If you’re one of the many people who’ve recently watched the Social Dilemma on Netflix, you’ll have heard a number of very convincing reasons to get off of social media. It’s not just apps like Instagram and Facebook that keep track of us, share our information, and manipulate us, though. Whatsapp – the most popular messaging service in the world – is just as nefarious (Which shouldn’t come as a surprise as it is part of the Facebook empire). Fortunately, there are better messaging platforms out there, so you can take steps today to protect your information. Here are 5 reasons to delete Whatsapp and switch over to something more secure.
Whatsapp asks you to break your end-to-end encryption
One reason 2 million people around the world might feel so comfortable using Whatsapp is because it’s constantly reminding us that our chats are protected by end-to-end encryption.
End-to-end encryption means that nobody apart from the sender and the recipient of the texts have access to there content – not even Whatsapp. This is great. We want this. It’s essentially the most basic kind of protection there is for our private conversations. Sebastian Meineck, writing for Vice, goes as far as to say that “using any messenger without this level of encryption is like going for a hike in flip-flops: really stupid”.
But after making us feel secure in the knowledge that our confidential conversations are being kept just that – confidential – Whatsapp has the bad habit of then asking us to break that encryption.
In a seemingly innocuous move, Whatsapp offers users the option of backing chats up on Google or iCloud (when transferring your data to a new phone, for example). This seems super convenient until you learn that your chat history backups are then stored on Google or Apple without end-to-end encryption. This means that your messages and media are no longer protected once they’ve been backed up elsewhere.
Meineck says that “messages with a self-destruct timer offer the best protection against this, as they’re automatically deleted after a specific amount of time. WhatsApp does not currently offer this function”.
Additionally, Kate O’Flaherty, writing for Forbes, detailed how Whatsapp group chats “can be easily found via a Google search, because the search engine is indexing links to conversations intended to be private”.
This means that with a quick Google search anyone can join chats that are originally intended to be private. You can see if any of your private chats are visible on Google by typing in chat.whatsapp.com and adding adding in some detail relating to the group chat in question.
Better yet, just delete Whatsapp.
Whatsapp wants to know who you know
According to the Whatsapp terms of service, “you provide us the phone numbers of WhatsApp users and your other contacts in your mobile phone address book on a regular basis”.
This not only gathers information about you for Whatsapp, but everyone in your contact book who doesn’t use the application – your doctor, your grandmother, your cat’s veterinarian. If their number is saved in your contact book, Whatsapp has it too.
It’s not the only way for a messaging app to operate, writes Meineck. He compares competing messenger app Signal‘s method of converting your contacts’ numbers in to unique character values, called hashes. Signal knows the hashes, not their real numbers, and immediately deletes the information from its servers. Facebook (and as a result Whatsapp) wants to collect as much data as possible, and therefore is unlikely to adopt a system as data-efficient.
Whatsapp keeps track of your app use
We’ve already touched upon the fact that Whatsapp doesn’t have access to the content of your messages on account of the end-to-end encryption. That doesn’t stop it from collecting tons of other information. They can track how you interact with others on the platform – when you’re interacting, how long you’re interacting, how frequently you interact.
“In other words,” says Meineck, “WhatsApp may not track what you are discussing, but they could know where you are discussing it, who with and for how long”.
Depending on your default settings, they can see your profile picture, your last-online time, your status and your nickname. Small details like this can tell a lot about our patterns of behaviour and – as the Social Dilemma pointed out to the world – can be used to manipulate us or build accurate behaviour models. Statistics show that very few users change the default privacy settings.
Not even its co-founder wants to be involved with it
“It’s difficult to trust the direction of WhatsApp under Mark Zuckerberg, when co-founder Brian Acton clearly doesn’t either”, writes Meineck.
In 2014, after Whatsapp sold to Facebook for a whopping $22 billion, co-founder Brian Acton jumped ship, citing privacy and monetisation concerns. He told Forbes he has “sold his users’ privacy” and even tweeted “It is time. #deletefacebook.”
The fact that one of the men who created the app no longer trusts it – and in fact recommends we delete Whatsapp and its parent company, Facebook –should give pause to the rest of us who are using it so blindly.
Whatsapp code isn’t public
On the surface, this sounds like it should be a good thing, right? It’s not.
Software is safest when it’s “open source” – in other words, free for the public to scrutinise. According to Jordan Schneider for Wired, open source not only benefits a software’s security, but also its speed. Not to mention, it makes advancing tech a lot more democratic.
“Exposing the codebase publicly for security experts and hackers to easily access and test is the best way to keep the technology secure and build trust with end users for the long haul,” he writes. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and open source is that sunlight in technology”.
Many of Whatsapp’s competitors are open source, meaning that independent experts can go in and expose any vulnerabilities they may find, which in turn allows the apps to strengthen their security further.
What can I use instead of Whatsapp?
According to Meineck, after you delete Whatsapp, some better alternatives include Signal, Threema, Wickr (best for business) and Wire. Even the increasingly popular Telegram is (slightly) more secure, although it too has had its share of security issues.
According to VpnMentor, the only downside to using Signal is that it lacks the fun gifs and emojis that Whatsapp has adopted. In every other aspect, though, it seems vastly superior, particularly if you’re just using it to chat to friends and family.
Threema, based in pro-privacy Switzerland, promises complete privacy. Your contacts and group information are stored only on your phone, and not in the app itself, and your messages are deleted as soon as they’ve been sent. The app also lets you connect to people using a Threema ID instead of a phone number, further protecting your privacy.
Telegram is basically Whatsapp, but better, allowing you to send image files without compression, and including really cute animatic emojis which are frequently updated. Of course, some of the encryption issues with Whatsapp have been detected here too, so it’s not a foolproof alternative.
Wire is another secure messaging app with end-to-end encryption, which is further protected by European data retention laws. This option may be more secure than Whatsapp, but it is a paid app.
One of the main reasons we’re hesitant to delete Whatsapp is simply because everyone else is still using it. But change has to start somewhere, and if you value your privacy and that of your friends and family, it’s time to look into switching to something more secure.