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Either Agree or Exit – The WhatApp Ultimatum & Our decision

Agree or Exit - This is what is an ultimatum from WhatsApp and we need to agree to its condition by Feb 8, 2021 if we want to enjoy its services. WhatsApp wants us to agree to allow sharing of our data with its parent company, Facebook. That’s it. 

This condition has sounded an alarm among users about the privacy of their information in the hands of Facebook. Obviously, media is full of views and messages such as - 'Time to Say Goodbye to WhatsApp', ‘Let us switch to Telegram or Signal’ and so on. Let us see what it means for us and what should we do.

Which data WhatsApp is going to share with Facebook?

All messages that we share on WhatApp platform are in two parts – Content and MetaData. To understand it better, let us draw a similarity with the delivery of our physical letters sent in an envelope through Post Offices. Here the ‘content’ is sealed inside the envelope which is not visible to anyone except the addressee. The details such as Sender’s and Receiver’s addresses, locations, Date and time stamps are visible to the postal staff. In the same way, the content of our messages on WhatsApp is encrypted End-to-End and is not stored or used by WhatsApp. All that WhatsApp stores are our MetaData - numbers contacted, the number of times of such connects, date and time, duration, IP addresses (revealing the location of sender/receivers) etc. For those who transact money through WhatsApp platform, the metadata may include the transaction details also.

Why Facebook needs this data?

Facebook acquired WhatsApp at a hefty amount ($19 billion) with a clear plan of boosting its revenue through WhatsApp’s huge subscription and usage. One of the strategies of its chief, Mark Zuckerberg was to offer services by which companies will be able to interact with their desired customer in a very personal and direct way using the Meta Data of WhatsApp. This strategy is what is being implemented now. It is estimated that by correlating the WhatsApp Meta Data and Facebook data, huge personalised information can be obtained that could be sold to business houses for making personalised advertisements and sale. 

Alternative before us

Now that with this development most of us have started thinking of moving to other messaging platforms, let’s see what alternatives we have.

Telegram and Signal are the two best alternatives before us. Let us briefly know about them:

Telegram:

Like WhatsApp, it also supports E2E encryption (content encryption) but that is not enabled by default. The only way to use E2E encryption on Telegram is to use its secret chats feature. Even in secret chats, Telegram uses its own proprietary encryption protocol, MTProto, to encrypt the messages. From a security point of view, a closed-source protocol is not liked by security researchers as they can’t verify it. 

From an ownership point of view, which gives a factor of trust, Telegram is owned by two Russian, Durov brothers. Both have a principled position against censorship and Government interference and are known to have refused to hand over data of Ukrainian protesters to Russia’s security agencies. This does inspire trust.

Hence whereas the security is not as trusted as WhatsApp, the ownership is well trusted.

Signal

While WhatsApp encrypts the content, Signal goes one step further and encrypts the metadata too. In order to protect user privacy from all corners, Signal devised a new way to communicate between the sender and the recipient and it’s called Sealed Sender. Basically, with Sealed Sender, no one will be able to know — not even Signal — who is messaging whom, which is amazing. 

From an ownership point of view, Signal is owned by the Signal Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Hence whereas security in Signal is amazing, there is not enough clarity on who funds Signal Foundation. There are many rumours on this.

What should we do – Soul Searching?

Our decision should be based on some soul-searching:

  • Have we not shared and allowed other Apps (e.g , Truecaller or for that matter any other App) to use such private data? Most of the free Apps or even paid ones can be installed only on an agreement that the data provided by us will be allowed to be shared with other vendors for commercial use. Did we stop there? 
  • Do we know what Google knows about us even without we supplying such information to them directly? By keeping track of the Google services that we use, it knows all about us – our location, our likings, how much we walked or travelled, what we bought. It can even predict what we are likely to do in the next few days by correlating various activities of ours on the Internet and by obtaining any services of Internet-based businesses. Eyes will pop out if you search ‘What Google Knows About Me’ and read it further! 
  • If we are on the Facebook platform, is it not true that most of our so-called private data is already with them? All that availability of WhatsApp data will do, is to boost their business since the correlation of both data will have many business-related bits of intelligence that can be sold to the third party at a higher cost.
  • Don’t we all know how these free services are so profitable? Is it not obvious that they earn from the user’s data?
  • Is it not the fact that many Law Enforcement Authorities crack complex criminal cases based on these ‘Meta Data’ provided by such platforms? Remember WhatsApp provided data involved that of Mufid Elfghee, one of the first ISIS recruiters to be arrested on U.S. soil? He not only attempted to send men and money to ISIS in Syria. Elfghee was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison in March 2016.

