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WhatsApp to move ahead with privacy update despite backlash (reuters.com)
615 points by sidcool on Feb 19, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 291 comments

I'm so disappointed in this. Whatsapp is a functional tool. It was successful since it worked.

Facebook has entirely failed to utilise it - to allow external systems to connect in so that businesses can do business on there. The voice calls are also a disaster.

They've now come along to start messing with the privacy to start selling ads. It is insane that they're able to make such a mess of this. Is there a word for anti-innovation?

Considering that they're linking Facebook ad platform with the chats, and they're forcing this upon everyone, why isn't this covered by the monopoly laws? Most of us paid some money for the app.

> Facebook has entirely failed to utilise it - to allow external systems to connect in so that businesses can do business on there.

They weren’t allowed to do that under old TOS, and the whole point of this update is to allow data sharing when contacting businesses, that will allow building business tools.


Yeah I don't understand the outrage?

It brings more functionality like Messenger to interface with businesses - which I have found value in. For instance United service there was quicker and better than using the phone line to change/re-book flights.

Maybe I'm missing something?

WhatsApp users who in 2016 opted out of sharing data with third parties are now being asked by Facebook to either accept a privacy policy that states their metadata can be shared with third parties or stop chatting with friends and family through their app.

A poster bellow in this thread quoted a Wired article where some FB representative says they will "honor" the opt-out, yet this is not stated anywhere in the privacy policy as far as I can tell. I think it would be trivial for Facebook to make this clear in their new policy.

I believe the sharing only applies when talking to those third parties. E.g., if you only ever talk to friends and family, there is effectively no change.

They are boiling a frog. It is naive to think they will stop here.

People's naivety never cease to amaze me.

At least part of the outrage is that, while that use is quite reasonable, the TOS did not constrain the sharing to only that use.

So they were saying one thing in legal terms (we can share your data with facebook to improve facebook products) and another elsewhere (we will only share minimal data about and with businesses you communicate with, within this feature).

Personally I trust them to adhere to their TOS far more than their newsroom blog. So while I believe their short-term plans are reasonable, in the long-term Facebook has demonstrated repeatedly that they will do whatever they can get away with.

The outrage is due to Facebook being involved. No one (very rightfully) trusts Facebook with their data. I doubt there would have been any outrage at this level if an independent WhatsApp was doing this.

> The outrage is due to Facebook being involved.

Does that make spreading what's effectively disinformation ok, though?

I'd argue that there are more than enough angles to legitimately criticize Facebook. Why make one up?

No, it's legitimate to be a WhatsApp user and to not want Facebook to have more of your data.

How is Facebook having more of my data in this scenario?

Only if I'm talking a business on WhatsApp (which is optional and will hopefully stay that way), and only if the business I'm talking to uses Facebook as a service provider (instead of, say, Twilio or a self-hosted solution) does something change for me.

Facebook has indicated that businesses processing chats through Facebook will be clearly indicated as doing so, which hopefully puts enough pressure on businesses respecting their customers' privacy to not do so.

Businesses not respecting people's privacy can already choose to share arbitrary data with Facebook for advertisement purposes, so what changes?

Now if Facebook was to discontinue the existing E2E-encrypted business chat integration, that would be something to get upset about.

I'm really afraid that the only lesson that Facebook (and others) have learned in all of this is that TOS changes are best hidden in the fine print of opting into some user-visible new feature via some dark UX pattern, like e.g. Google commonly does.

But it this the TOS you are signing here?

No it is not.

Does it say there is some sort of opt in to a business conversation, not only now but in the future? No.

So, you are giving Facebook the right to sell your private conversations to third parties in the future, but you think it’s not an issue because you trust ... checks notes... Facebook?


> So, you are giving Facebook the right to sell your private conversations to third parties in the future

Where in the new TOS does it say that?

> Yeah I don't understand the outrage?

Same here. Don't get me wrong, I'm as deeply suspicious of everything that Facebook touches as the next person.

But here Facebook is seemingly doing a pretty normal/expected thing, and people (and more or less reputable news sources) portray it as a data-privacy scandal?

What's worst is that at least in my country, at least half of all articles about this were mentioning Telegram as a "secure, encrypted alternative to WhatsApp". This makes me very sad.

Yep. The second paragraph of the article:

> The messaging platform laid out fresh terms in January, aimed at increasing business transactions on the platform.

I understand the objective on making (more) money.

Why have 1bn users and make $1 per user? Isn't it better if then have 200mn users and make $20 per user?

For me this 'shedding freeloaders and privacy-oriented-users' helps them more than not.

We have discussed pricing and volumes of customers before in this forum, multiple times, and for multiple products/services.

Is it better to have 1000 users and make $1 from each ($1000), or it is better to have 100 users and make $50 from each ($5000 and less support/maintenance/infrastructure costs)?

Facebook's obligation is to the shareholders. Shareholders want bigger pie. Shareholders will get a bigger pie. Apparently FB didn't lose enough users to be scared. Reality/facts drive this.

In a related note, I installed Viber. It asked me to share data with advertisers. I tapped to see the list. I scrolled (on my android phone) VERY fast, for 22 seconds to go through it.

That may be straightforwardly true for another service — Maps, Email, etc. — but the draw of a messaging platform is its network effect.

"All the freeloaders" is half the reason that WhatsApp is popular: no matter who you want to contact, they likely had a WhatsApp account — from your elderly mother to your college friends to the B&B that you're going to stay at abroad.

If it goes from "everyone I know is on WhatsApp" to "1 in 20 people I know are on WhatsApp" maybe I'm less inclined to continue to fork over $20.

> If it goes from "everyone I know is on WhatsApp" to "1 in 20 people I know are on WhatsApp" maybe I'm less inclined to continue to fork over $20.

Let’s be real, I don’t think this is a realistic ratio of users lost. They made a cost benefits analysis and are going on with the plan.

Social Networks have network externalizations.

The presence of the 'freeloaders' makes the value of the network.

> Why have 1bn users and make $1 per user? Isn't it better if then have 200mn users and make $20 per user?

In one case you make $1BN and in the other you make $4BN. So yes, the latter would objectively be better. :-)

Not necessarily. Sometimes more users is better than higher revenue.

If those 200 million users have to choose between paying you $20/year or paying only $1 and joining a network with 1 billion users...they'll probably choose the later. Then you won't see those 4 billion dollars.

It depends on the business.

If users cost $0.05 / user to support, that's very different than $1 / user.

Software products scale... but they don't scale completely free.

Yes, of course, but we're talking about messaging apps like Whatsapp.

And in the 90s, that would have been bandwidth.

Now, widely used messaging platform also means content moderation team and local law enforcement alignment.

> Facebook's obligation is to the shareholders. Shareholders want bigger pie. Shareholders will get a bigger pie.

The lesson is then that it is in the best interest of users to steer clear of any shareholder-owned network in as wide arc as possible.

Indeed Viber is even worse. At least somewhat transparent about it but certainly not a possible destination for privacy focused users.

> Facebook's obligation is to the shareholders.

This is the problem. Businesses must take on additional legal responsibilities and not simply say “we care about profits — at the expense of everything else”.

This will require legislation, and perhaps and end to “MBA-culture”, which seems to promote sociopaths to the highest peaks of society.

