Is resisting WhatsApp unreasonable?
May 9, 2019 6:22 AM   Subscribe

My parents (retired age) are in Europe on vacation and requested we (adult) kids install WhatsApp so they can send us updates, pics, etc. Having quit FB years ago and maintained a locked-down online life (except here), I'm resisting installing WhatsApp. The rest of the family is like "What's the harm?" Am I being unreasonable?
posted by notsnot to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No, you are not being unreasonable. FB has plans for it which are unlikely to be for the good.
Persuade them to use something like Signal instead.
posted by vacapinta at 6:45 AM on May 9 [15 favorites]

Not really, since WA is part of FB.

Let me add something for clarification here, though. My mother and our extended family thought she would need something else like Vibr or Skype or whatever to communicate with us on her Euro tour (or, rather, to do so without incurring roaming fees), but it turned out not to be true.

This is because she has an iPhone, and on iOS the things you think are "text messages" aren't actually sent as true SMS (the underlying tech for text messages on conventional phones) if the message is going to another iOS user. If it's Apple to Apple, basically, it goes as pure data via Cupertino, and the telco only sees it as data.

Moreover, this approach works just fine over wifi, so a roaming-averse traveler can just leave their US phone in airplane mode for the whole trip, connect to wifi when it's available, and treat iMessages as a chat app, assuming the people with whom they wish to communicate are also on iOS.
posted by uberchet at 6:46 AM on May 9 [16 favorites]

Signal is awesome. Highly recommended.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:51 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

I don’t think it’s unreasonable. If you all have iPhones, could they create a shared photo album to share pictures and use the captions to share updates? This would have the added benefit of them being able to add a photo only once to share it with multiple people.
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

I think it depends on how you define "reasonable."

EFF: Thousands of People Have Secure Messaging Clients Infected By Spyware (Slashdot, January 20, 2018)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and mobile security company Lookout have uncovered a new malware espionage campaign infecting thousands of people in more than 20 countries. Hundreds of gigabytes of data has been stolen, primarily through mobile devices compromised by fake secure messaging clients. The trojanized apps, including Signal and WhatsApp, function like the legitimate apps and send and receive messages normally. However, the fake apps also allow the attackers to take photos, retrieve location information, capture audio, and more.
For Facebook, It’s Users First and Profits Later (David Gelles, DealBook, February 20, 2014)
In WhatsApp, Facebook sees not a trove of patents or a lucrative advertising model but the future of communications — mobile, cross-platform, cheap and international.
How Facebook Plans to Take over the World (Solon, Olivia, The Guardian, April 23, 2016)
The scale of Facebook’s audience is unprecedented. More than 1.6 billion people use Facebook at least once a month, or half of all internet users. That’s before you count users on other Facebook-owned sites including WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion monthly active users, and photo-sharing site Instagram, which has 400 million. [...]

“You hear all the platitudes about Facebook connecting the planet, but to say they are doing it for benevolent reasons is absolute nonsense. It’s about connecting commerce, not people,” says venture capitalist and former journalist Om Malik, who reminds us of the hidden agenda of social networking firms: if you’re not paying, you’re the product.
WhatsApp Privacy Backlash: Facebook Angers Users by Harvesting Their Data (Dan Tydan, The Guardian, August 25, 2016)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Facebook rolls out a new feature and/or acquires a new company, vowing to protect the privacy of its users’ personal information with its last dying breath. A year or two later, it backtracks and decides it wants spin your data into gold after all – and if users don’t like it, they can delete their accounts.

And so it is with today’s news about WhatsApp, the messaging service acquired by the world’s most unavoidable social network in February 2014. In a blogpost, WhatsApp announced it would begin sharing names and phone numbers with its parent company, to allow its more than 1 billion users “to communicate with businesses that matter to you too” – like notifications from airlines, delivery services or your bank, for example.
University of California Tells Students Not To Use WeChat, WhatsApp In China (Slashdot, January 11, 2019)
posted by Little Dawn at 7:01 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]

Meh. You're not unreasonable to feel how you want and I am a full cold turkey facebook/Instagram guy. I completely deleted the entire profiles and lost touch with hundreds of acquaintances Yada Yada.

However whatsapp is NOT merged with Facebook anything (if you belive them the goal is to allow cross platform messaging not merge them), is encrypted end to end so even Facebook can't read your messages, and if your parents can understand and use it I think it's pretty harmless to support it while they travel. There's no ads, I assure you Facebook already knows your name and phone number... So you're not really giving them anything.

Point of fact: I maintain it because my parents got onboard before the whole Facebook acquisition thing and now they're elderly and it's the one thing they can use reliably.
posted by chasles at 7:03 AM on May 9 [12 favorites]

I've been in and out of several groups in the past year and a half. I've managed to get most of them to use GroupMe. It does handle pictures and emojis too.

