Why You Should Quit WhatsApp: Critical Privacy Concerns Confirmed

What are some of the current problems with WhatsApp?

Privacy. Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 Billion, and as a Facebook company, WhatsApp shares user information across other Facebook companies and applications. Facebook (and WhatsApp) have imperfect track records with respect to privacy, user data protection, and transparency. While WhatsApp uses the Signal Protocol (created by the developers of the Signal messaging app) for high-end encryption for its communications, there are several recorded instances where WhatsApp has placed user data privacy at risk.

First, if one user in an end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) chat flags another user’s message for violating WhatsApp’s Terms of Service, the message is copied to the requestor’s clipboard and sent unencrypted to Facebook moderators for review. If users were relying on WhatsApp to send sensitive information, this action could expose their sensitive messages to Facebook’s team.

Prior to its most recent update in October 2021, WhatsApp chats were stored unencrypted in users’ iCloud or Google Drive folders when backed up. This massive security vulnerability could allow those with access to a user’s cloud storage the ability to “restore from backup” on a separate device and access a user’s entire WhatsApp chat history. Finally, as a Facebook Company, WhatsApp shares account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how users interact with businesses when using their services, mobile device information, IP address, and may include other information identified in their Privacy Policy with other Facebook Companies. If privacy is the primary reason for turning to a Commercial Messaging App (CMA) versus your smartphone’s native text messaging service, this sharing of data across multiple Facebook companies should be a concern.

From a function perspective, WhatsApp’s multi-device implementation is still in beta. Your primary device (phone) needs to be connected to use linked companion devices (WhatsApp for desktop, web, and Portal). For users who turn off their primary devices and rely on desktop apps for regular communication, the lack of this feature eliminates WhatsApp as a daily driver CMA.

What are the best WhatsApp alternatives and why?

We recommend Signal to our clients because it provides open-source, E2EE messaging while maintaining the features and functionality of traditional messaging apps like iOS Messages that we all know and love. Signal is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization funded through private donations and grants. The Signal Protocol, adopted by WhatsApp in 2016, allows for E2EE between all users using Signal for all means of communication, including voice and video calls and file sharing. Signal does not aggregate or sell your data for profit. You can create group chats, individual or group video messaging, and send E2EE encrypted files with ease. Signal’s They even have a handy “Note to Self” feature to easily move photos, notes, or other files between your Signal-connected devices. Signal is free and available on all major platforms. Signal requires an active telephone number and smartphone to enable it on additional devices (like your laptop). Signal continues to beta test payment integration into their app, a feature it lacks when compared to WhatsApps’s payments functionality. Apple’s App Store requires app developers to identify user data they collect. “Collect” refers to transmitting data off the device in a way that allows the app developer and/or your third-party partners to access the data for a period longer than what is necessary to service the transmitted request in real time. When comparing WhatsApp to Signal, users can see the distinct difference in data privacy afforded the user.

We also recommend Wickr because you can place E2EE texts and calls between other Wickr users without registering a primary device (i.e. phone). Acquired by Amazon Web Service in June 2021, Wickr employs zero-knowledge open-source encryption and proprietary client and server code to provide E2EE encryption for 1:1 and group calls and chats. With desktop and iOS apps, Wickr is great for travelers or clients who don’t want to tie their CMA to a primary device (smartphone) or who want to maintain the flexibility to login and chat from anywhere on any device.

What do you think is the future for WhatsApp?

We believe WhatsApp will continue to diverge from its secure messaging roots and increase its data sharing and integration with other Facebook Company apps moving forward. WhatsApp may continue to be a preferred messaging app for those looking for maximum integration across Facebook platforms, but we expect the privacy-conscious to continue to migrate towards Signal, Telegram, Wickr, and other privacy-focused CMAs over the next year.

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