Maximizing shareholder value was one of the most toxic ideologies of the late 20th century. I've seen more people speaking out against this recently and hopefully this idea gets put to bed like "trickle down" economics.

> I'm so disappointed in this. Whatsapp is a functional tool. It was successful since it worked.

One decade ago:



The niche that Whatsapp filled and which brought it to massive adoption was not the same as Skype's. In South America (and Asia, too, if I understand correctly), Whatsapp was a way to avoid SMS charges on your mobile phone. Because now it is the only way many acquaintances and businesses can be contacted, it will remain entrenched even with this hostile new privacy policy.

Skype, on the other hand, was about audio- or videoconferencing from a computer, and so it wasn’t quite as much a part of the ordinary person's life as Whatsapp.

> In [country] (and [other country], too, if I understand correctly), [Skype] was a way to avoid [international call] charges

^ That's why GP was saying they're similar

> Skype, on the other hand, was about audio- or videoconferencing from a computer, and so it wasn’t quite as much a part of the ordinary person's life as Whatsapp.

It was very much a part of everyday life in Hungary. "let's skype" as expression existed.

Whatsapp is what people use in some countries for contacting a restaurant to reserve a table, contacting a bike shop to ask if you can bring your bike down for servicing, etc. It has essentially replaced the public telephone network. Skype was never used that universally.

> It has essentially replaced the public telephone network.

I know. And I think it's insane and horrible.

The old style phone companies have no one to blame but themselves though, because their "services" were insane and horrible. Phone calls, SMS and data were a goldmine that they were all too happy to exploit for years until (in the EU) regulators stepped in. International calls or roaming outside the EU is still expensive, even in 2021!

Not to mention that unlike Whatsapp, Facebook or Skype, on POTS/mobile phones you don't have any option to deal with spammers, call ID fraudsters and other bullshit.

Why? The "public" telephone network is still provided by a business. You can't host your own phone server for people to call.

The public telephone network is incomparably more interoperable than something like WhatsApp. You cannot self-host it, but you can keep the exact same phone number while switching providers (which is even more flexible than email), phone manufacturers and OSes, and "client" (phone modem) implementations at will.

No such thing is possible with WhatsApp. Various implementations come from the same company, do not have feature parity (e. g. phone calls are not supported on certain mobile OSes), and definitely don't allow anything in the way of integration with the outside world. A PSTN connection can be hooked up to a PBX to let you automate voice and all kinds of other things, while SMS can be synced to the computer using an app with the appropriate permissions. In short, PSTN is malleable, while WhatsApp is not.

> In South America (and Asia, too, if I understand correctly), Whatsapp was a way to avoid SMS charges on your mobile phone.

It was the same in the US, especially for avoiding costly international SMS/MMS charges. It basically allowed me to communicate with international family and friends, since they might not have been as technically inclined to deal with logins and spam on apps like Skype.

In addition, at that time, WhatsApp was the best way to share contacts. It’s still one of the best ways, I think, since you don’t have to worry if the other person is iOS or Android.

Yes, that's true but the keyword is "international". Domestic, within the US, use of WhatsApp was largely driven by having a multinational social network. For people primarily communicating with others within the US, SMS still dominated (or iMessages) over WhatsApp. Whereas, outside the US, WhatsApp was used even with people communicating primarily with others within the same country.

Skype's niche in my cohort (poor college student in North America the early 2000s) was calling home to relatives without having to use an expensive telephone calling card or burning cell phone minutes. It was an important part of my life for keeping in touch without feeding the extraordinarily expensive university telephone system.

I moved all of my AT&T calling card spending to Skype once it had the ability to call telephone numbers because it was much less expensive to do so.

I still have about $3 in legacy Skype spend available. Microsoft sends me nasty emails that they don’t let you make prepaid deposits anymore that never expire. At some point I’ll finally use these credits and I’ll probably never use Skype again.

> Because now it is the only way many acquaintances and businesses can be contacted, it will remain entrenched even with this hostile new privacy policy.

“Will we ever end the MySpace monopoly?”


Not comparable. MySpace was never adopted by physical retail businesses and the hospitality industry. Those didn't join social media until the Facebook era and, indeed, many people are complaining that while fewer ordinary adults are using FB, for a lot of businesses their FB page remains their sole internet presence.

Then those businesses are going to have to adapt or risk losing an increasing number of clients.

You can find a bad take on almost any issue from the Guardian. That article only exists because The Guardian doesn't like Rupert Murdoch.

WhatsApp was free SMS in South America where it was expensive.

Skype was cheap long distance and low-cost mobile in Europe where it was expensive.

Both of those things were/are stupidly expensive in those respective locations.

Skype blew up pre-smartphone explosion.

well sed

or Google Talk and Hangout

Sort of. Google Talk, yes, but only the post-2006, federation enabled version, which was XMPP - read http://googletalk.blogspot.com/2006/01/xmpp-federation.html

Hangouts - no. It never was as smooth as skype or google talk.

XMPP gtalk was awesome, and killing it was foolish; my _entire_ gtalk contact list suddenly stopped appearing, and that didn't just include people in IT. Dancers, musicians, teachers, et al were using Adium/Pidgin to chat, and suddenly it didn't work.

The web chat they provided was incredibly slow on mid and low end PCs, but most of my friends didn't even get as far as trying it. Google talk stopped working in Adium and _they didn't notice_ because they were able to talk via other connected services.

Probably for the best, Google didn't end up the benevolent technocratic force for good that we hoped for at the time.

Fun fact: xmpp gtalk still works with 3rd party clients.

Well something broke it at some point where it no longer worked. There's plenty of threads going back years over years where folks are befuddled about connectivity issues.

And there's that Android users were coerced to use Hangouts, which did not have XMPP. Rather than switch to Hangouts, most of my friends kept using Whatsapp and Messenger.




> Whatsapp is a functional tool. It was successful since it worked.

No! Whatsapp is a service! Lots of people have been warning you that this is what happens when you get tools and services confused. I had warned people on here about this exact thing happening years ago when everyone thought it was the new hotness. People on this board were telling me I'm being overly cautious but this happens almost every time. Stop tying your identity and data to services if you're not 100% ok with them completely screwing you over!

Jabber has OMEMO and we have deltachat and autocrypt for email now. There is no reason to ever do this!

FTC sued Facebook for illegal monopolization over this. For some reason, Zuckerberg does not care. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2020/12/ftc-s...

>Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy—including its 2012 acquisition of up-and-coming rival Instagram, its 2014 acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, and the imposition of anticompetitive conditions on software developers—to eliminate threats to its monopoly. This course of conduct harms competition, leaves consumers with few choices for personal social networking, and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.

>The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could, among other things: require divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp; prohibit Facebook from imposing anticompetitive conditions on software developers; and require Facebook to seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions.

When FB bought WhatsApp and Instagram they made explicit promises to regulators not to do this in order to get permission.

To make things even worse. Zuck wrote in email “It is better to buy than compete,” after buying Instagram.

> When FB bought WhatsApp and Instagram they made explicit promises to regulators not to do this in order to get permission

Do you have copy of those legal binding promises?


Here's the EU's fine for them lying about account linking, at the very least.

Even if its not legally binding, even if they have said something like this in press it would be interesting to know. I cannot find anything though.

