If you use WhatsApp, as around 30 million Britons do, you have probably already seen that the chat app is planning some changes.
But the announcement also underscores a truth that many have been reluctant to acknowledge: If you are a WhatsApp user, you are a Facebook customer, and while the two services have historically been quite different, the integration process only moves in one direction. . .
At first glance, this latest change doesn’t have to arouse undue concern. WhatsApp’s most important data, the content of user conversations, remains sacrosanct. The end-to-end encryption the app uses to protect the content of all chats means that no one, including WhatsApp, knows what users are saying to each other, nor can they easily figure it out.
That encryption is constantly under attack, mainly by law enforcement agencies wanting to return to the heyday of the 2000s, when criminal conspiracies could easily be uncovered by requiring phone companies to hand over the contents of the files. SMS messages. But it has held its own, in part because Facebook’s long-term business vision is more encryption, not less, a vision that Mark Zuckerberg laid out in 2019, when he posted a long note on his Facebook page titled A privacy-centric vision for social media.
But that note also laid out Facebook’s long-term plans for WhatsApp: to merge the chat app with the company’s broader social network, in the name of “interoperability.” “With interoperability, you could use WhatsApp to receive messages sent to your Facebook account without sharing your phone number,” wrote Zuckerberg, “and [in commercial transactions] the buyer would not have to worry about whether he prefers to receive messages on one network or the other. “
Two years later, those goals are close to being met. Facebook and Instagram users can now send direct messages to each other without having to switch applications. And this latest change, starting in February, will deepen the integration between Facebook and WhatsApp, allowing users to interact with the stores that house shop windows in the first without leaving the second.
If you are comfortable with using data from Facebook (or that of its much closer subsidiary, Instagram), this can be hard to worry about. The company was recently forced by apple to provide privacy “nutritional label”In its iOS app, revealing how it works with user data. The tags revealed more than 100 different pieces of data that can be collected, much of which is directly linked to user profiles, including health and fitness data, “sensitive information” and search histories. For the typical user, who has an account on both services, adding the small amount of information that WhatsApp has is a drop in the bucket in comparison.
But the change begins to corrode the idea that you can be on WhatsApp without a Facebook fingerprint. The vastly different histories of the two apps and their intended uses have led to a split in demographics among their users, and a small but significant proportion of WhatsApp users, drawn by the encryption, ad-free nature, and straightforward interface, avoid Facebook itself while still using the chat application it owns.
For those users, this latest disclosure should turn out to be a watershed moment – a WhatsApp account and a Facebook account are still two separate things, but from now on, each change will move in one direction. WhatsApp still collects much less data, so there is no need to panic and cut ties immediately. But a privacy-conscious user would do well to start thinking about what alternative platforms they could use to contact people that are currently only available through Facebook’s portfolio of apps.
Fortunately, there are alternative options, the best known of which is Signal, a free app developed by the non-profit organization that created WhatsApp’s own encryption system. With its roots in the privacy and security community, Signal’s technical underpinnings are second to none, and the app has spent the last few years working to become a viable alternative to fancy user-centric services like Facebook Messenger, without compromising on features. make it a must have for your most paranoid user base.
It should come as no surprise that Signal is a viable alternative to WhatsApp – the nonprofit that currently funds the app started with a $ 50 million loan from Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp itself. Alternatively, you can listen to Elon Musk, who this week tweeted the simple “use Signal” message. He’s the richest person in the world now, so apparently he must be right about something.
Whether you decide to change or not, or just set up a backup chat app in case you feel the need to change in the future, the important thing is to make an active decision and not allow thousands of small changes to be added to a state of things that he would never have actively accepted. We can’t all read the terms and conditions, but we can at least pause before clicking “Accept.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism