Now WhatsApp stabs you in the back.

There’s a trick which has always been used by governments and corporates in the timing of announcements which they know won’t go down well with voters or customers. They simply wait until some big headline grabbing news event occurs such as the Titanic going down, the Twin Towers or the sudden death of free speech on the internet, and they deftly slip it into the day’s overloaded newsfeed which is being dominated by the big story, so it barely gets a footnote, if that.

The American oligarch Mark Zuckerberg, who owns Facebook, did exactly that a number of days ago when he announced that in the future he would be sharing the user content of WhatsApp with Facebook. You and the other two billion users of WhatsApp will be getting an opt out ultimatum in February. It kind of reminds me of the way drug pushers work hard to get someone hooked on heroin and then suddenly threaten to snatch away their supply.

So much for all the promises made when it was taken over in 2014 about keeping its data distinct from Facebook, a big concern of both its founders and users at the time who didn’t want all their personal data on the App being harvested by Facebook who even back then had acquired a bad reputation for selling its customer data to any and all comers, as in the Cambridge Analytics scandal, which by the way was merely the tip of a well hidden iceberg. Nice having control of the news, innit?

I’ve no doubt the ultimatum will be cloaked in soothing terms and quite vague as to what data of yours will be up for sale, but quite frankly I’ve never trusted Facebook to honour the terms never mind the spirit of the takeover, which is why WhatsApp has co-exists with Signal on my phone. The former for calls and conversations of a trivial nature, and the latter for matters of greater import. I credit Zuckerberg with absolutely no business or any other ethics in his unquenchable thirst for more money. That’s just accepting his natural instinct is to alway lie and double cross anyone, just to get at that buck ninety-nine they’ve got hidden in their shoe.

I’ve never trusted big tech in any of its various forms, but most especially social media. Hence, I don’t use them at all. The nearest I get to them personally is my public email address rather than my private email address, and I never use that to communicate with family. WhatsApp I use purely and minimally for harmless family chats and group videos. Was he already data harvesting the chats and videos I was having for onward sale? Of course he was, and I base that not on paranoia but on the precision targetting of me by third parties offering curiously opportune goods and services.

For instance, just today I received a rare unsolicited email from Amazon wondering if I’d by any chance be interested in buying a baby monitor which just happened to be on sale. How wonderful I thought and so opportune as well, since I’m about to become a grandparent again in a few days. That’s the way the easy going Pointy within me thinks but not the way his cold companion on overwatch, the ever alert Pointman does. Yet again, another proof of their duplicity. The only way I could have been so precisely targetted by Amazon was if Facebook had sold them data that could only have been harvested from my supposedly encoded chats with my son and his wife.

You see, in the end they have to give themselves away about how they already spy on the supposedly encrypted conversations you have with other WhatsApp users when they monetise the intelligence take. That’s the commercial imperative after all. In other words, what’s the use of inserting a spy into an organisatiion unless you actually use the information they’re stealing?

I’ll finish off this piece by making two observations. The first is a positive and the other one definitely isn’t.

I’ve been using Signal in parallel with WhatsApp for some time because I’m sure it isn’t doing the day to day betrayal to Facebook of my communications which I’ve proved to my own satisfaction by several other means rather than just the baby monitor example I used. On a reassuring level, I do know the last surviving member of the creators of the original WhatsApp resigned from the Facebook board in disgust, but his parting shot was to give, not invest, $50 million to the brazen young startup outfit that was to become Signal.

Many friends I casually keep in touch with via WhatsApp are magically appearing on my Signal address list as being now being on Signal, and by implication off WhatsApp. They aren’t what I’d call technically slick people and they certainly don’t have the benefit of a cynical guardian angel like Pointman to protect them from their natural trusting instincts.