If I remember correctly, FB said everything behind closed doors to Signal's leadership and had them blog and handle PR about how much reassurance they received that nothing would change. This is probably why Acton became the largest donor to Signal.

The ARPU that Facebook can make is higher than the average price people are willing to pay to get access to whatsapp. That's all, dont look further

People aren’t going to pay for simple services like WhatsApp in 2021. It’s as simple as that.

Tech people with a high degree of suspicion and high disposable income are the exception. Even within that group, most people won’t put their money where their mouth is when given the option.

How much money is it?

I remember WhatsApp being £1/year, or something like that.

Facebook can get much more than £1/year ARPU from Whatsapp being privacy-invasive, so charging a price like that isn't competitive. We don't have good numbers from Whatsapp alone, but Facebook earns more than 150 $/year for each US/Canada user on average; and users who are willing to pay for such services probably are worth more than average, so an adequate replacement for invasive ad targeting would be quite a large monthly fee.

yes but was that enough to cover the costs even then?

Probably. WhatsApp famously supported over a billion users with <100 engineers: https://www.wired.com/2015/09/whatsapp-serves-900-million-us...

Prior to Facebook acquisition, WhatsApp was a fantastic engineering effort. I don't know if it's now sunk down to normal FB standards or if they're still good.

It might be enough to cover costs, but it's not enough to outweigh the amount Facebook can make by using everyone's data.

Lol people didn't even want to pay that much, it wouldn't ask for that dollar/pound until you'd used it for a year, and most people would ignore the message when it came up

Usually it'd just keep working anyways

Marco Polo, a video messaging app that has taken a stance against ad-based business models and addictive design patterns, charges $60/year for subscription features (with a free version that is fully functional) and most of its subscribers are middle American, non-tech elites. I think it's wrong to say people won't pay- just that most people won't pay, but that doesn't mean you can't create a great business from those who do value your product.

Exactly, free is akin to an addictive drug that we as a society have a hard time weaning off of. Strong regulation could dig us out, don't know what else could.

"... the average price people are willing to pay to get access to whatsapp [because the value Facebook provides with its growing networks of sites still isn't adequate enough because Facebook isn't actually an innovative company; and people don't trust or like Facebook enough to pay for the value that privacy, trust, and genuine support would allow for]"

I agree with you completely, but “Most of us paid some money for the app”: I didn’t know it was possible to pay for WhatsApp. On what platforms does it cost money?

I used to pay for a WhatsApp subscription. I remember it being a small amount per year. But they did it away with it after Facebook bought them.

Did it ever actually charge anyone? I remember agreeing to something like $1 per year but never being charged.

Now that you mention it, I do remember being given free extensions to the WhatsApp service. But at some point I recall the extension had run out and I had to pay for it.

It was $1 / year

On iPhone it was $1, since it was easy to take the money. On Android, where most users didn’t have payment setup, it was free with the promise to eventually charge $1 in the future, which they never did. Then Facebook bought them for $19B.

The app on Android has always been free. Sometimes it asked 1 Euro to keep working. I always ignored it. I should also have had to setup payment on Google Play as I never bought an app or anything there. I remember that it stopped working for a few days at least once but Whatsapp was not as important as it is now. I waited and it welcomed me back again. Did I see their bluff?

If they'd start asking for money now there will be a mass migration to any other free service. We did it many times with instant messengers on PCs in the 90s and the early 2000s. People ponders about $10 vs $9 but they take no time moving from $1 to free.

Initially WhatsApp (before Facebook acquisition) had a (cheap!) one time fee.

And then it was an annual fee, of $1 billed to your cell service provider, people had a much easier time parting with $1 at some future point on their cellphone bill which anyways is dynamic vs $1 now in the app. for the team size the projected amount they’d make was fine.

iirc it had like 500mil users and less than 50 ppl in the company.

I think that was only true for the Apple store, not for Android.

Oh, I guess I was late to the party.

the app was 99p when i first downloaded it I think.

I started getting messages from Indeed on Whatsapp that I never signed up for. It was tolerable tbh (I'm looking for work) even though their results were shit.

One day they spammed like 20 messages in a row, so I blocked them. If blocking was not allowed, I would just uninstall Whatsapp.

>They've now come along to start messing with the privacy to start selling ads

Selling user data and advertising is pretty much the end goal of most "free" applications that suddenly pop up on the scene, and that end goal is set from the start (whether to monetize the app yourself or sell/get acquired by a company that will monetize it).

What do you mean by that most of us have paid some money for the app? Personally I have never given any money to whatsapp

It’s so bad that I can’t understand why LINE is only popular in Asia. It has all the good parts of WhatsApp plus a bunch of silly goodies like stickers, open groups, mobile payments, etc. Businesses have “official” accounts that can be operated by employees as well as bot interactions.

Whatsapp voice calls are pretty much the only way I can communicate with foreign family. Actually even locally, sometimes whatsapp calls are much better over wifi than cell calls over towers, it's kind of ridiculous. I don't even bother calling frequent contacts over cell any more.

Only after switching my family to Signal, I noticed how much better international voice and video call over Signal than over Whatsapp.

With Whatsapp I would often get lag, echo and generally poor voice quality, with Signal it just works perfectly, even better than regular phone calls.

Give it a try and check if it's worth it for you.

We do get lag on whatsapp every so often. I'll give signal a shot, thanks!

huh. your cell network must be pretty bad.

i recall only one time where whatsapp voice was ok-ish (better then regular cellphone) quality but the lag totally killed the conversation. when someone calls me via xy-voice i usually deny it and call them back via cell. it became a meme that only cheapos do this some time ago.

international might be different as quality and lag issues are more prevalent and money is usually what keeps the conversation short.

I'm on an AT&T MVNO in a big US city so I don't think so. VoIP is 9/10 times better than copper for me. Sometimes whatsapp does get weirdly laggy and I have to switch back to cell, but the drop in audio quality is noticeable.

> They've now come along to start messing with the privacy to start selling ads. It is insane that they're able to make such a mess of this. Is there a word for anti-innovation?

Yes, "capitalism".

The problem with capitalism is that despite lofty claims about it spurring on innovation and such, it pretty much does the opposite. I don't imagine that this will be a popular comment on here, but alas, it is how it is.

Innovation means experimentation with uncertain outcomes, but humans (including investors) generally dislike uncertainty in their lives. Those two factors combined mean that from a capitalist perspective, it makes a lot more sense to invest in a tried-and-true method with a veneer of innovation but predictable returns, than to truly innovate.

If you truly want innovation, then what you need to do is to take away the personal cost of failure (including but not limited to financially) as much as possible - across the board. The VC startup model is often claimed to do this, but really it just moves the cost of failure to the investors, it does not eliminate it.

In a capitalist socioeconomic model, where having a cost of failure is a fundamental tenet of the ideology (it's what defines the hierarchy), this sort of "anti-innovation" will always keep happening. It's simply the logical thing to do under the circumstances.

> it pretty much does the opposite. I don't imagine that this will be a popular comment on here

Silicon Valley and HN talk the talk of innovation, but they back monopolists. Time and again you will see this. Peter Thiel argues for this in his "Competition Is For Losers" talk.

The constant theme is this: we want innovation so far as it can bring about abrupt and massive growth and lead to a single company dominating a market. Uber, AirBnb, Facebook, Google, Amazon. These are all businesses backed by VC that are by design monopolies. They create the market and own it. Or, like Uber and AirBnb, they overturn the old order and toss up a wall around it. Profit is at odds with competition.