Our Decision

Our decision to continue with WhatsApp or to move to any other messaging platform depends on what we use them for.

Normal User. As a normal user, if we are not involved in chats/calls/forwards that are illegal, there is nothing that will harm us more if we remain on WhatsApp.  In fact, we will get more personalised business advertisements than the bombardment of general advertisements that we presently face.

However, if we use WhatsApp Pay features and do financial transactions, then we should probably think of either stop using this feature or move to Signal.

Business Users. The WhatsApp Metadata along with Facebook data may provide Facebook with many undue intelligence data which could lead to business advantage to rivals. Hence such users should think of moving to a safer platform such as Signal.

Govt/Research/Corporate Users: They too should think of moving to platforms such as Signal.

Conclusion

From a business point of view, there is nothing wrong in what WhatsApp is doing. Knowing that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, didn’t we know that the ownership of WhatsApp-held data has shifted to Facebook? By dint of this ownership, it is for sure that WhatsApp data is already accessible to Facebook. All that WhatsApp is doing now is making it more transparent to its users, which is worthy of appreciation. As a normal user of WhatsApp, the risk of using WhatsApp remains the same even after agreeing to its condition. With certain self-restraint (lawful transactions) there is hardly any benefit that we would get by shifting to other platforms. In any case, shifting our entire network of people or groups to a new platform will be a challenge.

Agree or Exit - This is what is an ultimatum from WhatsApp and we need to agree to its condition by Feb 8, 2021 if we want to enjoy its services. WhatsApp wants us to agree to allow sharing of our data with its parent company, Facebook. That’s it. 

This condition has sounded an alarm among users about the privacy of their information in the hands of Facebook. Obviously, media is full of views and messages such as - 'Time to Say Goodbye to WhatsApp', ‘Let us switch to Telegram or Signal’ and so on. Let us see what it means for us and what should we do.

Which data WhatsApp is going to share with Facebook?

All messages that we share on WhatApp platform are in two parts – Content and MetaData. To understand it better, let us draw a similarity with the delivery of our physical letters sent in an envelope through Post Offices. Here the ‘content’ is sealed inside the envelope which is not visible to anyone except the addressee. The details such as Sender’s and Receiver’s addresses, locations, Date and time stamps are visible to the postal staff. In the same way, the content of our messages on WhatsApp is encrypted End-to-End and is not stored or used by WhatsApp. All that WhatsApp stores are our MetaData - numbers contacted, the number of times of such connects, date and time, duration, IP addresses (revealing the location of sender/receivers) etc. For those who transact money through WhatsApp platform, the metadata may include the transaction details also.

Why Facebook needs this data?

Facebook acquired WhatsApp at a hefty amount ($19 billion) with a clear plan of boosting its revenue through WhatsApp’s huge subscription and usage. One of the strategies of its chief, Mark Zuckerberg was to offer services by which companies will be able to interact with their desired customer in a very personal and direct way using the Meta Data of WhatsApp. This strategy is what is being implemented now. It is estimated that by correlating the WhatsApp Meta Data and Facebook data, huge personalised information can be obtained that could be sold to business houses for making personalised advertisements and sale. 

Alternative before us

Now that with this development most of us have started thinking of moving to other messaging platforms, let’s see what alternatives we have.

