realize that we're not infallible," he proclaimed. After Senator Rockefeller requested a committee briefing on the issue, Heyward suspended both editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman, a former Gawker employee who defended the company, and members of the editorial team who met with The Guardian.
The most poignant moment in the interview concerned Heyward's management of the situation. According to the Guardian, a Whisper employee described a user who said he was a Washington D.C. lobbyist, bragging that the company would track him for the rest of his life without his knowledge.
"My stomach churned when I heard that," Heyward said. "That obviously does not reflect our values and what we stand for."
Heyward has already put on leave the employees who met with the Guardian, as well as editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman. He said that while he didn't know whether his employee made the statement, he would fire the person if it were true.
Heyward must have gotten some professional coaching since his bungled appearance at TechCrunch Disrupt in May. Take this mix of high-brow and humble in response to a question from reporter Evelyn Rusli:
"So there's a Mark Twain quote that says, 'A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still at home putting his shoes on.' I feel like I've been putting my shoes on all week."
Fred Shapiro, co-author of The Yale Book of Quotations, says that quote has been misattributed to Twain. But no matter, Heyward got his point across. CEOs with $60 million in venture capital—they put their shoes on just like us!
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