Once a business reaches a certain size, the organization no longer needs innovation. It's much easier to buy rather than build. Building requires figuring out product-market-fit and it's much cheaper and faster to buy a company that already figured that out.

That's also why you can have a world-class R&D lab like Xerox and see all of your innovations brought to market by outsiders (Apple + Microsoft in the '80s). Your organization is not necessarily equipped to understand how to utilize the innovations it creates. It doesn't understand how to sell or market the inventions. So it doesn't.

> If you truly want innovation, then what you need to do is to take away the personal cost of failure

We already reduce financial risk with bankruptcy laws. Reducing risk is one thing, but if you lean too far into that with VC money you can end up with WeWork or Theranos. Or any of the 2000s dot-com. Businesses that are little more than inflating worthless assets for some fraudulent payoff.

Reducing risk isn't the key. You need skin in the game. But more important, you need people with drive. People that like winning more than they hate losing.

You're correct that startups are designed with the intention of monopolization; however, they don't do so through innovation. They do so through "disruption", which is generally just ignoring regulations and applying a veneer of innovation to it, which is my point.

> We already reduce financial risk with bankruptcy laws.

This is not sufficient. Bankrupcy laws don't pay people's bills while they try out something new and uncertain.

> Reducing risk is one thing, but if you lean too far into that with VC money [...]

I'm arguing that VC money isn't a way to reduce risk. It just shifts the risk.

> Reducing risk isn't the key. You need skin in the game. But more important, you need people with drive. People that like winning more than they hate losing.

Sorry, but this is feel-good motivational-speaker nonsense with an undertone of toxic masculinity. Actual research into motivation shows pretty consistently that people are intrinsically motivated so long as their basic needs are met.

(Which capitalism doesn't.)

This interview with Jason Calacanis puts Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp into better perspective:


> Is there a word for anti-innovation?

“Creative destruction” is often used to describe the phenomenon you’re describing.

It can also mean selling off critical components of a working business for more than the business is (currently) worth.

No, I think that's just the regular destruction.

> to allow external systems to connect in so that businesses can do business on there. The voice calls are also a disaster

While I agree with privacy things with you but business on whatsapp doesn't have to require privacy violations. In fact my experience has been good overall. Restaurants have used this as menu replacements, which is the best feature I have seen in a long time. But all they require to do this is give me there number. Facebook had a good feature, they are ruining it because all they know is to make money from advertisement. Its a Pidgeon holed mindset.

Also I don't know what you are talking about in terms of voice calls. I make several voicecalls on whatsapp every day for the past >5 years. Never had a problem with them.

Does Telegram not work?

I disagree that WA is mainly popular due to functionality. Yes, it works, but it was mainly network effect (much like FB).

telegram works fine.

can even use it from pc/tablet if i misplaced my phone ;)

It's absurd this article doesn't try to describe what the changes actually are. The privacy policy change doesn't functionally change anything about what data is collected or shared with Facebook. Metadata collection for ad targeting has been allowed by the privacy policy since 2016.

More than that.

(1) The policy differs per country. But how is it different in practice between the EU and USA and Brasil? It's not public knowledge.

(2) It's absurd the policy doesn't describe anything useful. I tried to find if the contact book is being sent to facebook and if so, for how long. The wording is so opaque it's impossible to figure out.


The contacts have been shared since 2016. You can get your account info in the Account option, but they make it a pain to get it. Mine took 3 days for an HTML page.

I did that. It doesn't answer the question - is my contact book on facebook servers? If so, how it is processed and for how long.

The article is a short piece that basically says "Remember that kerfuffle about Whatsapp TOS that lead Facebook to put it on hold? It's back on". For that purpose the paragraph it does include describing the kinds of changes at stake should be enough. It's not an in-depth piece explaining the nature of the changes and in which cases they are indeed just "clarifications" as Facebook claims.

In 2016 WhatsApp let users opt-out of Facebook data sharing with third parties by just checking a box in Account Settings [1]. Most of my friends and family did opt-out. Now, as far as I understand, they are being "forced to opt-in" by accepting the new ToS and Privacy Policy or, otherwise, getting locked out.

1 - https://techcrunch.com/2016/08/25/whatsapp-to-share-user-dat...

No, that is entirely incorrect:

> When WhatsApp launched a major update to its privacy policy in August 2016, it started sharing user information and metadata with Facebook. At that time, the messaging service offered its billion existing users 30 days to opt out of at least some of the sharing. If you chose to opt out at the time, WhatsApp will continue to honor that choice. The feature is long gone from the app settings, but you can check whether you're opted out through the “Request account info” function in Settings.


> WhatsApp will continue to honor that choice.

That's good news but I can't find this stated anywhere in their policy:


It seems like an important thing to mention.

After all the Facebook scandals you really trust them to honor that choice?

That's not true. There is no change for users who opted out in 2016

I think we're long past the idea that general, global news producers are trying to stay factual and provide information to their readers. It's all about generating outrage as it's much easier to get people hooked on outrage than the boring truth and impartial reporting.

They waited 'till the news cycle waned, and then did whatever they pleased anyway. Par for the course ...

Yeah, pretty much PR Crisis Communications 101. I'm at some point they were also deeply concerned and promised that they would conduct a thorough investigation

My hope is that this triggers a second backlash.

But we just got proof that backlashes can be ignored, so what's the point?

Ignored? Lots and lots of people installed Signal or Telegram. Some of them will stay.

If Fb is going forward with the change, then they've realized that those people are a rounding error.

exactly, how many people care about the TOS? most of the people I know use their phones like zombies, just clicking on the apps and to any "OK" button they see...

Over time, I've come to progressively reject the "zombie/sheeple" criticism of that behavior. People just want to live their lives, and we should focus our attention on the rent-seeking tech companies that try to cynically exploit us instead of victim-blaming. It's true that people could try to be more aware of what is going on, but we ought to work towards a world where we aren't nickel-and-dimed every second of the day by massive corporations.

It's really hard for me to understand why and how something fails or succeeds to grab the public's attention.

I've been complaining and refusing to use WhatsApp for years, mostly because it's centralized at the worst possible company. But a boycott of one is not a powerful move and no one cared.

Now, for whatever reason, nothing has effectively changed and millions suddenly care.

I mean, I'm glad they finally do, don't think it will make much of a difference, as network effect is a very strong pull, but I'm flabbergasted nonetheless.

Now, for whatever reason, nothing has effectively changed and millions suddenly care

This was discussed on a You Are Not So Smart [1] episode some time over the last few months (I had a look but couldn't find it).

The basic idea was that collective behaviour can change in an instant because of multiple pressures that have been building over time and looking for a single cause (or trigger) is fruitless because no one event has any great significance per se.

The closest that Google would bring me is a paper on 'Threshold Models of Collective Behavior' [2].

[1] https://youarenotsosmart.com/

[2] https://www.jstor.org/stable/2778111?seq=1

It’s certainly an emergent behavior of some kind, yes. Thanks for the links.

It is this one single spark. An journalist writing a story. A user complaining to his right buddies. The one executive of a big company making an announcement.

