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Thursday 19 October 2017
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WhatsApp’s ‘remarkable sellout’ – what changes mean for users and alternative apps

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Whatsapp is in the spotlight again

Are you a WhatsApp user? Feeling betrayed?

We have seen this time and time again. In this case, it’s a digital bait-and-switch.

An app makes certain promises to users, acquiring millions of them, then just like that the promise is no more.

This is what has happened with the popular messaging service WhatsApp, announcing that, under their new terms and conditions, they will now share your personal information – including your phone number, when you are using the service and who you are communicating with, and more – with its parent company, Facebook.

WhatsApp originally prided itself on privacy, no more. As a 100 per cent Facebook -owned company, those values are out the window.

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WhatsApp has come under scrutiny for changes to privacy settings

What WhatsApp said vs what has happened

Back in 2014 when WhatsApp was first acquired, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO, Jan Koum, claimed that nothing would change for WhatsApp users: “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing. WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently” he assured, “And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication.”

Despite Koum’s claims that nothing would change, I certainly cannot say that this new policy shift is surprising. Back in March of 2015 Facebook already discreetly changed the rules 20 months before when nobody was looking.

WhatsApp’s recent pride in its announcement of its new end-to-end encryption should be met with snickers.

The whole point of having encryption is that everything you do is private, not just what you say.

Demonstrating false bravado while adding insult to injury, WhatsApp gamely says there is a way to partially opt-out of these changes, but if you read the fine print – the user tracking and data sharing remain nonetheless.

WhatsApp is attempting to claim that these changes are in the best interest of the user (by fighting spam and increasing business-to-consumer communication), but one should not be so quick to blindly click accept.

WhatsApp’s new policies, self-admittedly, are aimed at coordinating more with Facebook, so that they can “show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them.”

Simply, WhatsApp is selling out to make more profit off of its users.

Of course, there are other alternatives

Viber has been a steady alternative to WhatsApp for years, but they have had their own privacy scandals.

According to researchers from the Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group at the University of New Haven (UNHcFREG), all data stored on Viber, including photos and videos, is completely unencrypted. Which means that “Anyone, including the service providers will be able to collect this information.”

Telegram is another popular alternative that has gained a popular following. But the app is notorious for being error-prone and the true security of the app is being called into question.

WeChat, owned by Chinese firm, Tencent, has popularity worldwide. Oversees, however, WeChat has been found to politically censor its users, by blocking posts from pro-democracy activists.

Here at home the allegations against WeChat are equally concerning, with some claiming that the app is serving as a tool for industrial espionage.

Then there’s MeWe – which I founded. It doesn’t track or spy on its members, or sell their information to third parties.

It makes money the old-fashioned way, by offering members optional features that enhance the experience.

MeWe members are protected by an industry-first Privacy Bill of Rights. MeWe also has a poison pill built into its privacy policy to keep it honest and to protect members from acquirers wanting access to their data.

Any privacy policy changes must be communicated to members along with links to opt-out and delete their accounts. If Facebook had a clause like this, they would have been out of business four years ago.

It is too soon to assess the impact of WhatsApp’s announcement on their user base.

However if the current steady decline of Facebook’s user engagement (in part due to the public’s increased privacy concerns, as well as the influx of competitors) is any indication, then I wouldn’t rush to place a bet on any future growth of WhatsApp – indeed this is likely the beginning of their decline.

Ironically, they don’t seem to care – their users are no longer customers – that label is now affixed clearly on the data companies, marketers, and advertisers.

Users are products to sell. Time to move on.



Mark Weinstein, is one of the USA's leading social media and privacy experts and CEO of MeWe.com. Mark is one of the founders of social networking, a leading privacy advocate, and author of the award-winning Habitually Great book series. Mark is revolutionizing online communication at MeWe, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, as a key MeWe Advisor. Mark writes a technology column for Huffington Post, and has been featured on CNN, Fox News, and has been honored as "Privacy By Design Ambassador" by the Canadian Government.


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