It hasn’t been an easy past week or so for one of the world’s leading messenger services, WhatsApp. Amid a new privacy announcement flocks of people, including high profile billionaires like Elon Musk, have suggested that the privacy line has been crossed and it’s time to sign up with alternatives like Telegram or Signal. So, what’s the deal? Is your data suddenly at stake?
Let’s be real here, WhatsApp has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016 (Newman, 2021) in the exact same way it’ll be doing so moving forward. The thing is that WhatsApp actually announced its latest change – the one that’s sparked recent panic – all the way back in a blog post of October 2020. The update targets businesses accounts and interactions and will enable users and businesses to interact more efficiently on the platform. Business interaction data will be shared with, and hosted by, Facebook services, and does not hinder the end-to-end encryption or privacy of personal messaging. So, if the update is mostly relevant for businesses, why the fuss now?
According to Forbes (Doffman, 2021), the current hype seems to have been caused by Apple’s introduction of mandatory privacy labels that mean apps have to disclose what sort of data they were harvesting and sharing, and what was linked to the user. The difference between iMessage and WhatsApp is quite stark, although WhatsApp hasn’t introduced more data sharing from an individual. This is all data you have been sharing since 2016.
In reality nothing has changed with regards to your personal data, and the new update won’t impact the majority of users (Doffman, 2020) so, the choice for leaving is really just a personal conversation to have with yourself.
I’ve listed some pros and cons of WhatsApp that might help you make a choice:
- You’ll reduce your personal dependency on Facebook-owned companies
- You can use a secure alternative such as Signal or iMessage
- Note: Telegram is not, by default, end-to-end encrypted like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Signal
- You can keep your messaging experience simple (while WhatsApp transitions to a service that enables shopping and other transactions)
- Convincing friends and family to move to the same alternative will be hard
- WhatsApp’s default end-to-end encryption is very strong and appealing
- WhatsApp and Facebook are still unable to access your messages
My initial thoughts incline me to think I’ll be staying on WhatsApp for the next little while. My feeling is that the grass on the other side is equally green, but not more so. While I’ve contemplated leaving WhatsApp before, I think it’s actually our dependency on Facebook, as a society, that’s too much and that our first course of action should be to delete or deactivate Facebook, leaving WhatsApp for last.
While you consider whether to change to an alternative messaging service, remember there are ways to protect your data. Chat to IronTree about advanced data protection.