It is a spark. Or a butterfly ;)

Over here (in Belgium and The Netherlands at least) so many neighborhoods have signs promoting local WhatsApp groups, complete with the logo [0]. Often to 'prevent crime'. Local municipalities install and pay for them. It is so awkward to see.

[0] https://cdn.nieuws.nl/media/sites/305/2016/05/14195316/Borde...

I was a bit "shocked" by that when I moved to the Netherlands, everyone there uses it and the government seems to have a responsibility in that. Between the signs like you said and the possibility to contact town hall to take an appointment and other government related services via Whatsapp (I can certainly get why people use it, because it's much more convenient that having to make a phone call).

In Ireland it's the same, everyone uses WhatsApp. If I share my number with someone, it would be much stranger for me to receive an SMS from them than a WhatsApp message.

If I phone a tradesman, e.g. a plumber, and they ask for a picture of a job, the photo will be sent using whatsapp.

It's ubiquitous and it's assumed that if you're have a phone you have WhatsApp.

The only people I can think of that don't use it are my wife's grandparents, they use Facebook messenger for that purpose.

Back when people were switching to signal a lot of people cited the fact that signal needed a phone number as a reason not to use it, instead recommending session, threema, matrix.

But if signal didn't tie your account to your phone number there's no way I would have convinced any of my contacts to switch.

Having to exchange username or user IDs wouldn't have cut it, with whatsapp the service is deeply associated with you phone number and that's what people want.

The same has happened with Zoom in many countries.

Someone should paste Zuckerberg's face in the middle of the logo whenever they see one of those.

At least the trend seems to have halted for now. These abhorrent signs are completely pointless as a crime prevention device (obviously).

It's free advertising in two ways. One is for Facebook/WhatsApp (the use of these signs further normalizes WhatsApp and strengthens the brand), and the other is as a friendly gesture to criminals: here live people who can't afford fancy alarm systems and private security subscriptions, but can afford plenty of easily stolen devices and other loot.

You're not alone. I have been doing the same, but not just WhatsApp, also Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple.. Any company that abuses it's power to lock down, sell data from or attempt to control their users.

It's often pretty lonely. Ive had friends simply stop talking with me. Ive been left out of weddings, birthdays, etc. I guess it's like trying to be a vegan at a BBQ.

Worst part is that when what Id feared comes true, they just move on to the next worse option and the cycle continues.

Dont you think that maybe you are taking things a bit far if you are losing lots of friends over it? What's your threat model?

You can bridge a number of these services if you want. Or use a locked down device for them. FAANG privacy crap causing you to lose friends is kinda letting them win a bit too much.

Bah, what friends are they that ignore someone because they don't have Facebook or believe in a better future for everyone. Better off without them, in my opinion. As I mentioned, they just move on to the next worse thing and the cycle of stupid choices continues.

I have mixed feelings on this. One the one hand, yes, true friends will use smoke signals to reach you if needed.

On the other, like you, I’ve missed many events of people I like but am not that close to, because everyone is on WhatsApp, why didn’t you come, oh, right, you’re that one guy.

Eh what about maybe they have a different threat model to you? Maybe they have elderly relatives who just about switched from SMS to Whatsapp and they want to talk them in an easy way?

The most secure communication is the communication that doesn't happen. He can be pretty sure his communication channel will not be abused by some big advertising corp.

>It's really hard for me to understand why and how something fails or succeeds to grab the public's attention.

If you can collectively get outraged about something with a group of people, you tend to feel "woke" and belonging to a cause.

We are to the point in media, especially online smaller publications, where if you see a story that you feel like you should get outraged about, you can safely discard it as either false or at best extremely biased.

> Now, for whatever reason, nothing has effectively changed and millions suddenly care.

But it has effectively changed, we like to ignore contracts/laws/T&C's and focus on the technology but those things really matter for a large company.

> Now, for whatever reason, nothing has effectively changed and millions suddenly care.

Can't it be due to coronavirus lockdowns? People have more time to read such news and discuss with others.

Your complaining was working, just very slowly, like water dripping on a stone.

This is how I feel about Robinhood.

Honestly, as an engineer, looking at the way FAANG are becoming middle-men in just about every part of human life, I would rather ban all social media and more generally mass communication software outright than try and regulate it. It feels to me like it's gotten to the point where this type of software is doing more harm than good.

I know that the software itself is not the issue, the tech has potential to do good, but as humans we are just better off without it, if you ask me.

PS. Not looking to argue. Just wanted to vent.

A $5 VSP server hosts all the social networking I need and it's owned and controlled by me.

I think people overestimate the value that Facebook gives them because of the social graph it holds ransom.

That's a good solution for you. That's not a good solution for 99.9% of the population who have no idea what "ssh" is.

Why is it not a good solution for those that don't know what `ssh` is?

I blame smartphones, the hardware. Without them, social media, the software would be MUCH less invasive.

I think they made people powerless to control their experience.

Before that, people bought firewall software for their computer.

After that you had to rely on the phone manufacturers to "protect you" which was a blatant conflict of interest. To attract app makers, they needed to give them incentives, which basically boiled down to data after the price of apps plummeted to zero.

It does certainly amplify the power of "user engagement optimization".

I use Signal and I’ve encouraged my friends and family to switch as well.

But let’s be honest: WhatsApp is moving forward because they aren’t threatened by this concern or losing some users to Signal. The average user doesn’t care about anything other than easily communicating with other people at this point, and news articles like this are part of the problem.

Frankly, the sky-is-falling uproar about any and every privacy policy change from free services had burned people out and made them jaded. Tech media likes to portray every change as an egregious violation of personal privacy, yet most of this stuff is just mundane as targeting where the data never leaves the company.

The media has become the boy who cried wolf with their attempts to present every type of data collection as bad. This article doesn’t even attempt to explain what the privacy policy changes are or what it might mean. It just implies that the reader should be angry.

In 2021, everyone has heard the “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product” line so many times that they’ve just accepted it and moved on with their lives. The media’s false equivalencies are simply accelerating it.

You seem to make many assumptions that are, AFAIK, false. The data is there and gets stored indefinitely. It is not only monetized for ADs, but for surveillance as well. Companies and state contact the company and buy that data about you.

Do you have a source for that? Because your claims don’t match the proposed WhatsApp privacy policy changes this refers to.

You can read a summary of the proposed changes here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/arstechnica.com/tech-policy/202...

Contrary to the public perception, Facebook isn’t in the business of selling data to other companies. The proposed changes don’t change that situation.

A privacy policy isn’t going to stop the state from legally accessing data they’re legally entitled to.

This is what I was trying to say with my comment above: The public perception of what these companies are doing has diverged from what they’re actually doing, and it’s making everyone so jaded that they’ve stopped paying attention to the details.

Too big to fail. WhatsApp should be transferred to something like the UN. It is no longer a cool startup/app. It is the main communication infrastructure for the majority of the planet. Yet it's in the hand of unblinking cyborgs.

> for the majority of the planet

WeChat would like to have a word.

Who uses WeChat outside of PRC and aside from overseas PRC?

That is quite a large aside, though.

> It is the main communication infrastructure for the majority of the planet.

sure? afaik whatsapp is "only" domniant in five-eyes, europe and latin-america but thats not where the majority of ppl live.

What is five eyes?

I think the bounds of your knowledge are deceiving you as to the extent to which WhatsApp is used all over the world.

