Fighting big tech – WhatsApp

Up until ten or so years ago, the usual way of sending a typed message to anyone was via texting. All you needed was their mobile number and you could send a short text message to them which similar to them checking their email, you’d be sure they’d get the next time they turned on their phone. Besides the message length limitation, texting was relatively expensive and with the advent of mobile phones with a data transmission capacity to access the web, has largely been replaced with various apps such as WhatsApp, SnapChat and Hangouts.

With these you can exchange long texts, pictures, videos, documents as well as doing video calls both individual and conference style. Of particular use is the ability to create ad hoc groups such as family groups in which all content is shared between all members of the group. The largest by far of these programs today is WhatsApp. Facebook bought it in back in ’14 for what at the time was the outrageous sum of 19 billion USD, but after failing in their bid to buy SnapChat to get a toehold in a burgeoning market, they were prepared to massively overpay, which they did.

Once they put their marketing muscle and monopoly position behind it and welded it firmly to Facebook, its growth became exponential. At the time of purchase, its user base was reckoned to be a paltry 400 million people but by the latest estimates, it’s since grown to about 2 billion. The only apparent brake to its growth was people who were naturally reticent to give their data, albeit indirectly, to Facebook after a series of colossal security breaches by it exposed user information to hackers. Added in to that concern was the discovery that Facebook was selling their user’s data to shadowy companies like Cambridge Analytics whose usage of it was to supposedly influence elections in several countries. The shape of things to come, I think.

These fears were largely assuaged by the disclaimer users got when they connected with another party for the first time – the by now familiar “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end to end encryption”. Looks good, dunnit? Yebbut, there’s a snagette there you don’t have to be a latter day Perry Mason to spot. It doesn’t cover the information about who you’re contacting or who’s contacting you. Once you collate that information with whatever’s already on file about those two parties, it makes your data even more saleable, which you can bet your bottom dollar it is. After all, the business of Facebook is to sell their user’s data, hence WhatsApp running at a healthy ad-free profit, rather than being some kind of altruistic loss-leading gesture on their part.

So, the identifying details of both tin cans at either end of the conversation are captured, but what about the encrypted conversation running along the string that connects them? Does anyone really think that in this age of unrestricted mass surveillance, governments would really allow encrypted conversations to occur between 2 billion people without having a backdoor method of eavesdropping? If you’re that innocent, then it just happens I’ve a bridge on the Thames I can sell you at a bargain price. There’s a lot more going on there I choose not to delve into.

When it comes to Facebook and given their history of opacity, dissembling and outright lying to their users, I wouldn’t exactly be surprised to learn they had some sort of ear on the conversations as well. Its usage is by now ubiquitous and I use it myself for keeping in touch with family and friends, but never anything more than that. The old adage applies – when there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt. If it’s corporate, political or personally sensitive, I prefer face to face or good old pen and paper.

There are several alternatives you can use which offer the same functionality but are much more secure from the usual snooping parties. It’s a case of shopping around and trying them for yourself. The one most commonly used by people I know who’re more than a bit paranoid about security, and understandably so in some cases, is something called Signal, which runs on just about everything and actually delivers slightly better video to my eye. You can even set it to deep delete selected conversations at their end. Instead of just having the WhatsApp icon on your phone, you’ll have a second one for Signal. I keep them side by side to make me pause for a moment before deciding how secure I want a particular conversation to be.

From any data security aspect, a mobile phone is a dangerous liability to have on your person or to use, hence the booming sales of Fariday cages to corporate and government organisations and even into the personal sector. It’s a case of getting yourself informed of the risks inherent to them and then making a judgement decision on a case by case basis, of even when you should carry them on your person.


Related articles by Pointman:

The Signal website.

Redux from 13th April 2018 – The end of the happy time.

Click here for a list of all articles in the Fighting Big Tech series.

Click here for a list of all articles in the Stop the Steal series.

Click for a list of other articles.

5 Responses to “Fighting big tech – WhatsApp”
  1. NoFixedAddress says:

    good job


  2. NoFixedAddress says:

    also check telegram –


  3. Margy says:

    Our family just started using Discord to stay in touch with one another.


  4. Prophet says:

    I forget about personal privacy. When you start getting up there like I am.. you start to feel the snipers bullet aimed at you.


  5. meltemian says:

    I see Jack Dorsey recommends Signal… that good or bad?


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