WhatsApp, Trust, & Trusts
Companies aren’t designed to keep promises. Trusts are. We should use them together to build trustworthy digital spaces.
Yesterday, WhatsApp changed its Terms of Service in order to share metadata with its parent company, Facebook, and allow for unsolicited advertising messages to be sent to users. There’s been a range of tone in coverage, from “I told you so,” to “here’s how to opt-out” to “quit WhatsApp, use Signal,” to“holy shit can they really do that.” The privacy community isn’t wasting any time responding — UK regulators are promising an investigation and US advocates are planning a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Both are suggesting deceptive practices and violations of consent protections, and are responding in their jurisdictions. Whatever the repercussions, the regulatory and market response will be interesting statements about public tolerance for digital impunity.
WhatsApp’s two defining promises were privacy and absolutely no advertising. Yesterday, they broke both of them — striking a big blow to users, advocates, and the idea of independent, commercially viable messaging. This isn’t to beat up on WhatsApp, it’s to point out how ill-suited companies are to keep any kind of promise — especially if they’re acquired for an astronomical multiple of their annual revenue by an advertising company with a competing product in the market.