WhatsApp fucking blows. It's another one of those evils that come from Facebook Inc that do nothing to contribute, but rake in more profits off unsuspecting people's backs. I could say the same thing about pretty much every other centralized messaging platform out there, but WhatsApp is the biggest and thorniest today.
I hate WhatsApp. Call it a personal bias, but I've associated it with bullshit and peer pressure since the first day I had to install it on my phone. Perhaps I was a little late to the smartphone game, but I had my first smartphone only in about late 2010, and even then did not touch Android 4 until as late as 2014. And when people kindly pressured me into installing that green messenger thing, I immediately hated it.
Next thing I know, I got invited to "work" groups that just spammed random bullshit, and family groups with members to whom I had not spoken to in decades and wished to keep it that way.
"Oh, but you can text, like, for free!"
"Oh, but there are groups that allow you to keep in touch."
"Oh, but this is better than email to pass announcements to all our team at the office."
"Oh, but you can sign up straight away with your phone number, no need to create an account."
Wait, those are your selling points to use that app? Well, they blow too. There are countless other alternatives that you can use today (and even back then!) that will do all of those, but in a better or freer form, without arbitrary restrictions.
Perhaps the only thing that I hate more than WhatsApp is the fact that so many people use it, don't know any better, and therefore conclude that there's a hard dependency that can never be undone. It's like those people I talked to that cling to Facebook even though they admittedly have no use for it anymore, but "all my friends and contacts are there, so I can't quit it."
Why it's evil
WhatsApp breeds a dependency on our smartphones and lack of control on what platforms we'd like to use, and the data we choose to share. Even the "WhatsApp Web" interface requires a smartphone to work. There's no choice on which platform we choose to use, and perhaps most importantly, you must have a phone in order to use it.
Sign up with an email address and a password, like everything else on the web? Nope, authentication via an SMS code only! What, can't afford or don't want to have one? Man up, you hobo, time to buy a new one! And make sure it's brand new too, old smartphones just won't cut it.
Cell phones might be convenient sometimes, but they blow in terms of privacy and security. SIM card cloning is a problem as old as the technology itself, and is much easier than you think. In fact, a simple search of that query reveals more tutorials on how to perform cloning than information on what the problem actually is. And the number of issues arising from the ease of this is increasing, such as with activists using phone-based services and getting their accounts hacked from a cloned SIM card.
Abstaining from the Cell Phone-specific problems, there are still problems arising from the centralized structure of the messenger. The service does not federate, and you must rely on whatsapp.com servers in order to be able use the app at all. As available as it is, though, the service does suffer from some sort of outage from time to time, either by their own infrastructure, when some sort part of their dependency chain fails, or even when somebody in power arbitrarily decides to censor it.
You might think that it's possible to circumvent most of these using a VPN or proxy, but what you can't do, however, is avoid their data silo: when you use it, all your data essentially belongs to WhatsApp. Most people play the "I don't care" card at this point, and you'd think that Facebook also bets on that belief. However, the user privacy concerns must have been growing strong since in 2016 they decided to impress the world and partner up with Signal, implementing end-to-end cryptography in all chats. Game over, mass surveillance! Privacy has finally won.
Or has it? As much as the cheerleading crowd in OpenWhisperSystems would like to assert, WhatsApp remains a black box of nonfree software, with not much but a "pinky promise" that they will not spy on the users through metadata, undo the cryptography or silently add a backdoor upstream, where client-side auditing won't catch them. Not to mention that to trust WhatsApp means having to trust the platform on which it's based on, and the entire smartphone game relies on passive surveillance to remain profitable. You want to promise us privacy and security? Release the freaking code.
Last but not least, WhatsApp breeds smartphone addiction. "Who has messaged me? Is that my cell phone that buzzed? I haven't checked my phone in the last 5 minutes, who might have got in touch with me?" If you ever caught yourself asking these kinds of questions, guess what: you have an addiction. And WhatsApp isn't doing any good to that either, especially when people are pressured to use it even for work-related communication. Don't have a company smartphone? Don't worry, your boss now can nag you regardless through your personal device and phone number!
First and foremost: stop using WhatsApp. Don't reduce usage, stop it. Boycott it, uninstall it, stubbornly refuse to reinstall it.
Not using it is an alternative, and probably the best you can do. Boycott it together with anything else Facebook-owned. Not only you'll be making it harder for the people you care to use the damn thing, you'll also be enlightening them to the wonderful and plentiful alternatives there are today.
And then you can show them these wonderful alternatives:
- Best solution: XMPP through the Conversations app, or Gajim on the desktop. Everything else is second.
- Matrix for a large community such as a work chat.
- Jitsi for voice and video communication
Oh, and do not use Signal: they won't open to federation, and are subject to the same outage issues as WhatsApp (maybe even more, since they're much more associated with activism).
There is no loss of value in terms of communication compared to WhatsApp, only enormous gains in freedom. Freedom of service choice through federation, personal data through encryption and freedom of platforms.
Seriously, it's 2020. WhatsApp might have seen glory days before, but today it's no different than the rest of the technology. It's time to be truly free again.
Last updated on 10/02/20