franceinfo conso. What if we quit WhatsApp? The instant messaging business


The survey of 60 million consumers explains how instant messaging works.
The survey of 60 million consumers explains how instant messaging works. “When it’s free, you are the product!” (Illustration) (GIUSEPPE MANFRA / MOMENT RF / GETTY IMAGES)

Telegram, TwinMe, Signal, and especially the most famous, WhatsApp: franceinfo consumer today decrypts the survey on instant messaging published by the magazine 60 million consumers, with its editor-in-chief, Benjamin Douriez

franceinfo: WhatsApp has been in the crosshairs of users since the start of the year, why?

Benjamin Douriez: If you use the app, since the beginning of the year you’ve probably seen messages alerting you of an update to the Terms of Service. The concern is that this update seems to open the door to more extensive data transfers within the Facebook group, the parent company of Whatsapp. The announcement in early January sparked an uproar: the entry into force of the new conditions, which were scheduled for February, have been postponed. It will be May 15, but it is still on the schedule.

Is this all the more incredible than in 2014, when Facebook bought whatsApp, the group was putting forward privacy?

At WhatsApp, we used to say at the time: “Respect for privacy is in our DNA”. But soon enough, we realized that being linked to Facebook is not trivial for messaging users. In 2016, WhatsApp invited them to accept the sharing of certain data. At the time, it was optional. There, with this year’s update, it becomes mandatory.

But when we say “data sharing”, what kind of information does it mean?

First, you need to clarify that this does not concern the content of conversations, or the photos you send to your friends. All of this remains completely private – and fortunately! On the other hand, WhatsApp will be able to send the phone number and connection data (model of smartphone used, time of connection, etc.) to Facebook.

And does that mean that you can find your personal data on Facebook without being registered?

Not really ! We will not find this publicly accessible on Facebook. But this data, in a way your user profile, certain connection habits, can be used more easily within the Facebook group. The company explains that this is to facilitate communication between WhatsApp users and businesses – so that WhatsApp can also be a platform for communication between businesses and their customers. What does that mean concretely? Today it is not very clear. As is often the case with Facebook, when it comes to the use of personal data. It is also this vagueness over the purpose of the operation that is worrying.

What are WhatsApp’s competitors today and how do they work?

There are many of them, which operate quite similar to WhatsApp: they are messaging systems allowing you to have group conversations, possibly to make calls. Some have seen their user numbers take off with the WhatsApp controversy. One can quote Signal, it is the best known competitor which was also founded by a former WhatsApp. Or Telegram, born in Russia – we know that some politicians use it. Others less well known like Olvid, TwinMee, Threema. We detail the main ones in our survey.

And in terms of data protection, which messaging system do you think is the most secure?

First, all of them, including WhatsApp, offer message encryption – more precisely end-to-end encryption – which ensures that conversations cannot be intercepted. Is there a data protection champion? Competitors can also have flaws, but it can be noted that some, Signal / Telegram / Threema, are “open source” software, that is, the code that runs the app is public – that’s is a guarantee of transparency and security.

More generally, leaving WhatsApp for a competing messaging system is above all moving away from the fold of Facebook and its sulphurous reputation in terms of personal data.

But are there ways to protect yourself?

When it comes to confidentiality, you should not rely blindly on the messaging system you use. There are things that can be regulated, that can be parameterized, and that are important to know. So in your account settings, you can, for example, disable the “seen at”, which allows others to know if you have read their messages. You can also with most messengers choose to have these messages ephemeral, that is to say that they self-destruct after some time.

Changing messaging is one thing, but how do you stay in touch with your friends? Because there is no connection between the different applications?

It’s true that change takes effort. Because your friends and relatives need to change too, to switch to the same messaging system as you. Or, you have to juggle several messaging services which, in fact, do not communicate with each other. Either the new mailbox accesses your contact list to connect with your friends if they have an account. It’s simple, but it means that messaging accesses your contacts. Otherwise, other messaging services work with codes that can be sent by email, for example, to invite your friends.

From an economic point of view, how do all these couriers work?

That’s the whole question for these free couriers. Because the adage says: “When it’s free, you are the product”. It was brought up for WhatsApp, where it is understood that messaging wants to use users and their data to sell services to businesses. Others make different choices. Telegram in particular announced the arrival of advertising, paid options. Signal is different, it’s a non-profit organization, which lives on donations.


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