WhatsApp soon will share your data with Facebook, and there’s nothing you can do about it. This privacy-grab by Facebook has led to a surge in signups for rival messaging services Signal and Telegram.
When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum reiterated his company’s commitment to privacy.
Six years later, Facebook is about to suck in all your private data, showing the world exactly why it spent $19 billion to buy WhatsApp. The big question might be, why did Facebook wait so long? But the effect has been immediate, and huge.
“In the past 72 hours alone, more than 25 million new users from around the world joined Telegram,” Telegram informed Lifewire and others on January 14 via—what else—Telegram.
WhatsApp messages are encrypted, which means that nobody—including Facebook—can see what’s in them. But that’s a tiny part of the data you generate when messaging.
First is your address book. It’s almost impossible to use WhatsApp without allowing it to access your entire contacts list. This includes the names, home addresses, private telephone numbers, and more, of every person you know.
Folks who refuse to use Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram should remember this. If even one of your friends is using one of these services, Facebook has all your details in a “shadow profile.”
Facebook says that much of this information is not retained for your private conversations, only for your conversations with businesses.
Then there’s all the other data, like who you talk to, when, and where. The iOS App Store page for WhatsApp says that the app collects financial info, your purchase history, and lots more.
Users will have to accept these new terms by February 8, or lose access to their WhatsApp account.
Telegram and Signal
Rival messaging services Signal and Telegram have seen a huge surge in new sign-ups. “We may be witnessing the largest digital migration in human history,” said Telegram founder Pavel Durov in a post on Telegram.
Signal, meanwhile, saw weekly signups jump from 246,000 to 8.8 million after Facebook announced the changes.
“If you’re not paying for it, don’t rely on it… For a bunch of reasons. People often forget services need revenue to keep going, and it has to come from somewhere. If not you, then where?”
Signal, co-founded by former WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, has built its reputation on privacy. Messages are end-to-end encrypted, and Signal’s servers keep no metadata, and cannot even see who is sending messages to whom.
“For us, your private data is sacred,” says a March 2019 Telegram blog post. “We never use your data to target ads. We never disclose your data to third parties. We store only what is absolutely necessary for Telegram to work.”
Signal operates as a non-profit organization, and is free to download and use. Telegram also is free. So far, Telegram runs on external funding from venture and seed funding: $850 million, according to Crunchbase.
However, Durov claims that “for most of Telegram’s history, I paid for the expenses of the company from my personal savings.” That’s about to change, though.
“While Telegram will introduce monetization in 2021 to pay for the infrastructure and developer salaries, making profits will never be an end-goal for us,” says the Telegram FAQ. Durov says the same thing on his personal Telegram channel.
iMessage? Not So Fast
Isn’t it easier just to stick with Apple’s iMessage? If most of your contacts use iPhones, then yes. And because iMessage never needs to make money for Apple, you can be pretty sure that it will not use your personal data to target ads, for example.
iMessages are end-to-end encrypted, but if you use iCloud Backup to back up your device, that backup might include your messages (if you use iMessage in the Cloud instead, then there are other issues).
“And even if you turn off this backup, your recipient probably didn’t,” writes Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson on Twitter.
So what should you do? If you already use Facebook and WhatsApp, then don’t sweat it. Facebook already has all your data, and will continue to add more. You’ve known that for years.
But you should sign up for Signal and Telegram anyway. If enough of your contacts also jump ship, then you can delete WhatsApp. Facebook still will know all about you, but at least you will have—wait for it–sent a message.