The Whatsapp/Facebook Privacy debate

The below post was written so well by a friend and old college I opted to share as is:

Credit to Steve Cope for the effort and homework I was too lazy to put into words.

“This “WhatsApp / telegram / Signal” debate isn’t important enough for the attention it’s getting.

As a local ISP in a small town I’ve recently been inundated with requests to explain this issue. The most important point is that WhatsApp isn’t asking for anything new, it’s just more apparent what they’ve been collecting all along.Some people will object to this, they’ll see it as a privacy violation (the relevance of this again varies wildly between people). In truth it’s about background (no human involved) data gathering so that companies who sell marketing services can target as spend more effectively.

As much as that may in fact be a privacy violation, when contemplating it understand it’s not the same as a neighbour peering through the curtains over the wall, there’s no “personal” in it at all, it’s an algorithm. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

For those who object to this data collection the most popular options are between Telegram and Signal (I suggest Signal). BUT, if you don’t delete FaceBook and Instagram at the same time you may as well stick with WhatsApp as FB (who own all 3 of those products) will just get the same info using a different app. People are likley to choose whichever path makes sense to them for differing reasons.

The complication for companies / entities who communicate with the public (like CPF / NHW / community associations) is that we’re obliged to make info available on whichever platform people choose, so we pretty much have to be on all of them. It’s ok, that’s what’s convenient for our customers / members and it’s appropriate that we communicate with them on whichever platform they choose to be on.

The complication for individuals is that whereas “everyone is currently using WhatsApp”, that’s likley to fragment. I believe people will make their choice based on what their fiends / family use … and that WhatsApp will still very much stay in use because of the convenience of being able to reach everyone.

None of us like the idea of “our data being mined”, but WhatsApp is by no means the worst culprit. Facebook / Instagram / Google extract far more detailed info than WhatsApp.

(As an aside, Apple is the one primarily driving the privacy conversation. You pay for the product because it’s not subsidised by your data being mines, hence the higher price)But this is an emotive issue.To illustrate, have you installed the Covid Tracking app? Most people say “no’ I’m not letting that evil tracking piece of software anywhere near me or my phone”. The truth is it links only one thing to you, your contact details. Everything else is anonymized. But, that Covid software is seen as “bad”, largely because of media hype and conspiracy theory, whereas people are going to continue to use WhatsApp which tracks an order of magnitude more personal data.I do hope this sinks in.

This debate of Instant Messaging Privacy has sparked more debate than an app which is supposed to help with a pandemic, and the way many have chosen how to respond to both these issues is largely by hearsay and emotion.

My recommendation on this issue — Understand the issues (non sensationalist boring reading) … if you’re finding it an exciting read you’re probably reading the wrong sensationalist article – Continue to use Whasapp – Get a Signal account (and start to use it as appropriate) and install the Covid app.

Breathe. There’s more to important stuff to get wound up about.

\For comparison purposes I’ve included screenshots of some the permissions the apps mentioned above require when active on a mobile.