It finally happened. My mother joined Facebook. I’m not sure what the current population of planet earth is, but it’s probably around 1.28 billion. I know this because that’s how many people are currently using Facebook.
A few years ago when the company went public, people started complaining about a perceived lack of privacy. Most people were concerned that the constantly evolving format created a need to always be aware that what you were posting would be directed to the appropriate audience. What many people hadn’t yet realized was that Facebook had begun mining information at an unprecedented rate.
Sign-in to Facebook today and notice that those shoes you just considered purchasing are now featured prominently on your news feed. That Google search you just performed has now caused advertisements to display alongside your profile. It almost seems like Mark Zuckerberg is stalking us. Taking their data-mining scheme to the next level, Facebook has gone on a spending spree. They recently purchased popular apps Instagram and Whatsapp. Those who use these apps have probably noticed that you can login to them using your Facebook information.
As the complaints have increased, Facebook has come up with a proposed solution – the “anonymous login.” What it will do is allow users to login to third-party apps without giving any personal information to that app. However, Facebook will still verify your identity, know what app you’ve signed in to, and they’ll know how often you sign in and how much time you spend on that app.
It seems that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean what we thought. Where should the data-mining line be drawn?
How does a relatively unprofitable company of about 50 employees whose product is a blatant copy of another’s get acquired for 19 billion dollars in five years? The answer might not be entirely clear, but Facebook shareholders hope that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a good idea after Facebook’s acquisition of mobile messaging app “WhatsApp” for $19 Billion. WhatsApp users also would like to know what this all means for the service they have deeply integrated into their lives.
WhatsApp had its start by offering a BlackBerry Messenger like experience for mobile devices other than BlackBerrys. What that means is that this kind of messaging service offers a much richer experience and allows for enhanced speed and security by utilizing internet data services as opposed to a traditional SMS text message. Today, WhatsApp has a user base of about 450 million monthly active users, with billions of messages being sent every day, and is growing at 1 million users a day. The company charges its users a dollar a year to use the service, making a profit nowhere near the $19 Billion purchase price by Facebook. Looking at Facebook’s current ad based revenue it enjoys through its other services it is not farfetched to suspect a change in the monetization strategy of WhatsApp. Despite these concerns WhatsApp CEO assures the Wall Street Journal that he believes WhatsApp “will stay completely independent and autonomous.”
These kinds of changes may concern the millions who use and trust WhatsApp especially with all of this happening on the heels of a report by Canadian and Dutch agencies having concerns over the privacy of users of WhatsApp due to violations of international privacy law. The report found that although WhatsApp had made some changes, the report still concluded that “The investigation revealed that WhatsApp was violating certain internationally accepted privacy principles, mainly in relation to the retention, safeguard, and disclosure of personal data.” Facebook has been no stranger to privacy concerns and controversy and users of WhatsApp will have to take all of this information into account when choosing what mobile messaging app they will like to use.
For now it is uncertain what changes, if any, will come to WhatsApp after this acquisition by Facebook. With more secure services like BlackBerry Messenger recently going cross-platform consumers will have to consider which companies they want to possibly have access to their conversations and personal information.
In the comments I would love to hear how you message friends (sms, imessage, bbm, whatsapp, kik, facebook messenger, etc) and why you use that service. Should we be concerned about the violation of privacy laws by some of these companies? What steps should be taken to protect consumers who utilize these services?