GroupMe can be used without installing an app at all. It does have an app with some useful features, but it can also be used just through SMS/text messaging OR its web home.

Apps in general have a terrible security model. GroupMe avoids going through that at all. Is it perfect? Definitely not. However, essentially forcing people to install apps because of social necessity is ... suboptimal.

That aside, pushing back against the "you must have a smartphone or you're nobody" model strikes me as good, also. The fact that you can use GroupMe without a smartphone (as long as the phone handles texts) is important too.

Be prepared to push back if the company tries to move to app-only, but for now, it's a great alternative that a lot of groups are using.
posted by amtho at 7:09 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Maybe? It depends on your family. If agreeing to this is the thin end of the wedge and they'll want to keep using this after they get home, or pressure you into joining Facebook or whatever else, then yeah. Maintain this boundary for sure.

But if they just want you to install it for a week or two because it's a cheap and comfortable way for them to stay in touch? I'd just do it. Maybe give them a better method for next time, but if they're on vacation in Europe already then it's not terribly reasonable to get them (and the rest of your family) to switch now.
posted by Garm at 7:21 AM on May 9 [19 favorites]

An alternative opinion here: Yeah, it's unreasonable. Whatsapp has end-to-end encryption, no ads, no cookies, and does not badger you to integrate your online life. It's completely separate from Facebook and cookies and web browsing as far as I can see.

I'm sure there are some security and privacy issues that I'm not considering. But if you're already using a smartphone, you're probably not going to be any more exposed to security issues and privacy concerns than you already are now.

Outside the US, Whatsapp is incredibly popular, probably because it's not Facebook. It doesn't broadcast your information to people you rarely talk to. Instead, you have chats with groups of people you want, you share your life (and pictures and stories) with people you want to share it with. It's a great way to maintain a long-distance connection. It's cheaper and far easier than texting or emailing.

I don't have FB Messenger, and I rarely use Facebook, but I use Whatsapp for everything, including communicating with my partner.
posted by moiraine at 7:31 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the speedy responses, everybody.

My family is of the type to absolutely not listen to reason or contrary evidence once their minds are made up, so I guess I'll install and delete in two weeks.
posted by notsnot at 7:32 AM on May 9

Give them credit that WhatsApp *was* the correct answer for quite some time. Yay, they're interested in saving money and yay, possibly interested in security. Fantastic! Use that as a starting point for getting them up to date.
posted by lothar at 7:33 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

If it were me, I would get a $20 burner phone to use for the two weeks. I would not log into any other apps on the phone or in any way link it back to you.

If it were really me, I would tell my parents no thanks but invite them to come over when they get back (or go to them) so they can fill you in all about their trip. I would feel comfortable knowing my siblings were on it and could address any small issue that came up while my parents were away.
posted by AugustWest at 7:38 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]

I have Whatsapp to easily communicate with people in Europe for free. It's less glitchy than Skype and I have insisted others install it because I want to talk to them and have it work for free.

You can skip it. Keep in mind you are sending a message to your parents that you don't want it to be easy to communicate with them. You can overcome this and communicate a lot about your reasons.
posted by Kalmya at 7:41 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

I am in a similar spot as you. I deleted Facebook two years ago and reluctantly use WhatsApp. I suggest that you do not give it access to your contacts list, which I think is the avenue for user exploitation by The Zuckerborg. It won't let you start a group chat if you don't give up your contacts but others who are more indifferent about this can add you by phone number to an existing chat. As I think someone already noted in this thread, your name and phone number have almost certainly already been provided to The Zuckerborg by others, so I don't see any added harm in using WhatsApp.
posted by exogenous at 7:56 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

I've persuaded my mother (who is 80) to use Telegram on her smartphone and laptop. She loves it. She has used WhatsApp before and considers Telegram just as easy to use. We send each other messages and pictures all the time, and it can also be used for free voice chat.
So that is another suggestion you could make, if you feel they'd be open to it. Maybe not now, but later?
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:57 AM on May 9

Like exogenous, I use WhatsApp in situations where it makes sense from the other side of the conversation, but I don't give it access to contacts. (In general, I don't give any non-base app access to phone contacts, because it's been obvious for a while that it's the data motherlode they all seek.) I'm sure that FB has a shadow profile on me, but I'm not going to contribute to the ones it has on others.

Maybe look elsewhere later.
posted by holgate at 8:43 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Had the same issue with the rest of my family with Whatsapp. Caused quite a bit of annoyance when I refused to install it. Parents (70s) like Whatsapp because they don't have text on the cell plans (they have smartphones).

The thing is, they already communicate with Facebook Messenger and Skype and email. Why do I need to install yet another app just for them?

