Whispers in the Dark: Analysis of an Anonymous Social Network
Ben Y. Zhao
Proceedings of the 14th ACM SIGCOMM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC 2014)
[Full Text in PDF Format, 337KB]
Social interactions and interpersonal communication has undergone significant changes in recent years. Increasing awareness of privacy issues and events such as the Snowden disclosures have led to the rapid growth of a new generation of anonymous social networks and messaging applications. By removing traditional concepts of strong identities and social links, these services encourage communication between strangers, and allow users to express themselves without fear of bullying or retaliation.
Despite millions of users and billions of monthly page views, there is little
empirical analysis of how services like Whisper have changed the shape
and content of social interactions. In this paper, we present
results of the first large-scale empirical study of an anonymous social
network, using a complete 3-month trace of the Whisper network covering 24
million whispers written by more than 1 million unique users. We seek to
understand how anonymity and the lack of social links affect user behavior.
We analyze Whisper from a number of perspectives, including the structure of
user interactions in the absence of persistent social links, user engagement
and network stickiness over time, and content moderation in a network with
minimal user accountability. Finally, we identify and test an attack that
exposes Whisper users to detailed location tracking. We have notified
Whisper and they have taken steps to address the problem.