At its launch in 2009, WhatsApp was designed to be a simple messaging app that would allow anyone, anywhere to send text messages to their contacts. Because messages would be routed over the internet, they would not be billed as SMS texts by mobile carriers, making the system free to use.
Initially available only for Apple devices, new apps were quickly built for Android, Blackberry, Nokia Symbian and Tizen to create a messaging network that could be used by just about anyone. This cross-platform support has helped WhatsApp to become the world’s most popular messaging app, used by more than 2 billion people across the globe.
The Facebook factor
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, one of the largest tech deals of all time. Development continued, with support for picture messaging, voice calling and message encryption being added in the years that followed. Everything was good.
But at its core, Facebook is an advertising company – it makes its fortune by building extremely detailed profiles about each of its users, and then showing them targeted ads based on their preferences. With 2 billion users, WhatsApp offers Facebook a massive amount of additional information – and so they have begun to collect and use it.
Originally, WhatsApp users could opt out of data sharing, ensuring their information was not sent to Facebook. But from the beginning of February, the opt out has been removed and there is nothing you can do to prevent Facebook accessing your account information.
One thing to note: Facebook say that they cannot see the contents of your messages – they are only accessing information about your account, like your contact lists and who you chat with. However, many people still don’t want that information being shared with a marketing company – so here’s some alternative messaging apps to consider.
Secure, anonymous and free, Telegram is available for most mobile devices and computers, making it a good replacement for WhatsApp. Messages are end-to-end encrypted so their contents are protected from hackers and spies. Most importantly, Telegram does not share data with anyone, so you don’t have to worry about being profiled by marketers.
Find out more about Telegram Messenger.
Extremely popular with young people, Snapchat is a cross between a messaging platform and a social network. Messages can be shared with one person, a group of people, or published publicly – and they can be set to self-destruct ten seconds after opening. Although this means that your recipients can’t re-open the messages, there is some question about whether they are really gone, or whether Snapchat keeps copies for legal reasons or to inform their growing advertising network.
Find out more about Snapchat.
Signal is almost exactly the same as WhatsApp in terms of functionality. Secure messaging, voice and video calling, group texts, time limited messages, Signal has it all. And because the app doesn’t include any ads or trackers, it may be one of the best direct replacements if you are determined to dump WhatsApp.
Find out more about Signal.
“Free” is rarely free
Running a messaging network for 2 billion people is extremely expensive, so it is no surprise that Facebook has begun trying to make some money from WhatsApp. However, the trade-off for free messaging is a loss of some of your privacy.