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WhatsApp becomes bigger spyware; use Signal

WhatsApp has given users an ultimatum to agree to sharing more information with Facebook before February 8th 2021 if they want to continue using the application. As I’ve written about ever since August 2019, Mark Fuckerberg planned to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram much more with Facebook, and this also included advertising and sharing of (user) data. The coming change to WhatsApp will be an even bigger violation of users’ privacy. PC Mag has more details including a screenshot from WhatsApp:

WhatsApp is indicating you’ll soon have no choice but to share your data with company parent Facebook if you’d like to keep using the service.

The messaging app has published a new privacy policy, which takes effect on Feb. 8. “After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp,” the service has been telling users via an in-app alert that asks them to agree to the policy.

If you don’t agree, the same alert subtly suggests you delete your account.

In the meantime, the new policy goes on to specify what kind of information it can collect and also share with Facebook and its subsidiary companies. The data includes the phone number for your WhatsApp account, profile name and photo, who you’ve been communicating with, and the financial transactions you’ve made over the app.

“We share your information to help us operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our services,” WhatsApp adds in the privacy policy. The will include sending you friend recommendations, personalizing content, and showing relevant ad offers across Facebook’s various products.

An article on Forbes, “WhatsApp Beaten By Apple’s New iMessage Privacy Update” (January 3rd 2021), shows exactly how much data is being collected by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The article also recommends switching to the Signal app, which collects exactly zero data about its users. I myself switched to Signal in October 2019 and haven’t looked back since.

Signal’s popularity continues to rise, especially after this latest news about WhatsApp. Even Elon Musk published a message on Twitter two days ago recommending that people start using Signal, probably as a response to the latest news about WhatsApp. As reported by Mashable, “Elon Musk’s endorsement of Signal is causing the good kind of problems” (January 8th 2021):

So many people are joining Signal that there’s now a wait.

The end-to-end encrypted messaging app endorsed by the likes of Edward Snowden got a major (ahem) signal boost Thursday when Elon Musk tweeted his support. Soon after, Signal announced that the tidal wave of new downloads was having an unintended effect.

“Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement),” wrote the nonprofit. “We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there.”

When registering new Signal accounts, users must provide phone numbers. Verification codes are then sent to those phone numbers, thus confirming the numbers are indeed controlled by the people claiming to control them. It is this process that is apparently backed up due to a spike in registration attempts.

All this following a two-word tweet from Musk: “Use Signal.”

Signal places a high emphasis on security and privacy and have continuously been improving the app. The only weakness it currently has is the fact that it is still a centralized service, and so attacking a central point of failure to disrupt the service is a possibility, for example for criminal governments around the world. In this regard, another decentralized platform called Matrix is a better alternative, but it’s currently not as easy to use for most people (although they are also constantly improving).

Censorship is a huge problem right now on the Internet, and we need to start using alternative, and preferably decentralized, platforms for communications. Most of the big social media platforms cannot be trusted with security and privacy, and can also not be trusted to not violate everyone’s right to free speech.

Even hardware manufacturers cannot be trusted anymore, such as in the case of Apple and Google. In a recent post about Apple, I had already warned to stop using their hardware and software because they are using their control over both to censor content on their platforms and dictate to users what they are allowed to install and use on their devices. I mentioned there how they were forcing Telegram to censor content while threatening to otherwise remove the app from their store. Now they are doing the same thing to another app called Parler, as reported by BuzzFeed News, “Apple Has Threatened To Ban Parler From The App Store” (January 8th 2020):

Apple has given Parler, the social network favored by conservatives and extremists, an ultimatum to implement a full moderation plan of its platform within the next 24 hours or face expulsion from the App store.

A few hours later, Google issued a similar ultimatum telling Parler that its app’s listing in the Google Play store would be suspended until it implements a moderation plan that will address “this ongoing and urgent public safety threat.”

So if you know what’s good for you, and if you can already see the writing on the wall, then “Stop Using Apple Devices And Software!” and stop using Google devices and software too as soon as possible. This is one of the important reasons for why I’m personally looking at open source and free software alternatives, such as the Librem 5 phone and Pinephone.

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