We don’t trust dishonest people, so why do we trust dishonest social media companies? We put up with them because they offer us something valuable: connection. WhatsApp wasn’t dishonest until it was acquired by Facebook in 2014, but since then it has been less than transparent in how it collects our data. The fortunate thing is: we don’t have to use WhatsApp. There are alternatives. Let’s talk about Signal, the encrypted instant messaging service that collects minimal personal data: the service that WhatsApp aimed to be when it launched. That’s why I’m making the switch from WhatsApp to Signal.
I downloaded the app months ago, amid the WhatsApp terms of service uproar earlier this year, when WhatsApp announced it would share information with its parent company Facebook. This was something WhatsApp had been doing for years and already stated in its terms of service (as if any of us read any of those). To my disappointment, few of my contacts did the same, so it gathered dust in the corner of my home screen, waiting for a notification. Ding! I received a three ‘Your friend is on Signal!’ alerts over the following month from distant colleagues and contacts I couldn’t remember.
Why should you switch from WhatsApp to Signal?
WhatsApp collects more data on you than you realise
Facebook doesn’t have to read your messages to gather information on what you’re up to. While WhatsApp messages are encrypted, your metadata is not. Metadata includes your phone number, profile photo, status message, IP address, language and time zone, with whom you write, how long you write with whom, how much you write with whom and when you’re online. Why does this matter? A Reddit user explains, “from these can be derived: with whom you had contact and where, when you are awake and asleep, who you write to a lot and not at all.” In India, it’s possible to send money via WhatsApp. It will not be long before Facebook has your bank details and purchase history too.
WhatsApp forced you to share your data with Facebook
In the haze of January 2021, WhatsApp announced it would share information with its parent company Facebook. There was a huge backlash and lots of people left the app to move to more secure alternatives like Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp required you to accept its new terms of service in March 2021. If you didn’t accept, your app would lose gradually its functionality: you wouldn’t be able to receive calls, notifications and messages, rendering the app useless. Like everyone else, we didn’t read them and clicked accept.
Facebook aren’t the best at clarity or keeping promises
Over the years, “Facebook Inc. has also downplayed how much data it collects from WhatsApp users, what it does with it and how much it shares with law enforcement authorities,” reports investigative journalism website ProPublica. Before it was bought by Facebook, WhatsApp had barely any information on its users – only their phone numbers. Since Facebook took over, it realised the popular messaging service was a gold mine of people’s data, even those who don’t use Facebook or Instagram. If you can remember back as far as 2014, “When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, it pledged to keep the two services separate. Yet only a few years later, Facebook announced aims to integrate the messaging systems of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp,” states The Guardian.
WhatsApp now reviews flagged messages
WhatsApp’s website assures us that “only you and the person you’re communicating with can read or listen to what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp.” That’s counter to information ProPublica reported yesterday that, in fact, Facebook Inc. has employed 1,000 people to review WhatsApp content. This only happens if content has been flagged. The message, along with four previous messages, are forwarded onto the WhatsApp moderation team. Indeed it’s in the interest of keeping us safe but it’s a red flag in the way of privacy.
Switch from WhatsApp to Signal for more privacy
Does Signal have the same features as WhatsApp?
Signal is a comprehensive instant messaging platform. Similar to WhatsApp, it features voice and video calls, group chats, voice messages, picture and video messaging, pin, archive and delete chats, disappearing messages, GIFs and stickers, and more.
Will you make the switch from WhatsApp to Signal? Let me know in the comment section below.
For more blog posts, click here.
“Is it time to leave WhatsApp and is Signal the answer?” The Guardian.