February 24, 2021

Privacy, WhatsApp, Signal – an Oxymoron?

Privacy, WhatsApp, Signal – an Oxymoron?

2021 seems to have gotten off to a bad start for our friends at Facebook but then again 2020 wasn’t a great year for them either. With a controversial shift in WhatsApp's privacy policy, it is taking one of its few "clean" properties with it. The popular instant messaging app involves the exchange of data with the parent company, contrary to its pledge when it was purchased by Facebook.


When the news broke about this change in policy, nothing happened immediately. However, when Elon Musk, known critic of Facebook, tweeted about signal, WhatsApp, and privacy. The internet erupted and suddenly, the whole world was completely worried about their privacy. Memes, Videos, and Articles on WhatsApp & Privacy burst into social media frenzy and became the talk worldwide.


With Elon Musk tweeting for signal, two things happened immediately:


  • The signal messaging app got more downloads and went down immediately as it could not handle the upsurge.

  • Another medical firm with the same name ‘Signal’ had its shares soaring. The mistaken trades raised Signal Advance's current worth. No profits and net losses of $125,400 were reported in December 2019, but now are over $3.5 billion!! Wow!


Talk about Herd Mentality … we got a ways to go!


Privacy – My Take on it

81% feel as if they have little or no control over the data collected and 46% of customers feel they’ve lost complete control over their own data.. Overwhelmed consumers feel pointless to even try to defend themselves in modern age and frustrated by theft, murder, and prudent eyes of private corporations and public agencies.


Believe it or not – at least 10-15 companies know more about you (can be the chip company on your mobile device, your platform provider, your service provider, or your app provider) than you could ever imagine. The moment you signed up to access the internet, you automatically gave away your privacy.


Elon, Dorsey, & Zuckerberg – The Politics behind the statements

For a while now, the billionaire technology heads of SpaceX, Twitter, and Facebook are feuding. In 2016, Zuckerberg released a heated statement when a SpaceX rocket exploded a Facebook satellite. Then things got really rocky, after Facebook got entangled in the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Musk openly removed his company's Facebook accounts. Side note – They also disagree over the use of Artificial Intelligence too – but that’s a different topic for another day. Unfortunately, Dorsey has also had his own share of arguments with Zuckerberg over Facebook.


Moral of the story - Nobody is really interested in this data privacy talk; everybody is locked in their own argument cycles, protecting their business and revenues.


The Big Brothers – Apple & Google – The Privacy Paradox

Apple collects data on your device, uses it as appropriate for their business needs, calls it privacy and everyone else who collects your data is labeled as ‘’surveillance’’. Google collects data on the network, collates user data, and then creates an end-to-end footprint.


As human beings we at times prefer to keep our life as private as possible but since the invention of social media, that dream is virtually impossible. One photo posted on any platform has the geotag of your exact location, the device that photo was snapped on, and the time/ date of when it was taken. Scary I know.


At the end of the day, data is being collected but how and when it is being used is what it is all about. So, primarily privacy really does not exist.


WhatsApp vs Signal – the “True” Founding Story

Brian Acton who co-founded WhatsApp, claimed its all secure and private. Once it reported 2 billion users worldwide, he sold it to Facebook for 19 Billion Dollars. He claimed that he would make sure privacy/security is managed well. After 2+ years, he moves on from WhatsApp, collects his cash, and goes ahead with Signal.


At Signal, he claims the same thing as before that “privacy and security” will be well taken care of. This claim is bringing in users. Once the number of users will scale to billions, history will repeat itself – Signal app will be sold, and the Signal privacy policy will change in the next few years, just like it did for WhatsApp now.


My Take - For any company to be successful, they need to find a way to generate revenues. Signal cannot survive merely with millions in their userbase. They must find ways and means to generate revenue for its servers, management, and employees. They are in the same situation as Facebook in its early infancy and did not have a revenue mechanism, they started to use the data for its revenue generation. So, in the next couple of years, you can for sure find Signal selling user data, like Facebook, for revenue generation. Its just the way the world and capitalism revolve.🤷


So, as a citizen - what should I do? Worry, or not worry about Privacy?

The possible infringement of privacy brought in by social media and mobile systems in locations which are once deemed protected must be understood. Limitations such as, you can't store or monitor these details/data — just don't work.


I think, privacy might be something like the dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park. Like the mathematician Ian Malcolm described in the movie – Life finds a way. For wanting to control dinosaur reproduction, he pushes back against the park management and says the kind of control you are trying is simply not possible. Similarly, once data enters the internet, it will be accessed, logged, stored, analyzed, and compared with a billion other pieces of data! There is no way you can legislate privacy in the online world!


That is why I am not concerned about privacy. I know that privacy and security do not exist anyway, so don’t worry Life goes on and will continue to go on.

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This post was written by Asokan Ashok, the CEO of UnfoldLabs. Ashok is an expert in driving customer insights into thriving businesses and commercializing products for scale. As a leading strategist in the technology industry, he is great at recommending strategies to address technology & market trends. Highly analytical and an industry visionary, Ashok is a sought after global high-tech industry thought leader and trusted strategic advisor by companies.


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