The WhatsApp acquisition by Facebook made headlines yesterday because of the record sum paid by the social media giant for the messaging startup. That’s a whopping $19 billion for a company with 450 million active users – which is almost $42 per user! Taking into account a nominal service fee of $1/year charged by WhatsApp, it’s quite obvious that this revenue stream can’t cover the acquisition cost in the short or mid-term. Naturally, this raises an apprehension that in-app ads will eventually emerge in WhatsApp along with accompanying privacy-intrusive monitoring tools, including message scanning (think Gmail). Is it time to seek a replacement for WhatsApp?
First, don’t panic. This question is hardly urgent. In their posts regarding the acquisition, both Facebook’s head Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp boss Jan Koum stress that WhatsApp remains a separate company with its own independent policy. Jan Koum is famous for his disapproval of an ad-driven revenue model, so we don’t expect ads and analytics to emerge anytime soon. Of course, everything changes over time, and this situation can change as well. However, if you decide to disembark the WhatsApp boat, you have plenty of time to find a perfect alternative and convince your friends to switch.
Second, there are no new reasons to worry about messaging privacy. Honestly speaking, WhatsApp was never meant to be a true confidential messaging tool; there were even multiple breaches in the past, including some attacks, which make eavesdropping possible. Today, WhatsApp uses receive reasonable encryption, plus service owners claim that users’ messages are never stored after delivery to the recipient. So don’t expect Facebook data miners to dig into your message history. However, there are special tools for confidential messaging and the Facebook deal has nothing to do with WhatsApp messaging privacy. Focus more on the NSA and similar agencies if you are worried about third parties reading your texts.
So to sum this all up, there is no reason to urgently switch from WhatsApp to another mobile messaging platform. Confidential data shouldn’t be sent unencrypted over standard communication channels, be it Facebook, WhatsApp or e-mail. Use dedicated security tools to protect your data from prying eyes. The real threat to watch for in the near future is a wave of fake emails and messages urging you to “confirm your WhatsApp account” or “opt out of Facebook ads inside WhatsApp” or something similar. Those messages will definitely contain a malicious link and clicking on it may infect your device or lead you to a phishing page trying to steal personal data from you. WhatsApp and Facebook won’t send anything like this so don’t fall victim to such a scam.