A WhatsApp message can kill you.
Text circulating in Madhya Pradesh resulted in a mob of about 50 people beating up two young men who were rumoured to be murderers selling body parts. An engineer was killed in a mob attack in the southern state of Karnataka, while five people were were beaten to death in Maharashtra’s Dhule district after being suspected of being members of a gang of child lifters. Two men were beaten to death and seven others were injured after a mob of villagers attacked them on suspicion of being robbers in Chandgaon village in Aurangabad. A 40-year-old woman was beaten to death by a mob on 26 June in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on the suspicion of being a child-lifter.
The list is endless and is heart-wrenching. In each of these cases, inflammatory messages circulated on WhatsApp were the trigger.
The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to take steps to prevent the circulation of false texts and provocative content that have led to this series of lynchings and mob beatings across the country in the past few months.
Under pressure from authorities, WhatsApp responded in a letter that it was "horrified" at the lynchings and took measures to end the spread of fake news by introducing new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded.
It has also bought out full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation.
While we do not know is if these measures are enough to curb the spread of fake news and the eventual lynchings that follow. An overhaul of in the use of the messaging platform can possibly help solve the problem. There is also the fact that WhatsApp alone can't be held accountable for the failings of the law enforcement agencies to do something about the lynchings.
21-year-old Junaid Khan has been in jail for the past five months after being made an admin by default on a WhatsApp group because some inappropriate content was shared.
If you do not want to be on WhatsApp anymore because you fear that you will be held accountable for the information circulated on any group that you might be an admin of, or if taking a lot of precautionary measures to keep away from fake news is a bit too cumbersome for you, here are three alternate messaging apps, Telegram, Hike and Signal, that we recommend.
Telegram was released in August 2013 with privacy and security as a sales pitch, when Snowden revealed the extent of the state-sponsored surveillance in the United States.
Also, the fact that it wasn't American could have attracted a lot of users worldwide because as of 24 February, 2014, Telegram was the most downloaded iPhone app in 48 countries.
What makes Telegram better than WhatsApp?
Also, when the Russian Government asked Telegram for encryption keys, Telegram declined the request. With Putin in power and the KGB unafraid of murdering defectors taking refuge in European countries, that refusal took a great deal of courage. This move made the app more popular, and many users appreciated it. Russia had later fined Telegram for the same. WhatsApp, on the other hand, is owned by Facebook, just like Instagram. This makes Facebook a monopoly. Telegram, then, sounds more reliable and solid in terms of security.
You also have an option to self-destruct the end-to-end encrypted messages.
Besides this, there are more features which make Telegram a winner. For example, file sharing. There is a size limit on WhatsApp on what one can upload, but this doesn’t exist on Telegram. Telegram becomes a good platform for file sharing as it allows heavy files to be transferred. On WhatsApp, while transferring files, one can expect a decrease in file size. However, in Telegram, you have an option to select a size. If you are sending a photograph, you have an option to select whether you want to send it as a file, which retains the original file size, or as a photo, which compresses the image. The same goes for videos as well as files in any format that you choose to share.
Further, Telegram has channels where you can connect to information that you’re interested in and you don’t have to be a part of a chat group. This is a distinct feature and is unavailable on WhatsApp.
Telegram never shows you any ads, it is run on Durov’s money. WhatsApp too has no ads popping up, but since it’s owned by Facebook, you never know when that might change.
The same goes for data. While both Telegram and WhatsApp both claim that they don't harvest the actual content of our messages, WhatsApp harvests other data from its users and uses it to tailor ads for them on its other platforms.
Other features that make Telegram cool include the option for you to add up to 1,00,000 members in one group. WhatsApp on the other hand, limits groups to 256 members. Of course, managing a group of 100,000 members can be hell, but hey, at least you can pin messages.
Also, Telegram has these things called stickers and since expressions are so important to all of us, the stickers do a good job of going beyond regular emojis.
The only drawback could be that everyone you know is on WhatsApp. Switching to Telegram will take some time. You can switch to Telegram for any of these reasons, or mostly because of WhatsApp’s poor security. At least in India, where the platform has become a hub for fake news, switching apps should give some of us some much-needed respite.
Hike is India’s own social and technology company. It’s the messenger app that we all know has been mostly selling graphical stickers and emoticons as its USP since the time that it first released about 5 years ago in December 2012.
The stickers are unique because they have plenty of one-liners from our beloved Bollywood movies that just adds to the conversations. 90 percent of the users on Hike are under the age of 30, and the average number of stickers sent via Hike in one month is about 3 billion.
That’s the fun part. Talking in terms of privacy, on Hike you need to send and accept friend requests in order to chat, like how you would in Facebook. While many people might find this process cumbersome, the feature just simply makes sure that no one can send you a message unless you’ve added them in, thus ensuring safety. Random people will not be able to send you messages simply by having your phone number in their contact list.
