What’s up with WhatsApp?
WhatsApp has been in the news a lot over the past week, with critics alleging that the popular Facebook-owned messaging app has become a threat to user privacy. WhatsApp officials, however, say that they’re firmly committed to privacy, and say that there’s a great deal of misinformation being spread online.
In this article, we’ll tell you what’s going on with the app, and what it means for your privacy.
However, WhatsApp says that the app’s core privacy protections are still as strong as ever, and that much of the social media furor over the changes either misrepresented or misunderstood what was really going on.
E2EE still intact
They’ve also released an FAQ with some additional details about what is and isn’t going to be shared with Facebook: They say that private chats and calls, as well as shared locations, will never be seen by Facebook (or WhatsApp, for that matter). They also note that they don’t log users’ call histories and that they never share contacts lists with Facebook.
Data sharing with Facebook
Despite WhatsApp’s reassurances, many users are clearly concerned about the changes. Over the past week, WhatsApp rivals Signal and Telegram (both known for their strong stance on privacy) have seen a huge surge in new users.
WhatsApp’s public response so far has focused on telling users that no one will be reading their private messages; they’ve also emphasized the ways in which WhatsApp works differently when users are messaging businesses, as opposed to their personal contacts.
To many people, this will no doubt sound a lot like the sort of targeted advertising and user profiling that Facebook is notorious for. And a quick glance at WhatsApp’s App Privacy report in the App Store reveals quite a few entries under the “Data Linked to You” heading, which may explain why so many WhatsApp users have decided to call it quits.
Alternatives to WhatsApp
When it comes to WhatsApp, here’s the bottom line: Although your encrypted communications are not likely to be at risk if you use the app, there are better options if you’re concerned about your privacy. Here are two good ones:
If you and your contacts are within the Apple ecosystem, iMessage is a great choice for encrypted communications. It’s E2EE by default, and it has the added bonus of running exclusively on platforms known for their security. However, there are some limitations. If you’re chatting with someone who isn’t using iMessage, then your chats won’t be E2EE. In addition, there is some concern over the issue of iCloud backups and iMessage, since iCloud backups are not fully protected by end-to-end encryption (though if you’re concerned about this, you can simply back up your device to a Mac that has FileVault enabled).
If you’re looking for a cross-platform E2EE messaging app, Signal is probably your best bet. It’s widely recommended by security experts, as well as by privacy and free speech organizations such as Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation. Furthermore, in contrast to apps like WhatsApp or Facebook, Signal is run as a non-profit, and is supported entirely by donations. And while trusting any software developer with your privacy is a deeply personal decision, there are good reasons to have confidence in Signal. As NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden recently quipped Twitter, “I use it every day and I’m not dead yet” — a powerful (if somewhat dark) testimonial!