Jan 2021 – WhatsApp is at a weak point

A significantly sized hoo-ha over WhatsApp privacy is sweeping many countries. WhatsApp has an app / platform has been growing larger and larger over the years, and it’s at a rare weak point.

There are many reasons for WhatsApp, and against WhatsApp, same as for many other messaging apps and platforms. I’ll list them below.

Security is complicated

But while these tools and their characteristics are important, one must remember they are not the end-all of your personal digital security, privacy, or safety. That relies on a holistic care and maintenance of your digital life and habits. Changing from WhatsApp to Signal does not make you a spy. But that’s a story for another time, meanwhile all we can say it 2fa helps.

So which app is better

This isn’t a comprehensive and detailed table as I don’t have the time for that, nor is it a serious IT security analysis, this is just my personal opinion and impression of the apps.

ProsCons
WhatsApphuge network effect, probably near ubiquitous in your circles, free to use, fast app, lots of useful features like audio calls, video calls, location sharing, file sharing, picture sharing, video sharing, tagging, forwarding, web app, chat encryptionsfacebook owned, new monetization push, new privacy policy change, sharing of data to facebook servers for certain info, bad history of facebook company integrity and culture, probably future encroachment
Telegramfree to use, lots of fancy features, gaining in popularity, one of the more common apps amongst the rest, stickers, large group chats, file sharing, photo and video sharing, web app, not by facebook/apple/google/microsoft/amazonugly, bloated app, still mobile number based, russian-linked, new monetization push, not wholly encrypted
Signalfree, encryption, audio calls, pretty app, fastnewer and small in network, still mobile number based, few people using, USA influenced, non-profit org
FB messengerfree, chat w fb contacts, instagramfacebook, need fb acct
WeChatchina network, lots of china featureschina gov control, no privacy, irrelevant features
Google Hangouts / Chatfree, google contactsslow app, poor features, unable to integrate with mobile contacts
SMSubiquitousnot free, no features
RCSfree, independentlow availability, low reliability between sms/data switching, low features
Lineirrelevant
iMessagesecure within Apple, integration with Apple productsonly for Apple, irrelevant to everyone else
Viberif you’re in Philippinesdidn’t win the global competition

Why stick to one app

If you are a digital native, you would be super used to commenting/replying/interacting on all platforms, you would have lots of different groups, and that could be interest groups, family, extended family, significant other, friends, close friends, work, colleagues, work contacts. Not just across different apps, different platforms, but also across different phones.

You should keep them separate, don’t use your one facebook account to comment on everything, don’t use your one email account to sign up for everything.

In this (digital) age, where the online world continues to grow, where data sharing is inevitable, data leak is also inevitable, you can only minimize your exposure by hedging your bets.

  1. multiple accounts so that if you lose one, you don’t lose everything. as many as you can keep up with.
  2. have different tiers of security. higher security accounts for important things.
  3. don’t blindly use your real full name on everything online. you might not be untraceable, but at least make it less easy or obvious at first glance.
  4. look for companies with a better commitment / culture / alignment of incentives
  5. some security is better than no security

Tradeoffs

One big issue here is that WhatsApp new privacy change was very poorly communicated, as characteristic of Facebook, with no proper release, explanation, guarantees.

It did not present a benefit to the consumer. Many other services with privacy tradeoffs like smarthome assistants provide a huge benefit for an intrusion of privacy and heightened risk.

Given how WhatsApp and Facebook behaved, plus the bad history of the split of the WhatsApp founders, most tech savvy individuals knew it was going on a downhill path, down to the Facebook level, which is easily assumed, and nothing else could be believed because of poor behaviour by Facebook towards their other properties.

Will something better appear

My hope is that something else better and more stable appears. It took the world many many years to get to where it was with WhatsApp, and many years with Facebook to ruin it.

But something better can still come along. It’s impossible to say which app or from where. After all Zoom seems so popular, for now.

I really hope that apps can stop being tied to mobile numbers and the contact list. While it’s a quick way to gain users, it’s less flexible, less anonymous, and unable to support multiple identities and privacy.

So what exactly am I using

So many things. I still use alot of WhatsApp, because of the network there, because of work, but I also am almost equally active on Hangouts/Chat (on at least 3 google accounts), I use Telegram for certain groups/stuff, I install wechat only when I need it, I’ll see if anyone really wants to use Signal, but I avoid other platforms.

Jan 2021 – WhatsApp is at a weak point

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