"If you're not paying for the product, you are the product"
Many tech-letter subscribers have asked me my opinion on this whole "WhatsApp + privacy + other communication apps" dilemma, what exactly is going on, and what a smart way forward is-- so I figured this would be a great way to summarise, as well as share, my preferred communication tech-tool.
This will be a long tech-letter, so stay with me for a minute.
What's going on?
Apple's latest software update requires companies and app developers to share details on what user-information is collected when a user uses their apps; sort of a "nutrition label", but for your data. They aren't necessarily stopping this collection of data; they are simply giving you the chance to be aware.
It's well documented that Facebook is notorious for collecting a lot of data (which would explain how you always happen to see very personalised advertisements). Though Facebook tried fighting Apple's privacy requirements, we're now able to see more clearly how much information is actually being collected.
You can take a look at it yourself-- go to your Apple App Store, select Facebook Messenger, and scroll down till you see App Privacy; you'll see how much information is being collected without you being aware of it.
P.S. This includes everything from your health data, purchase history, location, contacts, browser history, financial information, and... well, pretty much everything.
P.S. After backlash, and seeing how they've lost millions of users, WhatsApp has postponed this by a couple more months.
What the company expects to accomplish with these new terms is connect your data (which at one point might have been exclusive to WhatsApp) and sync it across the Facebook ecosystem (i.e. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and the other FB-owned products), in order to identify you better.
The information collected includes your WhatsApp profile-details, names, the groups you're in, the people you talk to, your location at any given time; basically, Facebook wants to be able to collect every piece of data on you that doesn't include your actual conversations (which... at that point, barely matters, since they will at some point). P.S. just in case you weren't aware, products like Gmail have been reading your emails for years.
Why? To sell your information to the highest bidder. Facebook is a for-profit company whose income relies heavily on advertisers. The more data they have on you, the more they can sell it, and the more they can earn in the process. I highly recommend watching "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix, it does a great job covering a lot of this.
So, based on this summary I have provided thus far, folks all over the world have realised that you don't have to be a politician, or a celebrity, to start protecting your privacy; especially when it's being violated without your knowledge.
The encryption that WhatsApp uses (or claims it does) to secure your conversations is known as Signal Protocol, which was developed by Signal (the app this tech-letter is about). Encryption is what allows your conversations to stay exclusively between you and the person(s) you're messaging-- and no one else.
There isn't too much I can talk about this app that you won't be familiar with already-- it's just another messaging tool that takes privacy seriously. If you're familiar with WhatsApp or iMessage, you're familiar with Signal. You can share texts, voice messages, media (photos/videos/GIFs/files), you can create groups, have free video or phone calls with other Signal members, and so on.
The main difference between Signal and WhatsApp is that with the former, your information is not for sale. There's no tracking, no ads, no information-sale to the highest bidder. While apps like WhatsApp collect almost all of your phone's (and your) data, Signal only collects your phone number-- and that's only so you can create your account. The encryption used in Signal is so secure, that if a third party (say FBI) were to ever "intercept" your messages to John Doe, they would be unable to read them. Only John Doe would have access to your messages.
I've been asked about Telegram a few times too, and here's why I'd not consider it. Telegram does not offer end-to-end encryption by default (it has to be enabled), and this feature doesn't extend to group chats.
If need be, Telegram can access your messages, because these messages are stored on their servers and backup up to their cloud. Not to say that they will, since Telegram appears to be a more private option than WhatsApp, but both are still not as secure as Signal. Telegram is also privately owned, whereas Signal is developed by a non-profit foundation.
Signal's main source of income is literally donations; which means that they're not after your money (unlike...). In fact, Signal is so pro-privacy, that they couldn't read your messages even if they tried; whereas apps like Facebook Messenger are accessible even by regular Facebook employees. Signal's code is also open source, which means that if you doubt Signal's intentions, you could quite literally read the code they use to develop the app, and confirm their privacy-policy yourself.
Signal is free to use, and offers a version for all your devices, whether it's Windows, MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, and even Android-devices.
Being someone who has used WhatsApp since 2011, I understand that change is hard; specially when your entire group of family and friends knows and uses that app. But if privacy of your own self and your loved ones is important, then do consider making the switch; if not completely, then at least partially. It's worth it.
This was a longer tech-letter. If you're still here, thank you for reading, and I hope you found value in this information. If you want to share it with others, you would be helping me grow this newsletter, as well as helping others stay secure. Use the links below, or simply share this link. And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reply to this email.