Update 20Jan2021: The SumOfUs petition I mentioned below currently has 93,661 signatures*. Whether it’s down to that or the general backlash, WhatsApp announced it will delay the rollout of the policy revision from 08Feb to 15May2021. (Big deal: all delaying does is prolong the agony for them; they need to do a complete U-turn!)
Another couple of things I’ve learned since I wrote this wibblette are:
a) if you signed up to WhatsApp after 2016 — as I did — you’re already on the revised privacy terms and
b) if the tighter privacy legislation of the GDPR applies to you, your data should not be shared with third parties — unless, of course, WhatsApp slips up and we hear from them down the line, “Whoops, sorry guv, we made a mistake”….
* Having finished this update, on re-checking, the signature total has risen to 94,641!
Update 17Jan2021: Signal’s issues appear to be fixed. At least for the time being…
With about two billion users, WhatsApp is the most popular communications app on the planet. It is owned by Facebook, which has a rich history of abuse of and lack of respect for its users’ privacy.
The other day, a friend sent me a link via WhatsApp to a Bloomberg.com article: Why WhatsApp’s New Privacy Rules Sparked an Exodus (this is actually a link to the same article on Washington Post, which has a less aggressive paywall than Bloomberg’s).
08Feb2021 15May2021 to enable it to share data between the various companies in its vast global empire. This move only benefits that empire; its effects are detrimental to the users of the service. WhatsApp users are not even being given the opportunity to consent to this change before the data harvest begins (SumOfUs has created a petition — 70,745 signatures so far — to demand exactly that).
The Bloomberg article is ambiguous about what data is being referred to. It specifies ‘metadata’ (which includes contacts, location, financial information, usage data, and unique phone identifiers), but ‘helpfully’ asks the specific question ‘Can Facebook read my WhatsApp now?’ — and then immediately answers that with what appears to be a definitive ‘No’, pointing out that ‘conversations are encrypted end-to-end’. But that question talks about now, ie before the February deadline, leaving hanging, in my mind at least, the question of what happens to the privacy of those conversations after that deadline. And it also side-steps the issue of messages that are backed up in the cloud. Can we trust Facebook to be honourable about the privacy of that data? (I think: not.)
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk endorsed Signal, another messaging app, to his 42 million Twitter followers a few days ago. Unsurprisingly, Signal’s registration service crashed soon afterwards due to the flood of incoming new user requests.
I’ve heard of Signal before. The encryption system WhatsApp uses is actually Signal’s own protocol; it’s a classic example of a greedy corporation leeching off society.
Wired has an interesting article: Why everyone should be using Signal instead of WhatsApp. Largely on the strength of this, I thought I’d give Signal a try. Signal is free; it has no adverts, there are no affiliate marketers and there’s no creepy tracking. The software is developed and maintained by an independent nonprofit organisation, one that’s not tied to any major tech companies (and which can never be acquired by one either). Development is supported by grants and donations.
I agree with the evaluation of Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey:
Yesterday evening, having persuaded one of my brothers to install Signal, I began chatting with him using it. And then, suddenly, the Signal app presented me with the following:
… and that disturbing message is still there as I write. The latest update from @Signalapp on Twitter — coming up on a day later — indicates a serious problem. One that, one hopes, can be resolved in fairly short order — if they’re given the resources, and a little time.
Although I have to admit that my first impressions are that Signal is somewhat less polished than WhatsApp, and even though it has been effectively broken by the current situation, I’m still planning on switching to Signal. The big problem is that WhatsApp has an enormous user base; and among that vast throng are my family and friends. So I need to try to find a way to seduce them from the dark side… unless I want to end up talking to myself.