It is the dominant communication app in the entirety of the middle east, Africa and Asia (not including China) also.

The Five Eyes (FVEY) is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.


> It is the main communication infrastructure for the majority of the planet.

The majority of the planet doesn't use the internet.

Only a slight majority of the planet even has the option to use the internet.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. I was speaking about human beings, not the planet in a celestial/natural sense. Hope that makes sense.

So was I. Only a very slight majority of human beings have an option to access the internet, and a majority of human beings do not use the internet at all.

Ah I see where the confusion lies. In this thread we are discussing a smartphone application that requires an internet connection - I extend those prerequisites/qualifiers to the word "planet".

Meanwhile I've switched my family and friend to Signal with great success.

I installed Signal recently, but was flabbergasted when it advised me to connect with someone they found in my phone contacts who has recently joined Signal. WTF? If I knew that my contacts were being shared with a 3rd party (Signal), I would never have signed up.

Still, better Signal than Facebook, I guess. :-/

P.S.: if I'm missing something and the check was done in privacy-conscious way, I would love to be corrected.

I don't think they are shared in the same sense that it is shared with WhatsApp/Facebook etc.

"Signal periodically sends truncated cryptographically hashed phone numbers for contact discovery. Names are never transmitted, and the information is not stored on the servers. The server responds with the contacts that are Signal users and then immediately discards this information. Your phone now knows which of your contacts is a Signal user and notifies you if your contact just started using Signal. "


The problem is that phone numbers are a small space for brute force, and depending on how much they truncate, this could be very close to uploading one's address book.

Yup. Hashing phone numbers is basically useless. If they truncate enough there might be plausible deniability due to possible collisions but I suspect the chance of collision is still quite low as they don't want to annoy people with false positives.

False positives would be sent to the device for local comparison against full hashes; it wouldn't "annoy people" because it would not trigger a match unless the full hash matched on device.

There is indeed a way to truncate enough to balance the amount of data sent to the device vs privacy.

Good point, that would definitely preserve some privacy.

I missed that option (basically now the Google Safe Browsing API works) and the Signal page isn't clear that this is how it works.


"Signal periodically sends truncated cryptographically hashed phone numbers for contact discovery. Names are never transmitted, and the information is not stored on the servers. The server responds with the contacts that are Signal users and then immediately discards this information. Your phone now knows which of your contacts is a Signal user and notifies you if your contact just started using Signal. "

> If I knew that my contacts were being shared with a 3rd party (Signal), I would never have signed up.

I think, you should read up a bit on how Signal manages contacts/address books.


It's done via hashes which is why it might need some time that contacts on your phone are recognized that they are on Signal.

Afaik, Signal servers have no information who your contacts are.

I've been trying to find a solution to bridge rooms across chats to make the change simpler for anyone, and matterbridge[^1] does a lovely job - except for Signal.

Moxie made it stupidly hard to connect to Signal with anything that's not the official app, which is definitely a hostile act towards anyone who doesn't want to have the Signal app on their phone - the Signal desktop software needs the mobile app to work:

"To use the Signal desktop app, Signal must first be installed on your phone."


I definitely have my issues with Signal. That said, it's simple, and works reasonably well, it's just not a nice system at all from the dev/libre perspective.

[^1]: https://github.com/42wim/matterbridge/

Do you still have Whatsapp installed?

I have seen family and friends _add_ Signal but few actually _removing_ Whatsapp from their phone. Which is not a success.

> Which is not a success.

That depends on your aims. I announced to family/friends that I was deleting WhatsApp and asked them to install Signal, and they have done, and message me via that.

My aim was to ensure that I could still converse, but not have to use a service with which I had become disenchanted. It isn't my business whether they continue to use WhatsApp or whether they delete it.

I don't think it's possible for most people to make this a one-pass activity without it causing a lot of friction for them, but over time you can build a critical mass of your social circle on non-FB platforms that allow you to _then_ delete WhatsApp with less friction.

Step 1 for family & friends is being available on multiple platforms, because that in turn gives _their_ circle less tie-in to WhatsApp. It's only when their circle also make themselves available that they would have a painless option to remove WhatsApp, but IMO, that's OK.

It is a success, but playing the long game.

I've done that too. But for some reason, my business communication still happens on WhatsApp. Until that happens Facebook is safe.

that is the one I found easiest to move.

Business is already conducted well on email, and if it needs sync chat for larger orgs then Slack steps in, and if it needs personal private sync chat then Signal steps in.

The issue a lot times is clients, for example if you work with small business.

You're saying that email, text messages and phone calls don't work as well as WhatsApp for small businesses? I wouldn't have expected that, so I'm curious if you have examples to share.

It's a country specific thing. I find that my clients in the US generally prefer email, Slack, and Zoom/Google Meet. Clients in India, South East Asia and Africa, and some parts of Europe (Italy comes to mind) very strongly prefer WhatsApp even for business communications.

Same here, even less technically inclined ones. Whenever someone messages me on WhatsApp, I usually reply with, "Hey, would you mind if we switch to Signal <install link>? I'm in the process of getting off WhatsApp for obvious reasons". At that point, either they install and continue to conversation in Signal, or they reply back asking "Wha? What's wrong with WhatsApp?" at which point, I explain just how much FB's clients can know about you with the metadata they collect.

Are they actively using Signal though? I am struggling with mine, where conversations still happen on WhatsApp.

I found the most easy way to motivate people to switch, is to just remove your WhatsApp profile-picture and set your status to something like "Find me on Signal".

The amount of people reaching out via WhatsApp lowered drastically, all (but one) of my main contacts are now also on Signal.

The WhatsApp fiasco has been great because Signal is now widely-known and I haven't needed WhatsApp anymore for international calls.

the audio/video calling on Signal seems pretty unreliable. Other than that it's been a smooth move.

From what I remember reading a while back, Signal uses a couple constant bitrates (Basically just high or low I think) to remove even more metadata about your calls and prevent metadata fingerprinting. It's a performance/privacy tradeoff, but it goes to show just how seriously they incorporate cryptographic security into the apps design.

There need to be steps taken to make WhatsApp into a utility in countries where it is being used as such. If your life cannot function with WhatsApp, then governments cannot cede control to foreign corporations. In India, Brazil, and Some European countries that is the case, as public services and infrastructure have shifted onto WhatsApp. It doesn’t mean Facebook can’t make money on WhatsApp, but it does mean they can’t unilaterally change the rules.

A group of my friends asked to set up a groupchat recently, our requirements varied. Among them:

- needs to be simple (not all of them are techies)

- need to be possible to run on desktop without any mobile need

- not Facebook (my requirement)

So I went and set an XMPP server up on the same machine I have my email and webserver, and wrote a quick guide on how to install blabber.im (a Conversations fork), and register on the server.

With a turnserver running in the background, it can do voice/video calls as well.

The room is not e2e encrypted yet - that is because I wasn't able to get the desktop person to install the omemo plugin for gajim, but that is the sole reason. We'll get there.

There is no history delivered on first connect - e2e encryption would prevent that anyway, similarly to Signal or Whatsapp.

PS: "Why not matrix?" Because at the moment, I despise the matrix clients, all the ones I tried, and the purple-matrix plugin for pidgin/adium/etc is long abandoned, and has no encryption support.