Telegram and Signal are the two best alternatives before us. Let us briefly know about them:

Telegram:

Like WhatsApp, it also supports E2E encryption (content encryption) but that is not enabled by default. The only way to use E2E encryption on Telegram is to use its secret chats feature. Even in secret chats, Telegram uses its own proprietary encryption protocol, MTProto, to encrypt the messages. From a security point of view, a closed-source protocol is not liked by security researchers as they can’t verify it. 

From an ownership point of view, which gives a factor of trust, Telegram is owned by two Russian, Durov brothers. Both have a principled position against censorship and Government interference and are known to have refused to hand over data of Ukrainian protesters to Russia’s security agencies. This does inspire trust.

Hence whereas the security is not as trusted as WhatsApp, the ownership is well trusted.

Signal

While WhatsApp encrypts the content, Signal goes one step further and encrypts the metadata too. In order to protect user privacy from all corners, Signal devised a new way to communicate between the sender and the recipient and it’s called Sealed Sender. Basically, with Sealed Sender, no one will be able to know — not even Signal — who is messaging whom, which is amazing. 

From an ownership point of view, Signal is owned by the Signal Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Hence whereas security in Signal is amazing, there is not enough clarity on who funds Signal Foundation. There are many rumours on this.

What should we do – Soul Searching?

Our decision should be based on some soul-searching:

  • Have we not shared and allowed other Apps (e.g , Truecaller or for that matter any other App) to use such private data? Most of the free Apps or even paid ones can be installed only on an agreement that the data provided by us will be allowed to be shared with other vendors for commercial use. Did we stop there? 
  • Do we know what Google knows about us even without we supplying such information to them directly? By keeping track of the Google services that we use, it knows all about us – our location, our likings, how much we walked or travelled, what we bought. It can even predict what we are likely to do in the next few days by correlating various activities of ours on the Internet and by obtaining any services of Internet-based businesses. Eyes will pop out if you search ‘What Google Knows About Me’ and read it further! 
  • If we are on the Facebook platform, is it not true that most of our so-called private data is already with them? All that availability of WhatsApp data will do, is to boost their business since the correlation of both data will have many business-related bits of intelligence that can be sold to the third party at a higher cost.
  • Don’t we all know how these free services are so profitable? Is it not obvious that they earn from the user’s data?
  • Is it not the fact that many Law Enforcement Authorities crack complex criminal cases based on these ‘Meta Data’ provided by such platforms? Remember WhatsApp provided data involved that of Mufid Elfghee, one of the first ISIS recruiters to be arrested on U.S. soil? He not only attempted to send men and money to ISIS in Syria. Elfghee was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison in March 2016.

Our Decision

Our decision to continue with WhatsApp or to move to any other messaging platform depends on what we use them for.

Normal User. As a normal user, if we are not involved in chats/calls/forwards that are illegal, there is nothing that will harm us more if we remain on WhatsApp.  In fact, we will get more personalised business advertisements than the bombardment of general advertisements that we presently face.

However, if we use WhatsApp Pay features and do financial transactions, then we should probably think of either stop using this feature or move to Signal.

Business Users. The WhatsApp Metadata along with Facebook data may provide Facebook with many undue intelligence data which could lead to business advantage to rivals. Hence such users should think of moving to a safer platform such as Signal.

Govt/Research/Corporate Users: They too should think of moving to platforms such as Signal.

Conclusion

From a business point of view, there is nothing wrong in what WhatsApp is doing. Knowing that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, didn’t we know that the ownership of WhatsApp-held data has shifted to Facebook? By dint of this ownership, it is for sure that WhatsApp data is already accessible to Facebook. All that WhatsApp is doing now is making it more transparent to its users, which is worthy of appreciation. As a normal user of WhatsApp, the risk of using WhatsApp remains the same even after agreeing to its condition. With certain self-restraint (lawful transactions) there is hardly any benefit that we would get by shifting to other platforms. In any case, shifting our entire network of people or groups to a new platform will be a challenge.

