THE BEGINNING OF THE END
I started to get wary of WhatsApp when the opening screen started displaying “A Facebook Company” on the bottom. It’s common knowledge how bad Facebook is for user data privacy and this update of branding was making it clear that now – Facebook is in control. It’s like an animal marking territory. After about 2 weeks of posting WhatsApp stories on how to quit WhatsApp (yeah LOL) and switch to Signal, I have deleted WhatsApp from my main phone once and for all. I told my close contacts that I would be on Signal app only. Telegram is another popular app people use (for pirating movies and whatnot) but it’s not any better than WhatsApp in terms of privacy.
As a tech and privacy enthusiast, I’ll tell you why you should switch from WhatsApp to Signal: Firstly, Facebook is not a company to be trusted with your private chats, professional chats, images, videos, calls, video calls, payment, location and more. Secondly, we overestimate the importance of WhatsApp. You can still contact people via SMS, phone calls, email and other chat and video call apps. Thirdly, even if you need to use other Facebook apps (or Google apps) you can do so at your own terms (i.e. when to use them, how much to post/interact, whether to open in a browser or another device, etc) whereas with WhatsApp, it just lives on your phone all the time.
Even if you really need WhatsApp for some xyz reasons, just remove it from your main phone and banish it to an old spare phone , on a computer running android emulator (I recommend Nox) or on a separate work profile on your android device using shelter app. That way you can check once a week while not giving WhatsApp any new data. Take the initiative and call people to chat. Invite people over to Signal.
CLEANING OUT MY CLOSET
Further, this sparked another thought in my mind what if I start cleansing other apps too? With the pandemic, so much of my life has become digital that its tough to imagine living without stuff like mobile payments, video calls and so on. But it really is doable and I am raring to do it in full swing after the pandemic is over.
When you are using other services like Google and Amazon, who are also notorious for data harvesting, why just leave WhatsApp, why not the others too? I would ideally like to be free of them too but here’s the thing: I need that choice of who I willingly give my data to. For something so deeply embedded in my life like WhatsApp, the implications of privacy violation are fatal. I feel comfortable using Facebook, Instagram and YouTube occasionally while not uploading much, keeping them in a browser and giving them as little data as possible. As for WhatsApp, moderation is simply not possible at this point of time because we use it for private chats, video calls, voice calls, sending private images, videos, professional messages, academic research and even payment info. That is just too many eggs in one basket.
If you choose to use services by such privacy invading companies, it’s better to diversify your data input across them. Using Google Duo is not more private than WhatsApp but it’s still better than having it all in one place.
Use Signal for your personal messaging needs, it is just as good as WhatsApp, it even has a more elegant UI. Their video calls and audio calls are also quite good. Protonmail and Tutanota mail are two email services you can use instead of Gmail. Bonus: you might be able to create an email id with your desired name on these sites because they don’t have as many users yet.
Something even more simple that you should do is disable any voice assistant you have on your phone. It literally listens to everything. Delete facebook, instagram, tiktok , youtube and as many others as you can. Most of these are perfectly usable in a browser.
PEACE OF MIND
Due to the large user base and ease of use, I was bombarded with too much unnecessary chats and ads through WhatsApp. So many groups and broadcasts and those pesky stories! I am much happier to be free of them now. If I need to talk to someone who aren’t on Signal, I’ll just call or SMS them. In short, deleting WhatsApp has not only improved my personal internet privacy but also my digital minimalism. We overestimate how many people need to be in touch with us all the time when the real people who matter are very few and don’t care if you don’t use these apps. They will be content to call you no matter which phone you have. Even if they don’t, you take the initiative.
Full disclosure, I still have an account on WhatsApp and I still access it once a week or so. The problem is, I am on a university group which posts most vital information on the group only. When I finish my Masters, I’ll gladly delete the account entirely. But for now, that devil lives in an old android phone in my drawer.