08 Jan 2021
Come February 8th, WhatsApp will require you to accept its terms and conditions to use the app. Facebook is going to make sweeping changes to its product that was somewhat insulated from its data grabbing tentacles until now. If Facebook was collecting data under the hood previously, they now want to do it openly. Even with the anti-trust hearing coming up, Facebook’s idea seems to be to suck out as much data as they can in the intervening time or they are just cocky about coming out of it unscathed. Naturally, there’s a lot of chatter in the tech community on moving away from WhatsApp 1.
We who eat, live and breathe technology find it trivial to use the various protocols for communication and feel ecstatic to be in touch with like-minded people over secure and decentralized channels but terms like XMPP, Matrix, OMEMO, OTR, PGP, E2E encryption, federation mean jack shit for ordinary people (I detest the term “normies” as they are called in these channels). We are ensconced in our tech bubble that ignores the situation of such people. The ease with which you can sign up for WhatsApp doesn’t exist for anything else (WhatsApp has the advantage of being there in this space first too). My parents don’t have an email address. They got broadband at home last year so that they can be in touch with me. Their cellular network stays down more often than its up. They have bigger fish to fry (sometimes literally 😅️) than worry about an app. Then there are folks whose social network is so deeply ingrained in WhatsApp that anything new will be met with weird glances. Hitting a big blue Agree button is rather convenient. You are lucky if you convinced every contact of yours to switch or told them to eff off and reach you only on text/phone calls but its an uphill battle for many on both ends.
Do we give in to the ad company and continue living rest of our lives in blissful ignorance? I have no panacea for Facebook’s march towards sucking up all the personal data in the world. I tried to mitigate this by ditching Facebook and Instagram but turns out I did not pay much attention to the third finger in the pie. The world will keep ticking the same for many after February 8th. A majority of them will stay on WhatsApp just like I did back then. In fact, many would argue that this data grabbing is not something new so why change now? My answer is just because a leech has been sucking your blood for so long, do you keep letting it? We don’t stop generating data about ourselves at any point in our lives. Just like blood, we keep generating more and more data and Facebook wants every drop of it. Even if its a small ripple in the pond we can try teaching, who are willing to listen, about why privacy matters 2. Then try getting them started on simple apps like Signal first and then on to federated networks. Be the tiny voice of reason urging them to value their privacy. Maybe these tiny ripples will create the tsunami we need.
Day 69 - Join Me in #100DaysToOffload
Well that was what I wrote before I came across this. What do you know? Facebook has already been doing what we suspected. I don’t even remember getting a choice to opt out of sharing my information. Most probably I accepted and moved on back then. ↩