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या तो सहमत हो या छोड़ दो- व्हाट्सएप का अल्टीमेटम और हमारा निर्णय

अगर हम व्हाट्सएप सेवाओं का आनंद लेना चाहते हैं तो हमें 8 फरवरी, 2021 तक इसकी शर्त पर सहमत होने की आवश्यकता है। व्हाट्सएप चाहता है कि हम उसकी मूल कंपनी, फेसबुक के साथ अपने डेटा को साझा करने की अनुमति देने के लिए सहमत हों। बस।

इस शर्त ने उपयोगकर्ताओं के बीच फेसबुक में अपनी जानकारी की गोपनीयता के बारे में संदेह भर दिया है। जाहिर है, मीडिया विचारों और संदेशों से भरा है, जैसे - 'व्हाट्सएप को अलविदा कहने का समय', 'हम टेलीग्राम या सिग्नल पर स्विच करें' और इसी तरह। 

आइए देखें कि हमारे लिए इसका क्या मतलब है और हमें क्या करना चाहिए।

व्हाट्सएप फेसबुक के साथ कौन सा डेटा साझा करने जा रहा है?

सभी संदेश जो हम व्हाट्सएप प्लेटफॉर्म पर साझा करते हैं, वे दो भागों में हैं - संदेश और मेटा डेटा। इसे बेहतर ढंग से समझने के लिए, आइए डाकघरों के माध्यम से एक लिफाफे में भेजे गए हमारे भौतिक पत्रों की डिलीवरी के साथ समानता बनाएं। यहाँ ‘संदेश’को लिफाफे के अंदर सील कर दिया जाता है, जिसमें डाक कर्मचारियों को प्रेषक और प्राप्तकर्ता के पते, स्थान, दिनांक और समय टिकट जैसे विवरण दिखाई देते हैं  परंतु संदेश दिखाई नहीं देता है। । उसी तरह, व्हाट्सएप पर हमारे संदेशों की सामग्री एंड-टू-एंड एन्क्रिप्टेड है और व्हाट्सएप द्वारा संग्रहीत या उपयोग नहीं की जाती है। व्हाट्सएप डाकिया की तरह केवल हमारे “मेटा डेटा” (जिन नंबरों से संपर्क किया गया है, ऐसे कनेक्ट होने की संख्या, दिनांक और समय, अवधि, आईपी पते (प्रेषक / रिसीवर के स्थान का पता लगाना) आदि) देख सकता है और स्टोर कर सकता है - । व्हाट्सएप प्लेटफॉर्म के माध्यम से पैसे का लेनदेन करने वालों के लिए, मेटा डेटा में लेन-देन का विवरण भी शामिल हो सकता है ।

फेसबुक को इस डेटा की आवश्यकता क्यों है?

व्हाट्सएप की विशाल सदस्यता और उपयोग के माध्यम से फेसबुक ने अपने राजस्व को बढ़ाने के लिए एक स्पष्ट योजना के साथ व्हाट्सएप का अधिग्रहण किया। इसके प्रमुख की रणनीतियों में से एक है - कंपनियां अपने वांछित ग्राहक के साथ व्हाट्सएप के मेटा डेटा का उपयोग करके बहुत ही व्यक्तिगत और प्रत्यक्ष तरीके से बातचीत कर सकेंगी। यह रणनीति अब लागू की जा रही है। यह अनुमान लगाया जाता है कि व्हाट्सएप मेटा डेटा और फेसबुक डेटा को सहसंबंधित करके, वैयक्तिकृत व्यक्तिगत जानकारी प्राप्त की जा सकती है जिसे व्यक्तिगत विज्ञापनों और बिक्री के लिए व्यावसायिक घरानों को बेचा जा सकता है।

हमारे सामने विकल्प

अब जबकि इस अल्टिमेटम के साथ हममें से अधिकांश लोग दूसरे मैसेजिंग प्लेटफॉर्म पर जाने के बारे में सोचने लगे हैं, आइए देखें कि हमारे पास क्या विकल्प हैं। हमारे पास टेलीग्राम और सिग्नल - दो सर्वश्रेष्ठ विकल्प हैं। आइए उनके बारे में संक्षेप में जानते हैं:

टेलीग्राम:

