Another step in Twitter’s mobile acquisition trail: the microblogging and messaging service has acquired Whisper Systems, a enterprise mobile security specialist whose products have been used, among others, by people during the Arab Spring uprising to safeguard the privacy of their communications.
Whisper Systems has been a fairly low-profile company that develops a number of mobile security products that protect voice calls, messaging and the sending of users’ private data to apps and the mobile web.
Perhaps one of the most-used has been RedPhone, which was taken up by people in Arab countries during the uprisings earlier this year to safeguard their voice communications on mobile devices. In its post announcing the deal, Whisper Systems’ development team noted that RedPhone would be “interrupted” immediately, while another product, FlashBack, is giving users one month to back up their data, before that too goes offline. They do promise, however, that both products will “live on.”
How they will live on, for now, is not entirely clear — although it makes perfect sense if Twitter is entertaining ideas of how it could offer different classes of service. For example, enterprise users could willing to pay Twitter for a more private and encrypted version of the platform. Or some of the services from Whisper Systems’ developers could be integrated into a larger analytics platform that would supplement the advertising and marketing products that Twitter is developing around its main site.
On a more general level, Twitter and Whisper Systems also appear to share a common goal of focusing more on user privacy. Whisper Systems was founded in 2010 by Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson, two IT security specialists who will now join Twitter. In announcing the acquisition, they wrote on their site that they formed the company to focus on mobile “not only because we saw it as an opportunity to reinvent the security solutions that never really worked in the PC environment to begin with, but also because the stakes are much higher – due to the nature of mobile devices themselves – and we didn’t like the way that things were looking.”
That is an area that Twitter, too, is having to scrutinize more carefully as well: Twitter has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over violations concerning how it safeguards users’ privacy, and as part of its settlement it has agreed to outside monitoring of its information security systems for the next decade. Buying Whisper Systems to beef that up can only be a help in that mandate.