For my work I already have to accomodate the needs of clients and collaborators (for some reason it's alway me who has to be flexible about communication platform), so at the moment I use email, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype, GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business, BlueJeans, Zoom, WebRTC and Signal.

Signal does everything that Whatsapp does, and is secure. For some reason the other members of my family don't want to use it.

In any event, we just use Messenger. I don't have any Facebook-owned (or Amazon) apps on my phone. Instead, I use Facebook Messenger on Firefox using Facebook Container. If they need to contact me in an emergency, they can email or phone.

Besides my annoyance with being asked to use yet another messenging app, I also just totally and absolutely hate Whatsapp's UI. And the default setting of downloading images to my phone. When I first used Whatsapp (for work) I was unaware of this, and a torrent of images were downloaded to my phone, and then auto-synced with my photos in the cloud.

How annoying.
posted by JamesBay at 9:02 AM on May 9

Whether you are being reasonable depends on what you want from them.

Reasonable: Sorry, I really don't trust WhatsApp and don't want to install it on my phone. I'll come over when you get back and see all the pictures then.
Not Reasonable: Sorry, I really don't trust WhatsApp and don't want to install it on my phone. Please send all the pictures and whatnot to me through this other app that you don't normally use even though you are already sending them to everyone else through WhatsApp.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:15 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]

"Signal or GTFO" is a completely reasonable stance.
posted by flabdablet at 9:18 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

I hate WhatsApp and in particular, hate the people who seem so fucking set on using it that I wonder if they're somehow getting a kickback off of installs. It's like a weird cult.

BUT: there is little evidence that it is worse or more nefarious than any number of other messaging clients. It at least does E2E crypto by default, while Hangouts doesn't offer it at all (due to Google's total neglect of it), Facebook Messenger offers it only as an option, millenial favorite Instagram doesn't, iMessage does but quickly falls back to plaintext SMS in a fairly sloppily-UXed way (though Apple's incentives are not as obviously misaligned with your privacy as Facebook or Google's are).

The only widely-used app/service that is clearly better than WhatsApp is Signal, and that's true of Signal when compared to basically any other over-the-top (data based) messaging. (Yes there are other privacy-respecting, non-advertising-driven networks and apps, but AFAIK none of them have the users that Signal does.)

Personally, I have both WhatsApp and FB Messenger installed and use them both, because there are some people who are just not going to use Signal and don't have iOS devices for iMessage; the network effects pulling them towards other platforms are just too strong. And since my desire for privacy is mostly academic rather than practical (I don't really have anything worth snooping on), there's a limit to how much interaction with others I'm going to give up just to feel pure or philosophically consistent about my choice of communications apps.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:39 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

I'm on the "meh" side here. Even if you avoid the obvious end of the panopticlick, you're still getting spied on to basically the same degree.

I just use whatever my friends and family use and don't rock the boat about it. It's not worth the fight. "Secure" stuff is only hidden from the most banal level of ad data gathering anyways.
posted by emptythought at 10:33 AM on May 9

How important is it to you to get the photos and check-ins while they're travelling? If it's not, "I'm OK with not seeing your pictures and updates while you travel. I'm looking forward to hearing all about it when you get back" is a valid response.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:15 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]

Do they actually know and love WhatsApp, and have an installed base of peeps already set up? Is there someone else who got them to install the app in the first place?

I was able to sit everybody down at a family gathering and install signal on everyone’s phone. Then people started using the new blue icon without thinking about it.

Something to consider if there will be an event before the trip.
posted by unknown knowns at 5:01 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, there are huge regional differences here. I know people who literally could not communicate with their bosses or do their jobs without WhatsApp. Their bosses include fairly high-level national government employees. Not using it really isn't an option for many.

I'd say you're both right. It's an entirely reasonable thing to expect. And, it's an entirely reasonable thing to refuse. (Though, suggesting alternatives, like Signal, or plain old email, is also a good option.)
posted by eotvos at 8:52 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]

Please make sure the updates are installed:

WhatsApp hack: have I been affected and what should I do? (Guardian)
The spyware is capable of trawling through calls, texts and other data, activating the phone’s camera and microphone and performing other malicious activities.
WhatsApp urges users to update app after discovering spyware vulnerability (Guardian)
Attackers could transmit the malicious code to a target’s device by calling the user and infecting the call whether or not the recipient answered the call. Logs of the incoming calls were often erased, according to the report.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:15 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you need some pushback for the future, it looks like the WhatsApp exploit allowed spyware installation via an unanswered phone call, and if the spyware installation was successful the phone call was removed from the call logs.

Sounds like a factory reset of any phone which had WhatsApp on it may be in order.
posted by straw at 9:25 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

...followed by immediate installation of Signal and a principled refusal to use any other messenger.
posted by flabdablet at 10:36 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

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