व्हाट्सएप की तरह, यह भी E2E एन्क्रिप्शन (संदेश एन्क्रिप्शन) करता है, लेकिन यह डिफ़ॉल्ट रूप से एनेबल्ड नहीं है। टेलीग्राम पर E2E एन्क्रिप्शन का उपयोग करने का एकमात्र तरीका “सीक्रेट चैट” सुविधा का उपयोग करना है। यहां तक ​​कि सीक्रेट चैट में, टेलीग्राम संदेशों को एन्क्रिप्ट करने के लिए अपने स्वयं के मालिकाना एन्क्रिप्शन प्रोटोकॉल, MTProto का उपयोग करता है। सुरक्षा के दृष्टिकोण से, एक बंद-स्रोत प्रोटोकॉल सुरक्षा शोधकर्ताओं द्वारा पसंद नहीं किया जाता है क्योंकि वे इसे सत्यापित नहीं कर सकते हैं।

स्वामित्व के दृष्टिकोण से, टेलीग्राम का स्वामित्व दो रूसी, ड्यूरोव भाइयों के पास है। दोनों ने सेंसरशिप और सरकार के हस्तक्षेप के खिलाफ अपना रुख साफ किया है और ज्ञात है कि उन्होंने यूक्रेनी प्रदर्शनकारियों का डेटा रूस की सुरक्षा एजेंसियों को सौंपने से इनकार कर दिया था। यह विश्वास को प्रेरित करता है।

इसलिए जबकि सुरक्षा व्हाट्सएप के रूप में विश्वसनीय नहीं है, स्वामित्व अच्छी तरह से विश्वसनीय है।

सिग्नल:

जबकि व्हाट्सएप केवल संदेश को एन्क्रिप्ट करता है, सिग्नल एक कदम आगे है और मेटाडेटा को भी एन्क्रिप्ट करता है। 

स्वामित्व के दृष्टिकोण से, सिग्नल सिग्नल फाउंडेशन, एक गैर-लाभकारी संगठन के स्वामित्व में है।

इसलिए, जबकि सिग्नल में सुरक्षा अद्भुत है, सिग्नल फाउंडेशन को फंड करने वाले लोगों पर पर्याप्त स्पष्टता नहीं है। इस पर कई अफवाहें भी हैं।

हमें क्या करना चाहिएआत्म मंथन?

हमारा निर्णय कुछ आत्म मंथन पर आधारित होना चाहिए:

- क्या हमने ऐसे निजी डेटा का उपयोग करने के लिए अन्य ऐप्स (जैसे, Truecaller या कोई ऐसे अन्य ऐप) को अनुमति नहीं दी है? अधिकांश मुफ्त ऐप्स या यहां तक ​​कि भुगतान किए गए ऐप्स को केवल इस शर्त पर इंस्टॉल किया जा सकता है कि हमारे डेटा को वाणिज्यिक उपयोग के लिए अन्य विक्रेताओं के साथ साझा करने की अनुमति है । क्या हम वहाँ रुक गए?

- क्या हम जानते हैं कि गूगल हमारे बारे में क्या जानता है? उसके बिना पूछे भी हम उसे कितनी जानकारी प्रदान करते हैं ? हमारे द्वारा उपयोग की जाने वाली गूगल सेवाओं से, यह हमारे बारे में सब कुछ जानता है - हमारा स्थान, हमारी पसंद, हम कितना चले या यात्रा करे, हमने क्या खरीदा। गूगल इंटरनेट पर हमारी विभिन्न गतिविधियों और इंटरनेट-आधारित व्यवसायों की किसी भी सेवा का उपयोग को सहसंबंधित करके यह भी अनुमान लगा सकता है कि हम अगले कुछ दिनों में क्या करने वाले है । अगर आप ‘व्हाट गूगल नोज़ अबाउट मी’ सर्च करते हैं तो आपकी आँखें आश्चर्य से खुल जाएंगी । 

