Friends are pinging me over Whatsapp to ask if it is safe to stay on it. I have already expressed my opinions on the matter on this blog when it comes to privacy and security. Let me summarize that for you and repeat after me:
- You can't have optimal privacy with companies that offer you free services.
- e.g., the big elephant in the room Facebook and a zillion of other services that do very well for their shareholders
- You don't have THE best privacy now with paid services
- e.g., telecoms, credit card companies, banks
- Your understanding of what privacy is in this hyper-digital era might be wrong. To begin with,
- you share a piece of pregnancy news with your friend, s/he doesn't post it anywhere (that you know), but she hands the phone over to your worst enemy on the galaxy, s/he going to tell all about to their friends. Privacy? Yep...that's what I thought.
Don't leave WhatsApp or whatever pleases you to use today. What Facebook, the company that bought for gazillions WhatsApp (to make money?) is not doing anything that any other company that offers free/services already does. Simply because they are huge and don't sell you electricity (yet...), the news tick you off. They are not invasive, it is your understanding of what you hear and read that is making you itching.
WhatsApp is going to use some of the data that you generate when you talk to a business (registered business between Facebook and Whatsapp) and sharpening their ads skills using (cumulative) their ads business.
To run a business takes money. To run a huge business takes investors, and when you have investors, the company has owners. And those tend to bitch and moan big time when they don't get fat dividend checks. So to make a load shit of ad money they need to extend their reach and relevance every 3 years. Telecoms companies have done this since they were created. You never complained, because you didn't know or their font 4 privacy pamphlet. And because you needed the phone more than a happiness blood transfusion. Facebook now is your blood and that you like it or not there's anyone better and more reactive than them.
I know that you understand that to make money you need money. But you don't, really. At least until is your skin on the grill. Let me show you how to put your skin on the grill. You're gonna love the smell.
Let's do a deep dive
To understand why companies that offer free services need to access some of your data and figure out how to monetize it without (regularly?) breaking the rule of law about privacy, we need to understand how server operations work. Bare with me, I can guarantee you no one is going to explain this to you in a way that will educate you and your friends for years to come.
Say that you have your brother who lives in the United States of America and has cable news. You want to watch the news he records every night on his personal network storage (a hard drive connected to the wifi...). He has good Internet with a fast upload. You connect from your home and play the news. You are a happy camper.
To that, your brother already has a good setup of $1,000, including the Internet bill. You pitch in some chi-chin to support the cost; after a few weeks though the server doesn't seem to be handling his family well, and you leech from the remote. So together you invest in a better computer and an even faster Internet. All of a sudden, you are looking at a ballooned price of $5,000.
You want to free yourself of some of that burden, so you tell your friend Marta-The-Cheap-Bastard if she wants to join this secret Kabal of watching (stealing?) news from the bro's service. She joins and naturally because family is not considered sharing with others... her brother, cousin, and 3 generations down uncle join behind the scene the wonderful US news service. Admittedly watching American democrazy unfolding is newsworthy... at this point, the whole thing is sluggish at best. But you can't kick others out because they paid part of the wonderful service.
You play the patient for a while, but then you burst and point out that Marta has been abusing the service she got hooked on watching Donald Dump destroying and dividing America, so she proposes to pitch in x2 the money she did before. You and your brother now see an opportunity to make this a business. Ignoring the fact that the license agreement of the cable company forbids you to do what you are doing but who cares. Startups are scrappy by design :-)
So your brother hires a part-time super (crappy?) developer, buys a new computer, a super-duper Internet connection, and place ads on the player all those people use to watch his recorded news.
All told, we're now looking at a $15,000 investment. The service is expanded to a few new friends so that those ads can offload some costs and make the whole business worth it. All people watching overseas are not complaining about the ads. They get why you are doing it. They complain that the ads are not relevant to them. Presenting baby shampoo ads to Marta's brother Antonio-De-La-Tarda that is bald like a bowling ball, isn't that great... admittedly!
At this point, your brother hires a friend that is studying communication from the local university, a random shmock that knows something about running ads, and they don't want shares of a company that runs under a 1 bedroom apartment desk. So the whole operation now cost $30,000
To make the ads super relevant, the new guy has to know what your friends and family are watching and when. No biggie. It's just news. At some point, an ad about a pregnancy test is shown because based on what someone has been watching, the mega guru part-time hire has discovered that someone might have a ban in the making even if she's just 17!
She is livid with your brother because there's no way that she's pregnant and find this INVASION OF PRIVACY, is outrageous. When the father of that girl finds out, everyone calms down because the ALGORITHM WAS RIGHT. She was, indeed, pregnant.
At this point, your brother is all in. He quits his job, pumps more money into the business a and moves everything into the cloud. He runs the number and believes he can do it. He calls his company FaceNews
The service is a smashing success, as it turns out he makes very good money just with the ads, so to make, even more, he makes the service FREE, and the new communication law undergrad part-time scrappy employee makes a privacy statement for this newborn company. The agreement is splashed in the face the day someone creates a new account. Nobody reads it, and nobody cares. It even has typos inside, and no one notices it.
At this point, your brother wants to offer another service while people watching this awesome news from America. Pop-corn on demand. Which they are sold by another company, WazUPoppies, which delivers free of charge anywhere in the world! To do so, he needs to know whether or not the audience has some allergies. He asks the questions, but nobody replies or responds to the survey. So the ultra guru ads part-time scientist dude comes up with a way of cross-referencing what else the audience is watching and clicking on another site while your news player still going.