(If you’re just looking for the brief version, read it here. Otherwise to read my ramblings, carry on!)
On September 26, 2006, Facebook opened to everyone at least 13 years old with a valid email address.
I remember signing up, thrilled that I could finally be a part of this new ‘Web 2.0’ movement that all my still-at-university friends had been talking about. At the very beginning, it was an incredible new tool for keeping in touch with friends, sharing events, and finding new and interesting ways to socialize.
Over the years, the information that the company has gathered on individuals is staggering in breadth, depth, and scariness. An information gathering campaign that once only existed in the wet dreams of intelligence agency wonks was now a living, breathing thing, and we were all voluntarily giving it more oxygen every day, with every post, every message, every uploaded picture, every ‘Like’.
I now view the company as one of the most insidious and evil companies in tech, and am unable to divorce the many terrible events in real life that have occurred after being organized, in part, on Facebook, from any other benefits it might bring.
In 2009, WhatsApp was launched, and it took off in a big way in the UK and Europe. With smartphones in their infancy but commanding a high price, mobile service providers began offering enticing ‘unlimited data’ plans, to try and encourage us all to swap over to the new expensive devices. As a trade-off, at least for some providers, you had fewer bundled text messages that you could send.
WhatsApp made the idea of ‘bundled texts’ an immediately archaic idea. WhatsApp allowed you to send essentially supercharged MMS messages for, essentially, nothing. It was all ‘data’, and suddenly you no longer sent ‘a text’ you sent ‘a WhatsApp’.
Apple pushed further away from SMS with iMessage so now if you were an Apple user, you expected richer features. If you were messaging an Android user, the obvious answer was WhatsApp.
In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp. Now everyone you knew was either on Facebook, or on WhatsApp, but either way you were on a platform controlled by Facebook.
WhatsApp (and Facebook) were immediately at pains to point out that no information would be shared with Facebook, and WhatsApp chats would stay secure.
Of course, those of us who have been in tech a while (or been through an acquisition) know that there are no guarantees and just because a company says they aren’t going to do something, it doesn’t mean they aren’t eventually going to do it.
Sure enough, as of February this year, the WhatsApp Terms of Service are changing (outside of Europe) to remove certain clauses which previously stated that no information would be shared with Facebook.
WhatsApp is no longer a platform I wish to be on as a result.
I’m still on Instagram, another Facebook owned property, and I’m sure there will come a time when I need to move away from that too. The only reason I haven’t already is that there’s no good alternative to it (yet) and I still very much enjoy it.
Signal actually uses the same basic encryption as WhatsApp. In fact, WhatsApp only started to encrypt its non-text messages after partnering with Signal to further develop the technology.
Signal.org is a Not-for-Profit organization, and the Signal Messenger app is open source, peer reviewed, and funded entirely by grants and donations. Security is the foremost consideration, then features. I’ve certainly seen improvements in functionality since I started using Signal over a year ago and for the most part it’s just as good as WhatsApp in terms of functionality.
A messaging app with even more features is Telegram. However, this is not an end-to-end encrypted tool. For some, that may not matter and, honestly, if somebody really wanted to pilfer the many (many) cat pictures I exchanged across these services, they’re welcome to them. As mentioned, my primary reason to ditch WhatsApp is its Facebookification.
However, if you’re making a significant change, might as well go for security, right?
So my #1 recommendation is Signal; anybody security-minded who wants to get away from Facebook’s clutches will gravitate to this one.
Telegram is for those who want to ditch Facebook, but can’t live without some of the rich features available elsewhere.
For example, my server has a webhook connection with my Telegram account, allowing the server to send me alert messages directly to my connected devices.
Either way, it’s “So Long” to WhatsApp. It’s been a blast.