How would you feel if an individual or company had enough data to identify you, your habits, and predict your daily activity? What if that information comes from an application you operate frequently? These questions and more have started bugging the minds of Whatsapp users since the start of the year.
What the Updated Policy Contains?
Beforehand, sharing information with Facebook was a choice. Now, your information could end up not only in the hands of Facebook but Instagram and Messenger too. The information siphoned from your phone and shared goes beyond your phone number and location to include IP address, time zone, internet service provider, browser data, battery level, and connection strength.
This gargantuan collection of individual data by Whatsapp could prove to be highly dangerous. It translates to a single company possessing information on more than a quarter of the world’s population. This information will also be shared with Facebook, a tech firm that got embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
What happens Whatsapp’s servers get hacked and the information becomes stolen? After all, we’ve seen high profile hacks like the Ashley Madison hack where the data of 32 million individuals was posted on the internet. Cambridge Analytica is still fresh in our minds where it was utilized to influence the opinions of voters.
In the theoretical event that the data doesn’t get leaked from Whatsapp or Facebook, is there a valid explanation for the collection of this data? Whatsapp has frantically claimed that the data cannot be used to identify people. However, combining data from different sources can put a name to anonymous profiles.
Alternative Messaging Applications to Whatsapp
Prominent privacy advocates have used Twitter to advise individuals on chat applications to migrate to.
Nevertheless, whatever app you choose, make sure it offers end-to-end encryption.
End-to-End encryption is a form of encoding that permits the multiple users involved in a chat to decode the message.
In simple form, it’s like having knowledge of a language that you and a friend understand. You send a letter to that friend through another person called Boy A. But you’re assured that if Boy A checks the letter, he would be unable to make any sense of it.
With end-to-end encryption, the organization that created the chat app would be unable to read your messages too. Thus, in the event that the firm becomes required to divulge text information to the government, they wouldn’t be able to. Below, you’ll find the most secluded messaging applications
iMessage is a chat app that offers end-to-end encryption for users. With this application, you can send self-destroying texts depending on the time after sending or how the extent of times that particular chat has been viewed.
The issue with iMessage is that it only works as an app amongst two iOS users. If an iPhone user was to send a message to say, an Android user, the message would show up as an SMS message. The only privacy issue with iMessages is the backing up of chats.
Some individuals like to keep a history of their chats on the cloud. Apple offers this option with its in-built cloud service, iCloud. If your iCloud gets hacked, your messages would be seen by the hacker.
In the same vein, if the government uses legal methods to request Apple to divulge your chats, they’d be mandated to. Turn off the ‘Backup on iCloud’ option in Settings to ensure the full sanctuary of your chats.
Signal was launched in 2014 and has won the responsiveness of privacy advocates. It provides users with end-to-end encryption and has voice and video call features. The messenger service also possesses its custom encryption protocol.
Signal’s code is open-source which translates to the application getting checked by numerous freelance cybersecurity professionals. Even Whatsapp is based on Signal’s technology.
Signal provides users with security numbers for chats in a bid to prevent hackers from sniffing the information being exchanged. You can also set the app to request a password each time it gets launched.
The whistleblower who publicized the CIA spying of the world, Edward Snowden, has affirmed that he uses Signal. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, and Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, both advised individuals to use Signal.
After the posts, Signal got as high as 800,000 new registrations in a single day on its app. The firm had to add more servers to keep up with the surging traffic. Before now, Signal was mostly used by entities seeking total privacy like journalists and whistleblowers.
If you’re not assured of Signal’s privacy, then read the following instance. In the top half of 2016, the company was subpoenaed and asked to divulge user information to the courts. The company, knowing full well it didn’t have the required data, still fought the decision legally.
Eventually, they lost and released the information. It only contained the registration chronology of the users involved.
Viber offers end-to-end encryption and provides a visual representation of how protected your chats are. If the color shown is green, it means your communication is safe. If it shows red, your encryption has a problem.
You can also activate the self-destroying messages feature on the app. The foremost concern with this chat app is that end-to-end encryption is offered only for private chats. Group chats are not as secure, so you’ll have to avoid Viber if you’re having group chats.
