May 8, 2019
 in 
Internet Freedom

Why We Banned WhatsApp

T

echnology and software services have usually enabled us to do more with less. It is almost a constant path of progress, except for when the company behind those services has ulterior motives. Find out why we banned WhatsApp for our management team.

You have probably heard the argument before: If you do not pay for the product, you are the product. Your data is being stored, analyzed, and sold off in different forms to different suitors.

Yet most people do not care about this. They would reply to that notion with "So what?". Sometimes the argument for the indifference is "I have nothing to hide". As if the likelihood or degree of personal embarrassment were to dictate how you feel about the product's principles.

We are often misunderstood when explaining why we do not think of surveillance of Orwellian proportions as a feature.

This is comparable to purchasing coats made of animal fur, and saying "I don't know any of these animals". The fact that there is no murder link between you and these animals does not make the choice morally righteous.

In a similar manner, the fact that you might not care about privacy does not mean you should encourage the expansion or growth of a toxic company that is repeatedly showing you their plans for exploiting data for dark commercial purposes, and might just bring them to their other services.

Another argument, often employed to support continued usage of Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram (also known as the new Axis of Evil) is that "it's easy to use", or "it's free and everyone has it". You can see how the bar is set very low.

Just because something is easy or fast to spread, it does not mean it is good for us. The problem with augmenting Facebook's social graph is that we are encouraging them to profiteer with people's data.

And Facebook as a company has shown no sense of shame in using these services to help governments with obscure agendas in their quest to influence elections outcomes, as we have seen with the spread of fake news and "alternative facts".

What is worse, is that we see a clear track record from this company to try to circumvent the Web, to become the way people do anything online. Users seem to forget that many of these features are already provided by the web and the devices they own. And it is done so much more efficiently, with better controls for identity management and privacy.

A common issue is mistaking the Web for a place of consumption, instead of research and development.

Perhaps the main issue we see with the thought model of WhatsApp users is with casting off your thinking to your direct network of support. This notion that you are better off asking someone you know, instead of using the power of the Web to do research in a plethora of sources, is unforgivable in the age of knowledge.

Furthermore, when you see the initiatives that Facebook takes for emerging countries, where access to the Internet means access to Facebook, and the company positions itself to be above the Web, feeding their social graph becomes undeniably reprehensible.

So the decision we took this year, after the latest Facebook scandals, is to ask all of the members of our management team to stop using WhatsApp for any work-related task. We do not take this decision lightly, we are not trying to be capricious about it: we think it is strategically important.

The main reason, of course, is that WhatsApp is not a work collaboration tool. It is simply a data capture mechanism for an advertisement network that runs on people's social connections.

This has a deeper impact for our team members residing in Argentina, for WhatsApp has succeeded tremendously in Latin America, mostly over the incompetence of telephone carriers -or the slow market development, and poor infrastructure?- that still charge substantial amounts of money for basic things like sending images and audio files over text messages.

A WhatsApp user speaking directly into his device microphone, imagining what might be useful to say, typically with no regard for their environment. We reject this as a collaboration method.

In places like Argentina, people tend to walk the streets holding their phones upside down, speaking loudly into their Mics as they primarily send voice messages to each other on WhatsApp. This replaces email for them, but it also acts as a form of phone-call replacement.

This is sticky and commonplace for them because it gives the illusion of work, the gesticulation overflow and loudness of a phone call, very intrusive as if to highlight the importance and urgency of anything that is said. When most work globally becomes increasingly analytical, this type of communication does not make much sense.

But it is so prevalent that often times, if you have to deal with a company from there, their representative will ask for a detail or a file to be shared through WhatsApp. It will often come with a lot of unnecessary remarks in a voice message designed to speculate around the task, rather than facilitate its completion.

In sight of the comfort that WhatsApp users find in this, it is hard for us to impose the notion that this mass exploitation service should not contain any relevant work information. But we try.

We decided to try because we think it starts with this. With highlighting the difference, and providing an alternative.

Sorry if we sound too negative on this but we truly think it matters.

We currently work with careful processes that facilitate information, designed for action, not speculation. Providing just anecdotal information would be guesswork. We do not want to work that way, even if it's free, it's too expensive for us.