Why I deleted WhatsApp
Hustling friends into Signal
Today I deleted WhatsApp. I have been using Signal for years now almost exclusively but I kept it as a backup purely due to its mass appeal.
On paper WhatsApp sounds okay. The original founders were great, and they enabled end-to-end encryption before they left unhappy with how Facebook handled privacy. However I have a hard time trusting Facebook, for very much the same reasons why most people dislike it.
And this as well:
As you can infer from the founder’s values, Facebook doesn’t put privacy first, and therefore using their messaging app, where you may be sharing intimate details with friends just feels wrong.
And so I spent the last couple of years hustling people into Signal, it was a slow process, and Signal wasn’t that ready for mass appeal when I first started using it. Simply because when you put privacy first, churning out features becomes a much bigger challenge.
Signal is currently the best option for privacy because the organisation is wholeheartedly dedicated to that cause, for them privacy and encryption comes first, everything else is secondary. There are also no signs that it will ever be a commercial entity. Much like wikipedia, Signal will remain staunchly non-profit and based on donations.
Privacy is not about having “nothing to hide”
I am hoping that going forward more people decide to put privacy first, at least when communicating with friends and loved ones. Privacy is not about “I have nothing to hide”, a lazy, default argument I am sick of hearing.
Privacy is about having the right to express your thoughts exclusively to whomever you chose freely, without the obligation to share any information with companies that wholesale it to the highest bidder or governments that use it to build tools of mass surveillance and oppression.
Or like Snowden put it:
No need to be cynical
I know it’s easy to fall back into a cynical viewpoint that there is nothing you can do about preventing your data being used unethically by big corporations and you should just accept it, and while it’s true that more companies are collecting user data unscrupulously, it’s also true that it is easier to have encrypted communications and privacy than ever before because we have tools like Signal that are very easy to install and use.
Having end to end encrypted communication a decade ago was a pain, anyone who ever used PGP can tell you that, so the fact that it is so easy to use a tool like Signal that even my 75 year old dad can do it, it’s a definite advancement!
Telegram does not put privacy first like Signal
Another app where people have moved to is Telegram. Using Telegram because you like the app and its features is fine, but know that Telegram is NOT non-profit like Signal, which means at some point it will probably use your data for advertisement and Telegram does NOT put privacy first like Signal does. I’d go as far as to say that using Telegram is currently less secure than using What’sApp because Telegram does not do end-to-end encryption by default, you have to do a dedicated “secret chat” that most people don’t use. Also groups are never end to end encrypted. To top it all off they are not using a public battle tested algorithm and created their own, which is heavily discouraged.
I can agree that Telegram may have more mass appeal based on some extra features and better UI, or as a social platform, but when it comes to privacy Signal is the tool you should be using, not Telegram.
In all fairness it could be much worse than WhatsApp and Facebook
One app you should absolutely stay away from is WeChat if you can. As much as I would have loved to promote all things Chinese due to my love of the culture and people there, WeChat is directly controlled by one of the most authoritarian and oppressive regimes in the world, if you use WeChat you are sending all your data and aiding a government that routinely puts people into concentration camps, has no rule of law, and censors, monitors, and controls all media and internet, there is nothing worse than having WeChat installed in your phone from a privacy point of view, or any app with ties to China for that matter, because sadly all companies there are under the heel of the Chinese Communist Party, which means there is no legislation that protects user data or even basic rule of law for well intentioned companies to appeal to. So unless you live in China and you are “forced” to use it, think twice about it. If you think I exaggerate, take a look at the findings from this article:
Signal works in China too, at least for now, so you could use that if you are ever visiting there, just remember that Signal, like any other app, can only be as secure as the phone/computer and keyboard you use!
Why bother to use Signal if WhatsApp also does end-to-end encryption?
Whatsapp is owned by Facebook, it’s not open source and the company does not put privacy first like Signal does. With WhatsApp you need to trust their word that your data is safe, with Signal you can actually see it as both their server and app code is open source, no need to take their word for it only.
WhatsApp also collects all sorts of metadata, such as when you were online, who you talked to, etc, something that Signal doesn’t do.
Also no cryptography and privacy enthusiast would recommend WhatsApp for privacy, they would recommend Signal, especially for anything sensitive
The best argument you can make to your friends to use Signal
Using Signal is entirely free. There is no cost to using and installing the app, no data is harvested, nothing is sold. Using WhatsApp however has a substantial privacy cost attached to it that both of you have to pay for. With that in mind, it is a lot more unfair for someone to demand you use WhatsApp to talk to them than you asking them to use Signal, even if you are the only person they know there.
And if that does not convince them, Signal’s voice and video call quality is really the best I’ve seen (only matched by Duo in my experience), and you can make calls from the computer too with the desktop app, which is very convenient, and something that you cannot do with WhatsApp.
That’s all, see you in Signal!