OK, for those who don't understand what I wrote: I spun my OWN XMPP server. You don't have to, you can use any XMPP/Jabber server, for example any here: https://list.jabber.at/

From a user perspective: get and app, register a user/password on the selected server, done. That is simple.



> There is no history delivered on first connect

This is a choice. The tech/option exists: https://xmpp.org/extensions/xep-0313.html

That's not my idea of simple. Telegram works for me.

Telegram has an incredibly primitive setup for their private conversations (E2E encryption). It doesn't work at all on desktop clients, and there's no supported way to backup or transfer devices so changing or losing a phone means you lose the conversation history with no option to backup, even preemptively.

There is history delivery on first connect on Matrix whenever I set-up a new device.

I don't think XMPP has any future. It's a hassle to set-up and I have yet to see a really modern looking client. Blabber does not fit that at all.

> There is history delivery on first connect on Matrix whenever I set-up a new device.

Not for encrypted rooms.


EDIT: XMPP has https://xmpp.org/extensions/xep-0313.html which can deliver history for the clients that support it. I just haven't set it up.

Encrypted history should appear fine on Matrix when you log in on a new device - either by gossiping from an old device, or restoring from encrypted key backup if you created one.

"On first log in" means you've never been in the room before with any device.

It really doesn't, we shouldn't be redefining words. I suspect you actually mean sharing of historical room keys with new room members.

That doesn't feel simple. I installed Signal.

> That doesn't feel simple.

What doesn't feel simple from the user perspective?

Get https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=im.blabber.mes... , start it, follow the screen.

Or https://gajim.org/download/ for desktop, register on first run.

Or https://siskin.im/ for iOS, register on first run.

If that's not simple enough, we need to nuke the whole smartphone scene.

+ the steps above were _my_ steps, the steps of an XMPP server provider, not the steps of a user.

I’m not sure which reality you live in where begging an individual on desktop to install more things is simple.


Because asking them to install another app on the phone is?

Seriously, what's the difference?

Yes, Signal is good, but the parent said that one of their criteria was "need to be possible to run on desktop without any mobile need". Signal doesn't meet that.

Signal's desktop client, unlike WhatsApp and Telegram, at least supports E2E encrypted conversations while a phone is disconnected or off. You only need access to a phone when it falls out of sync which is increasingly rare. That's a huge plus in my book, and after drastic improvements over the last few years the desktop client now seems rather stable in my experience.

Signal is the bare minimum and can run along side Element and ActivityPub just fine.

If you want to avoid Google Play-Services then Element and ActivityPub are much easier to use.

Life probably would have been much easier for you if you had just used a Matrix server.

LOL, no. I've been trying to run my Matrix server for a while without serious hiccups, with audio/video support, federation, irc appservice, and it's a clusterf*ck.

Plus if you cared to read the whole entry, I have the reason there why not matrix.

what exactly should we read?

Interesting. I've found Element to be seriously polished, nice looking, and a joy to use across web, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.

You may want to check out Dino.im. For easy XMPP there is also Quicksy.im that's a fork of Conversations (from the author of Conversations) but using contact book for people discovery.

I tried Dino, Gajim, Psi, Psi+, Empathy, but I still prefer the UI/UX of Pidgin. It knows all I need at the moment, with the exception of Transport commands.

Could you share your XMPP setup? What server? What clients for the various operating systems and what setting?

I just went for prosody, though after a few months ejabberd looks nice as well, with built-in turnserver and irc transport. In Prosody, those are external, coturn and biboumi.

Yeah, built-in TURN/etc. in Prosody is unlikely to happen. We believe in modularity, smaller footprint, separation of concerns and the "do one thing" philosophy. Coturn is a decent battle-tested TURN server and works just fine :)

Rather than trying to reimplement stuff that other projects have done quite nicely, we're focusing on trying to grow the community, network and ecosystem with projects like easy onboarding[1] and Snikket[2].

[1]: https://blog.prosody.im/great-invitations/ [2]: https://snikket.org/

I like the modularity of prosody; the choice is similar to postfix vs exim. I merely wanted to point it out that ejabberd is a more full fledged solution out of the box.

This is indeed something of an issue, the duality of Prosody. Should it be a complete solution or a platform for you to build on? Being one when people expect the other leads to disappointed users, and being both is a lot of work for the small dev team. Hopefully Snikket will improve this by attracting those who want the complete solution.

Then you should try a different ones maybe - it'll be an upgrade for sure

why did you not go with a self hosted matrix (aka element.io)?

Read the whole entry, please?

In the stickiness of whatsapp, I caused something of a stir with my family. After the prev announcement and having a general distrust of facebook that had grown over the years, I deleted my Facebook account and made the announcement in the family whatsapp group that I was leaving whatsapp and they could join me on signal if they wished.

I then deleted my whatsapp account.

There was much wailing and grumpiness and some refusals to join me because people didn't want to use a new chat app. I was genuinely surprised that whatsapp had become so sticky for these people and had to mea culpa to smooth things over.

>I was genuinely surprised that whatsapp had become so sticky

Why was this surprising? In general, people are lazy, at least creatures of habit if lazy is too strong. They have an app, it works for them, things in the background where they don't even know exists change that affects them zero, and you fly off the handle and disappear. You're the only person that had issues, and you're trying to buck their system.

Just because you (royal you, not you you) have strong moralistic feelings towards a company doesn't mean everyone else in your circles feel the same way. There is no bigger zealot than a new convert, and people get tired of hearing about it. To non-techie types, people screaming out against FB sound just like cult members.

you're probably right. i think everyone would have been fine with "crazy uncle brian going off on a tangent," and leaving me be, except i didn't tangent.

when i left facebook i just left and when i left whatsapp i told people about signal two weeks ahead and then just left with that one message.

i think the problem was that i had convinced the patriarch of the group to join me and people wanted to be in contact with him, so the dissatisfaction was directed toward me.

ironically, i was the one who talked down the group from the fearfully dire outlook about social media when we discussed the netflix "documentary" "the social dilemma" a few months back.

i thought the latter part of the documentary that had the predictions of our society being destroyed because of the revelations exposed about what social media is doing to us was cringe and i explained to the group why.

OTOH, i told people "yeah, the first part is totally true and not a revelation. they are absolutely hacking your social biology to get you more engaged in what they have to offer. it's not a surprise to anyone really as the ML systems and technology that optimize for that are well understood and pretty standard. heck, i've even written some of those algorithms myself."

that's actually part of why i left facebook. i realized that i had become complacent about things i should not have become complacent about.

fwiw, my productivity and happiness have increased dramatically since i left facebook/whatsapp. YMMV

Somewhat the same for me, though I'm in a bit later stage than you are. I moved my family to Signal as well, but we all got a bit frustrated with the lack of features. No (good) Chromebook support, no message editing, the HARD requirement on owning a phone (which locked out my kids), no message history or even a way to backup messages, etc.

A few weeks ago I spun up a tiny EC2 instance, threw a matrix server on it, and moved us all over to that. It's been wonderful. All the features we want, plus I own the whole thing and therefor can do administrator things like reset passwords.

In a year or two will I regret being forced to admin a remote server that I've since forgotten everything about? History says yes, but who knows. It's been a joy so far.

How does the Matrix experience compare to Signal, feature-wise? I ran into similar frustrations with Signal's lack of polish in certain areas when trying to move family over.

