I remember being in the kitchen of one of my father’s friends, who told us about this thing called ‘WhatsApp’. Like most of us, I was excited by the prospect of being able to text and call anyone around the world for free. Dad couldn’t believe it, and I went straight to the App Store to see it for myself. It wasn’t the free service that got us most excited though – it was its separation from Facebook. And the significance of this separation is now biting WhatsApp on the bum.
Over the past few days, an exodus from the platform has begun to unfold. WhatsApp’s rivals are reviling in the new attention. Telegram recently boasted of its 25 million new users who have recently joined. Similarly, Signal yesterday shared its massive jump in its share price as users flock towards the alternative. Finally, just a few moments before publishing this aritcle, Telegram’s product manager has announced that “we may be witnessing the largest digital migration in human history”. If that is true, then WhatsApp has a lot to be afraid of.
Like a guilty child desperately trying to justify itself after being caught, WhatsApp has been publishing full double page advertisements in Indian newspapers; in large print, it tries to explain how it puts users’ privacy first. Their Twitter page has also frantically attempted to address the ‘rumours’ spreading. Unfortunately for WhatsApp, they seem to think the issue is soley about privacy. But this is the exact point that they have missed: it’s their partnership with Facebook that is the primary issue.
So whilst they scramble to justify themselves and how they still value privacy, they need to accept that they will remain out of favour for as long as they are scared to admit that they are in bed with Facebook.
Their tie to Facebook has not just eroded trust, but has also raised many questions: Even though Facebook can’t “see” the chats, can they still access the data from those chats? And will they share all of that data with third-party advertisers, all to ‘improve the service they provide’? Rather than answering clearly, most of us are left in the dark. The constant changing of Facebook’s policies make things even more confusing. I remember when, two years ago, I had a research assignment for work. I had to download and compare the privacy policies of the dominant social media platforms, including dating apps. Most were easy to find, except for Facebook, which extended my task time from a mere ten minutes to an hour.
Social media users are becoming more educated and aware of the huge market power that Facebook has. In acknowledgement of their gradual takeover of the internet, there is one thing we can do.
Even taking a small step like simply downloading Telegram or Signal will show Facebook that its customers are willing to test other alternatives. It also increases awareness around these other companies, encouraging them to remain independent if Facebook decides that it wants to consume them as well. Furthermore, any message that is sent using these alternatives will mean that there is a little bit less data that Facebook can use to ‘improve their services’ — or in simple terms, sell to third parties and advertisers. Any bite of data that Facebook does not have results in less profit and power for them. Now that they are charging full steam ahead with gaining access to WhatsApp data as well, there has never been a better time to show them our disgust at their behaviour.
In the end, the message is clear. Facebook is not accountable. It plays the capitalist game by attempting to monopolise the social media industry, slowly removing the privacy features of its now consumed competitors without us knowing. Why? To make more profit and gain more power. If that is how they play, then we should join in by choosing other alternatives in the free market; alternatives which have not sold their souls to Facebook, and have a positive reputation when it comes to the privacy of our data. By doing this, we can show Facebook that is it here to serve us.
Making the switch is therefore an act of protest. It reminds Facebook that we are in charge.