The minds behind this app advocate for data privacy and thus, created what is known as Wickr. Wickr adopted end-to-end encryption as far back as 2012 when most chat apps didn’t. Wickr also made its code open-source, meaning any tech expert can verify the authenticity of its privacy claims.
If you want to have very private conversations, use Wickr, as the app notifies you when the person you’re communicating with screenshots your message. The Wickr app prevents users from taking screenshots of a message on Androids. It also goes the extra mile to make certain deleted files don’t resurface.
Also, you can’t back up messages on Wickr, which adds to its reputation for privacy. The only issue is most of your friends won’t be using Wickr to communicate.
Wickr is free but it also has paid plans of up to 25$ a month. This might not be cost-friendly for individuals with low budgets. Just keep in mind that its safety features are accessible by both the free and paid versions.
Jabber/OTR is more of a protocol than an actual app. When combined, Jabber/OTR provides users with a free and distributed platform.
The main allure of Jabber/OTR is that you can communicate on it without divulging personal information like phone numbers. All the other apps on this list need a piece of identifiable information for a sign-up. Jabber/OTR is rated the most private platform for communications by tech experts.
The reason why it isn’t used by many individuals is that it works only for text chats. It doesn’t work seamlessly either on smartphones and tablets. Despite its high quantity of sanctuary, some privacy advocates prefer using Signal to installing Jabber/OTR because it offers better features like file sharing.
The reason Telegram is in this catalog is because of its high rate of usage. Hence, you’re more likely to find your friends on the app. Technically speaking, Telegram is not the safest alternative to its major competition, Whatsapp.
Telegram’s end-to-end encryption is not automatic. You’ll have to activate the ‘Secret Chat’ property. You can also send self-destroying messages on the app. The browser variety of Telegram is light and easy to load even with a bad network.
The absence of automatic end-to-end encryption, however, is a source of worry. If you forget to activate the option, your chats get stored on the chat app’s servers.
Telegram is mentioned here because of the socialization factor. At a point, you might be frustrated and revert to Whatsapp to interconnect with your friends. Rather than having you go back to Whatsapp, Telegram would be a better bet.
Methods to Maintain Online Privacy
When we use the internet, a big amount of data is captured from us. Big tech companies use the data from individuals to target them better for advertisements and the likes. Usually, these firms get the information in deceitful ways and misuse it.
For instance, Amazon Echo users have had their conversations at home recorded without their knowledge. Android users have also had their locations shared to Google in real-time. Facebook also created the ‘Nearby Friends’ feature to lure users into tracking their locations.
As an internet user, you have to prevent tech companies from spying on you. Below, you’ll find ways to maintain your online privacy.
1. Use a Private Search Engine
It is not impossible that Google has more information on you than Facebook. From your search queries, Google is bound to know your hobbies, dislikes, predict your behavior, and so on. The tech giant also has tools set up in a big chunk of websites on the surface web.
If you want to avoid being tracked by Google, you need a private search engine. The most popular one is DuckDuckGo which provides results similar to Google’s. This way, you won’t be tracked over the internet by Google.
2. Watch out for Third-Party Keyboards
Third-party keyboards have the potential to mine a lot of information from you, even more than malware. As you’re typing your login credentials into a website, the keyboard could be storing that information.
The worst part of a malicious third-party keyboard is that it can get chat information even when you’re using end-to-end encryption. As it records the keystrokes, everything you’re talking about will be seen. If you’re choosing a third-party keyboard, make sure it’s from a trusted source.
3. Utilizing a VPN
One of the simplest ways to protect your online privacy is by using a Virtual Private Network. A VPN affords users a high level of anonymity and secrecy. With this tool, you can link up with a different server in another location, masking your real location.
To track you effectively, big tech firms need your IP address. If you constantly change your IP address every time you browse the internet, it becomes harder to serve you ads. A VPN is so secure that it shields your data even from your internet service provider.
Since your online traffic would be passing through its network, your activity would be invisible to your ISP. You’ll need a trustworthy VPN to make certain your data is getting stolen by the VPN you’re using.
To fully protect your communications from Whatsapp’s hands, you’ll need to consider other options. You can use apps like Signal, Wickr, Jabber and OTR, Telegram, or Viber.
To further secure your privacy online when you browse the internet, use a VPN app, utilize trusted third-party keyboards only or avoid them totally, and adopt a private search engine for your queries.