- अगर हम फेसबुक प्लेटफॉर्म पर हैं, तो क्या यह सच नहीं है कि हमारे अधिकांश निजी डेटा पहले से ही उनके पास हैं? व्हाट्सएप डेटा की वह सभी उपलब्धता उनके व्यवसाय को बढ़ावा देने के लिए है, क्योंकि दोनों डेटा के सहसंबंध में कई व्यवसाय-संबंधित इंटेलिजेंस होंगे जो उच्च कीमत पर तीसरे पक्ष को बेचे जा सकते हैं।

- क्या हम सभी नहीं जानते कि ये मुफ्त सेवाएँ इतनी लाभदायक कैसे हैं? क्या यह स्पष्ट नहीं है कि वे उपयोगकर्ता के डेटा से कमाते हैं?

- क्या यह तथ्य नहीं है कि कई कानून प्रवर्तन अधिकारी ऐसे प्लेटफार्मों द्वारा प्रदान किए गए इन 'मेटा डेटा' के आधार पर जटिल आपराधिक मामलों को वे हल कर देते हैं? 

हमारा निर्णय

हमें व्हाट्सएप के साथ बने रहना चाहिए या किसी अन्य मैसेजिंग प्लेटफॉर्म पर जाने का हमारा निर्णय इस बात पर निर्भर करता है कि हम व्हाट्सएप का उपयोग क्यों करते हैं ।

सामान्य उपयोगकर्ता: एक सामान्य उपयोगकर्ता के रूप में, यदि हम चैट / कॉल / फॉरवर्ड में ऐसी  गतिविधि में शामिल नहीं हैं जो कि अवैध हैं, तो कुछ भी नहीं है जो हमें व्हाट्सएप के साथ बने रहने पर नुकसान पहुंचाएगा। वास्तव में, हम सामान्य विज्ञापनों की बमबारी की तुलना में अधिक व्यक्तिगत व्यावसायिक विज्ञापन प्राप्त करेंगे, जो निश्चित रूप से बेहतर है।

हालांकि, अगर हम “व्हाट्सएप पे” फीचर का उपयोग करते हैं और वित्तीय लेनदेन करते हैं, तो हमें शायद इस सुविधा का उपयोग करना बंद कर देना चाहिए या सिग्नल पर प्लेटफॉर्म पर चले जाना चाहिए।

व्यापार उपयोगकर्ता: व्हाट्सएप मेटाडेटा फेसबुक डेटा के साथ फेसबुक को कई अनुचित खुफिया डेटा प्रदान कर सकता है जो प्रतिद्वंद्वियों को व्यावसायिक लाभ दे सकता है। इसलिए ऐसे उपयोगकर्ताओं को सिग्नल जैसे सुरक्षित प्लेटफॉर्म पर जाने के बारे में सोचना चाहिए।

सरकार / अनुसंधान / कॉर्पोरेट उपयोगकर्ता: उन्हें भी सिग्नल जैसे प्लेटफार्मों पर जाने के बारे में सोचना चाहिए।

निष्कर्ष

व्यवसाय की दृष्टि से व्हाट्सएप क्या कर रहा है, इसमें कुछ भी गलत नहीं है। यह जानकर कि व्हाट्सएप का स्वामित्व फेसबुक के पास है, क्या हमें नहीं पता है कि व्हाट्सएप के स्वामित्व वाले डेटा को फेसबुक का भी स्वामित्व है? व्हाट्सएप अब जो कुछ भी कर रहा है, वह अपने उपयोगकर्ताओं के लिए अधिक पारदर्शी है, जो प्रशंसा के योग्य है। एक सामान्य उपयोगकर्ता के रूप में, व्हाट्सएप का उपयोग करने का जोखिम सहमत होने के बाद भी वही रहेगा । शायद किसी अन्य प्लेटफ़ॉर्म पर शिफ्टिंग का कोई लाभ नहीं है अगर हम व्हाट्सएप का उपयोग आत्म-संयम के साथ करते हैं । वैसे ही, हमारे पूरे नेटवर्क (लोगों या समूहों) को एक नए प्लेटफॉर्म पर स्थानांतरित करना एक चुनौती होगी।

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