There's something to be said for why WhatsApp is so popular, it feels like the most full-featured and polished communications app.

Every issue I had with Signal, and listed here, is solved.

One issue I have with the Element iOS client is that it doesn't respect system font sizing. So, for older relatives, that app can't be used. I put my mom on something called "Fluffy Chat" though, which does respect font sizes. If Element fixes that, I'll move her back again. It's kinda nice having multiple clients to choose from, though Element is by far the most polished.


It's barely tolerable for power users, unacceptable for casual users. In particular, calling doesn't work reliably on Android, no search in encrypted rooms, ...

Signal, on the other hand, is basically a drop-in replacement for WhatsApp. Extremely similar UX, basically the same concepts, phone numbers as identifiers allow you to keep your social network if other contacts migrate.

Calling works fine for me. And you can't search any E2E encrypted rooms on any platform. But at least Matrix can store history, that you can then search on your client. Or if you really want search, you can just not encrypt your room, which isn't an option at all with Signal.

But I do agree that Signal is easier, a better WhatsApp replacement for most people, and a wonderful service in general. The more people use it, the better.

I can search my E2E encrypted rooms on Signal (Android) just fine.

Yes, but only the messages on your device. Once you run out of room on your phone, switch to another phone, use your laptop, etc, all that history is gone forever, and obviously not searchable.

Element actually does encrypted search a bit better than Signal. Signal stores every message it receives, in its entirety, forever (unless you tell it not to, or course, but then you can't search). That makes search dead simple, but it also fills up my phone with hundreds of megs a month. Element stores messages on the server, so old ones don't need to stay on your phone (only your keys). But you can still search the entire history because the client indexes every message that comes in and stores that index forever, which is much smaller than a bunch of media files, and even the plain text.

These at great points about Signal I hadn't considered. Maybe I'll run a matrix server too. How does the experience compare to e.g. whatsapp?

I haven't used WhatsApp much, I've just co-opted this whole thing to move people off SMS. But, comparing Element now to WhatsApp when I used it years ago, Element is more polished with more features.

It's dead easy to download the app and sign up on Matrix.org though, just to test it all out before you go through the trouble of setting up your own homeserver.

i love this idea! i think i'll do that as well just to test it out.

I've experienced a lot of the same.

I think the main cause for this is that WhatsApp still just works for most everyone, especially non-technical people - it's still a great product with many features, there's no settings you need to change, it's very reliable, moving to a new phone is literally just entering your phone number and allowing access(no accounts), etc.

Some people followed me to Signal but there really hasn't been a lot of interaction, and a few of them even moved back after the huge downtime it had right when the big news about the new policy broke.

Honestly, it "just works".

It's fast, it's simple. Its UX is "flagship" (unlike, sorry, Signal - who I'm giving a chance, but the UX is unquestionably more "open source *nix product"-adjacent)

A few years back I got tired that my friends were sprawled across many different platforms, and I tried a bunch of different clients and found Whatsapp the most attractive. I made a pitch to the ones who weren't already on there to move over. And it stuck, even for my own parents.

OTOH, one intolerant/militant person can force an entire group to accept their opinion, if the people would rather accept their opinion than abandon contact/friendships with that person.

If you force people to choose between using Signal and no longer being able to talk to you, they will make a choice. That choice could end with you being abandoned or ignored, or with a large group that would rather prefer WhatsApp using Signal, at least for this group.

Especially if it's multiple militant people, this effect can be quite powerful.

That's interesting. I had the opposite experience. I told all my text-chain friends and family that I was leaving WhatsApp and invited them to Signal. All of them had moved over within 2 days.

Though, most of those people I motivated to move to WhatsApp years ago when I wanted to switch from iPhone to Android. So, it's already a specific group.

This is the correct move. Every person who stays on WhatsApp makes using WhatsApp more useful and attractive.

You have to delete your account there.

As I understand it, the actual T&C change is pretty minor (the ability for Facebook to have the contents of your messages on their server only in the case you are talking to a business which uses Facebook for commercial messaging)

Since this change seems pretty minor, why can't Whatsapp cancel the T&C changes, make a big announcement that they have caved to user demands, and then get some third party to host their commercial messaging efforts? Said third party could get permission to handle user data the way every other 'use chat for customer service' company does...

Or why the hell can't all the "omg the sky is falling and Facebook is so horrible" people on this thread just understand any of the numerous places this has been explained and not make out like something of actual interest about the protocol or even the client has changed? The shear amount of misinformation being spread about this topic on Hacker News is ridiculously disappointing and entirely unbefitting of its supposedly enlightened audience, and the number of people I--as an actual privacy and security researcher--have had to talk out of switching from WhatsApp to something actually bad for their use cases due to all of this anti-WhatsApp FUD is insane.

I always denied consent to the requests from whatsapp, and it's still working.

I wonder if they're doing a meh and surveilling me anyway.

They extended the cutoff date to few months later.

Sometimes, I wish someone would hack into the FB C-Levels homes and live-stream their lives to the world - like everything they say and do, just to make the world a bit more open, connected and transparent.

  A photographer claims he was accused of breaching
  privacy by Facebook after taking photos of Mark
  Zuckerberg cleaning up his dog’s poo.

They should have promoted the photos instead; that's the most humanizing photo of Zuck I've ever seen. He's upgraded from "I hate everything about him" to "I hate everything about him except that he cleans up after his dog responsibly."

How is that in any way similar to the proposed WhatsApp changes?

It concerns the generic "information asymmetry" - we want your relations, dreams, illnesses, loves, pulse, voice, basically anything we can get - but let silence be the only thing you will know about us.

The relevant blog post, that the article doesn't link to:


Goes into slightly more detail then the article, and also takes obvious jabs at Telegram and Signal.

That's fine, all my family and friends already moved to Signal.

If I don't contact any WhatsApp Business (only personal numbers from friends or relatives), I live in Europe, and I don't have Facebook: which changes will the new privacy policy imply for me?

All the news I see are mixing opinions and facts, and all the official sources I check specifically say that only apply for communications with WhatsApp Business accounts, so I'm really intrigued as to what the changes really are on my situation.

I really don't understand facebook's approach to this change...

Whatsapp is part of facebook, the most data driven of companies. Surely they wrote 10 variations on the 'please accept the new T&C's' screen, and did A/B testing on each, user studies, etc. And they wouldn't have deployed if there was any risk to their business...

Yet it seems the users hate it enough that there is a risk to their business... So what went wrong?

My assumption is that the cost/benefit math means that this is still worth it for them to do. Put as much lipstick as you can on that pig and go to market with it is not an internally inconsistent or illogical path. Even if it sucks for us as consumers.

But look at the message presented to users [1]. It is almost threatening... The deadline date at the bottom... The scary sounding phrase "partner with Facebook" without even giving an example...

The simple text in bold at the top saying "Facebook never gets the contents of your messages to friends, and it never will" would have gone a long way to making most users happy.

It's almost as if someone deliberately chose the text of this to make users upset...

[1]: https://images.indianexpress.com/2021/01/WhatsApp_NEW_1.jpg

They saw the number of users who actually migrated, and how the negative media reaction dissipated quickly, and realized that it was barely a blip on their radar. They have years of experience introducing changes and waiting out the scandal period. They know they can do anything without much in the way of consequences.

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