WhatsApp will now allow businesses to contact you, and they’ll share your phone number, your contacts, the last time you used the app, and more, with their parent company – Facebook. This from a company that, only two years ago, at the time of the Facebook acquisition, said “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA”. Sorry, WhatsApp, this is not how DNA works.

Fortunately, there is a very good alternative, and it’s just as easy to use – Signal Private Messenger (for Android or iOS). If you would like more control of your information, install the Signal app and get your friends and family onto it – we’ve included some persuasive images to help you with that at the bottom of this page.

By the way, if you still need to use WhatsApp, here’s how you can set it up to share slightly less of your personal information.

So, what changed in terms of privacy?

Two years after the Facebook acquisition, on 25th August 2016, WhatsApp changed its Terms and Privacy Policy and we all saw this message on our phones. Many of us just tapped on “Agree” without thinking twice, as we have unfortunately been trained to do. But this change is big and, in our opinions, dangerous.

WhatsApp says you can choose not to share your information if you are an existing user. But this is quite deceptive.

  • By default you are sharing your information – you need to explicitly opt out by the end of this week (25th September).

  • New users don’t have this choice – do you want your friends to sign up to a service that doesn’t offer them control of their own information?

  • Throughout the policy, WhatsApp uses the phrase “to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences”. Even if you opt out of the data being used in this way, it is still collected and stored, and will be used in other ways.

Sharing your personal information by default, giving you a deadline for opting out, and denying new users a choice doesn’t sound like “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA”. It sounds like WhatsApp has been assimilated.

Privacy Zuckering is a phrase that was coined when Facebook introduced its woefully complicated privacy configuration, ensuring they could continue to benefit from our misunderstanding. Now they’ve Zuckered all over WhatsApp too.

Isn’t there a better way?

Introducing Signal

Signal Private Messenger is an open source secure messaging application, developed by Open Whisper Systems, who created the excellent protocols that other popular messenger apps have recently adopted to encrypt conversations. Its founder, Moxie Marlinspike, is a well-respected security researcher and a longtime advocate for private communication made simple.

You are not the product

Signal is supported by donations and grants. They don’t have a business model – they don’t profit from building profiles of their users’ personal information.

Private texts and calls

All messages and calls are private. Signal doesn’t have access to your conversations and no one else does either. In fact, unlike WhatsApp, Signal doesn’t even keep data on who talks to whom.

It is open source

Anyone can look at how the application is built and make sure it is safe, or suggest ways to improve it. This is proper security, not security by obscurity.

Why does this all matter?

Facebook builds profiles of our day-to-day lives in order to sell hyper-targeted advertising. They paid $19bn for WhatsApp, and now we see why. Facebook collects a lot of personal information about its 1.5 billion users, and with each company they buy, they get a little bit more. These profiles enable their business model, and it’s in their interest to make them as accurate as possible. But building these profiles does not necessarily benefit users – with Facebook and WhatsApp, you are the product.

And let’s not forget who Facebook’s data is shared with.

Moving on

Given WhatsApp’s change of values, it is time to move on and start using Signal (for Android or iOS), an app that allows you to communicate privately with your friends and family, without advertisers and other businesses siphoning off your information.

Tell your friends and family

Of course, the only reason to use Signal (or WhatsApp) is to talk to other people, so if you’re convinced of Signal’s value, it’s now time to convince your friends and family! We’ve put together these social media posts to help you – please share them far and wide.

Pause this and find a reason to switch from WhatsApp to Signal

Friends don’t let friends use WhatsApp. Friends use Signal

Privacy? Where we’re going we don’t need privacy.

Privacy? Where we’re going we don’t need privacy. Wrong. You have until this Sunday (25th September) to change your WhatsApp settings, and switch to Signal…

Posted by Robin Doherty and Pam Rucinque. Also available in Spanish and Portuguese.