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How is allowing my students, older relatives, etc - who wouldn't be able to use a laptop or desktop machine - to go online and talk to their children abroad using apps like whatsapp - disempowering?

It's the tyranny of the "minimum viable user" [1]. By making information systems that are safe enough for your students or their grandparents to use, the companies have to take away the customizability, configurability and assorted "sharp edges" that make those systems useful for more advanced users. I say "have to" deliberately, because the counterargument of, "Why can't they make both," never seems to describe a real world system.

Whether its Windows, MacOS or heck even Gnome3, the more an information system attempts to cater to the needs of novice users, the worse it becomes at catering to the needs of advanced users. And the terrifying reality is that inexperienced users outnumber us hackers by two orders of magnitude (or more).

[1]: https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/69wk8y/the_tyr...

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