With the story breaking that WhatsApp will be bought by Facebook a few days ago, a global search for a secure and trustworthy messaging app begone. We’ve seen these attempted exodus before from startups, just think of Instagram or Dropbox ever time they change their terms of service. And as every time, there is the counter reaction of telling people, that WhatsApp hasn’t been secure in the first place. And therefore it was totally irrational to quit it now because Facebook acquired it. It hasn’t gotten any more evil than it used to be already. And though people say it is, I suspect it not being the actual reason. But that this is a a long over due (first, big) reaction to the NSA scandals. And we’ll see more of those.
Three main aspect fall into place here, which make this one a little different the previous exoduses:
First, it is correct WhatsApp never has been secure or concerned with privacy details. But even if you wanted to switch, none of the surfaced news was able to gain enough traction to be able to pursuit you or any of your friends to make that step. Like a frog in slowly warming water, people got used to every more strange aspect of it over time and it takes a big breaking story, even if it doesn’t actually contain any news on the subject, to spark momentum to move. And in the social context of direct communication, this is even harder, because in the end people will use, what their friends and family uses. So it requires a very big step to open this conversation and convincing of people.
Secondly, there has been a general fear of an overall single-instance surveillance database and controlling entity for years, especially with the approval of the PATRIOT ACT in 2001. For a long time, this was only subject of conspiracy theory. Until the on-going Snowden leaks confirmed our worst nightmares and left people in shock with the on-going privacy breaches the NSA and security agencies continue to do all over the world. And though with every new leak and scandal it gets worse and worse, people don’t act. They are paralyzed by the sheer size and impact of it. Feeling small and powerless, not knowing what to do, not seeing any way that their action could make any impact on this. There simple won’t be any NSA revolution right now or soon to come. Which by no means, people don’t care. They do, they just don’t know what to do about.
Thirdly, Facebook - same for Google - has been a major players in the big-data-extortion-business for years already. And though the NSA might has other powers to play with – like killing people – F and G are considered to be on the same level of invasive creepy behavior than them. Before the NSA-Scandal it was even argued that not government but corporations, like Facebook, are the ones running and wanting the surveillance state. An unease people feel for years already that got recently strong support through by the NSA-Leaks. Trusting these corporations with our private data feels like one of the biggest mistakes in our lives now – we were young and stupid. Really stupid.
Now, with this context around it: People learning that this NSA-Creep-Like big corporation buys one of the most intimate of our Conversations now, too, just feels too far. It might be that WhatsApp has never been very secure, but Facebook having control about these conversations, too, is another level of privacy concern. That demands action. And as there are other, more secure and trustworthy alternatives, there is even ways to act. There seems to be a way out of being under the control of the NSA and Internet Powers. And with the acquisition being big in the news, there now also is the opportunity to put these aspects on the table and install other apps on your friends and family’s phones.
Let me say this again because that is important. Private messages between lovers have a totally different data privacy intimacy level to it than a photo sharing website. Many probably won’t even realize them quitting WhatsApp being a late reaction to the NSA-Leaks and power struggles of the Internet. But the lost of trust in the big Internet powers, will cause this reaction more often from now on, especially when it is about centralizing even more communicational power. And with the ever on-going reports about these hidden power systems, this will probably just increase over time. As said, we probably won’t see any big revolution – this one will be a long-stretched and slow one. But it will be persistent and has already started.