The ramifications of big tech’s censorship and controlling instinct so blatantly on show over the last few weeks has prompted them independently to desert a platform that they’d hitherto trusted implicitly. I’d nuffin to do with that Guv, since I long ago gave up talking to them about the dangers of becoming too trusting and reliant on big tech. Smell the coffee, feel the change of wind. The consumer walls are going up against big tech, even by a supposedly tech ignorant Joe Public.

The second observation springs from a seemingly innocent case of some lowlife stalking a woman and her happening to notice the same car slowing down several times as it passed her house. She took the plate and gave it to her local sheriff who via the local DMV got a name, from which he contacted their cell provider to get the logs of their cell locations and usage on certain dates.

It was the right man but his defense lawyer raised the objection that the defendant’s data was personal and therefore protected by law unless the sheriff had subpoenaed his cell provider, which he hadn’t. Leaving aside the usual lengthly legal arguments, the court overruled the objection and took the reasonable view that he was using a service. That being so, any data or information there didn’t actually belong to him but belonged to them and if they wanted to oblige the sheriff, then it was their property which they could use as they wished.

There’s a few more rings and bells on that story but the upshot was a small precedent had been set about who actually owned the data he’d supplied directly or indirectly to a service provider. Big tech’s legal eagles took up that ball and ran with it bigtime. The upshot is anything you give to social media belongs to them not you. You have no legal ownership. If you’d like to dispute that ruling against a battalion or two of big tech’s lawyers, knock yourself out or should I say, bankrupt yourself.

So, when you get your ultimatum from Facebook via WhatsApp, you can certainly refuse and they’ll close down your account if you haven’t already done so, but all the data currently there stays in their possession to be used as they wish within some reasonable bounds, if such a thing applies these days to any personal data held on social media platforms. They’ll have all the encrypted chats you had and since the key pairs used to encrypt them were generated by their algorithms, they can decrypt them if asked by perhaps some authority or people whose political sentiments they share.

Forget any promises about them deleting historical data if you choose to reject their new terms. Remember all the Facebook furore about people deleting their data and finding out it was almost impossible to do? And anyway, all the user could ever do was hide it from view – not one byte of data was ever deleted on a big tech server farm.

So, if you’ve been discussing sensitive state or corporate matters, or there are some of your conversations you’d rather not see the light of day, you’ve got a loose end out there that you’ll never be able to delete or stop being used against you, even conceivably by the secret police of some future regime or a divorce lawyer.

You just can’t trust big tech. Find something else like Signal to use but even then, be sensible and think very carefully before giving it any information, no matter what they promise. I will be closing my WhatsApp account and ironically my parting message to all my contacts there will be I’ve moved to Signal.

If asked, the basic reason is I don’t want Facebook selling on my mobile number to every telemarketing organisation in the world whatever promises they make, and while that’s a downside I might personally decide to accept, it’s not one I could in all conscience make for all of my WhatsApp contacts who’d in future be caught in the data harvesting of my information should I continue to use their service.

The only way we’ve got to fight back against big tech’s domination and to punish them, is to refuse to use their services. Your choice.


Related articles by Pointman:

Fighting big tech – WhatsApp

The end of free speech in America?

Click for a list of other articles.

4 Responses to “Now WhatsApp stabs you in the back.”
  1. Some time ago I was sitting at my computer and talking to my house mate about something (i cannot remember what it was). It was something he had brought up and that I really had no interest in but the discussion happened as I’m a polite guy. I know that at the time this was something I had never researched or looked at on the Internet as I was so shocked that within hours I received a targeted advertisement for the very thing.


  2. NoFixedAddress says:

    From above

    “The upshot is anything you give to social media belongs to them not you. You have no legal ownership.”

    Thanks Pointman.

    You reminded me why I deleted myself from Facebook those years ago.


  3. philjourdan says:

    Never trust big tech. But unlike big government, big tech is variable. I suspect Twatter is going to see a class action lawsuit soon based upon Fiduciary responsibility. Mad jack has stated he does not care for the shareholders, which by law he must put first. And they are not going to be too happy.


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