The other feature that makes Hike an option that you should opt for is the fact that it has an offline message feature. On WhatsApp, when you send a message to a friend who is offline, the message remains in the server and you have to wait until your friends come online to view it. On Hike, however, with the offline messages feature, if you want to send a message to a friend who is offline, you will be prompted with an option to send the message using free SMS or using your carrier’s regular SMS. This can help in situations of emergency, or at times when the other person might not have internet connectivity.
Hike also provides a feature called hidden chat which allows users to keep any particular chat that they may want private. These can only be accessed using a code. We do give our phones to people at times and they could then easily access our WhatsApp chats. With Hike, there will be an option to ensure privacy.
Besides this, users are allowed to decide who sees their ‘last seen’ and status updates. You can also do this on WhatsApp, but it is restricted to ‘everyone,’ ‘my contacts’ and ‘nobody.’ Hike goes further because you are able to select individually who sees these details.
In terms of sharing files, you can send videos, images and music as well as voice notes in any formats with sizes up to 100 MB. WhatsApp as we know, allows only up to 16 MB.
As of June 2017, hike Messenger has a total of 100 million registered users.
Hike also has an option for payments, a feature that was launched in June 2017. It was the first messaging app to integrate payments in India, and within six months of being launched, Hike saw as many as 10 million transactions including mobile recharges and peer-to-peer transfers.
The major difference between Hike and WhatsApp is that the former rides on the emphasis of local needs. Since it is a homegrown app, switching to Hike could mean that it could match our sensibilities.
The app also offers regional Indian languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and Kannada, which is all the more reason to opt for Hike. We already know how writing Hindi in the Roman script is not only painful to read but also to comprehend.
Why do people not opt for Hike then? This could probably be because they aren’t aware of what more the app offers than WhatsApp, and think that they both are the same.
According to a study titled “India: A growth opportunity for app developers,” WhatsApp has more Daily Active Users (DAU) than any other communication apps in the country. With that sort of competition, it has been difficult for Hike to flourish, but that’s not the point. It’s just that if it frustrates you to be on WhatsApp considering the above news, Hike is a great alternative.
Signal is the communication app that even privacy advocate Snowden recommends. It is probably the best app you can use if you want to ensure privacy at its best. It is owned by the software organisation Open Whisper Systems. According to Snowden, you can trust OWS. Coming from a man who's escaped the NSA and is currently taking refuge in a foreign land, this amounts to something.
Academy Award-winning journalist Laura Poitras, who made the documentary ‘Citizenfour’ on Snowden, also says that “Signal is the most scalable encryption tool we have… I encourage people to use it every day.” She was one of the initial three journalists to meet Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and to receive copies of the leaked NSA documents.
The reason why Signal is the most secure apps out there is due to the presence of an encryption protocol called ‘Signal Protocol.’ It is a cryptographic protocol used to provide end-to-end encryption for voice calls, video calls, and instant messaging conversations. You might not know it, but you are already using the protocol, because even WhatsApp uses the Signal protocol, along with Facebook Messenger and others.
This is the service that makes it possible to convert your message into a secret message that can only be decoded by its final recipient.
Since WhatsApp also uses the system, you might believe that you’re alright using the app. But That’s not the case, because WhatsApp collects ‘metadata.’
If you do not understand what this means, Snowden explained in a tweet.
Are your readers having trouble understanding the term "metadata"? Replace it with "activity records." That's what they are. #clarity
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 2, 2015
If you’re interested in learning what is metadata and how it matters, here’s an article on eff.org which explains the term clearly.
This brings us to a conclusion that just having end-to-end encryption does not prevent a messaging service from collecting data on you.
If you do not already know, WhatsApp collects a range of data from you. They have access to your WhatsApp contacts, which means that they can access your address book information. They also collect “service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (such as how you use our Services, how you interact with others using our Services, and the like), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports.” Not only that, Facebook also has access to your friends’ activity data.
Considering all these facts, just having end-to-end encryption does not make WhatsApp secure.
Signal only registers your phone number and knows when you last logged in. That’s all. It does not record the time of the day, and even has a feature to allow sending messages that disappear. It allows any conversation to be configured to ‘delete’ after a specified interval.
Signal too has voice and video calls so you will not miss those features if you choose to switch to Signal.
The things you might have to let go of are the features that WhatsApp provides. While Signal is a lot more privacy-friendly, WhatsApp has features that attract audiences. For example, WhatsApp allows you to send read receipts, see typing indicators, mute conversations, block contacts, and more. Signal, on the other hand, is a bit subdued and more utility oriented. It’s a barebones app.
Signal was born keeping security in mind and WhatsApp brought in that feature much later. This makes Signal a champion when we talk about privacy.
And again, if you’re specifically looking for a chat service high on privacy, Signal is a great option.
If you’re still wondering why privacy should matter, maybe watch this TED Talk by Gleen Greenwald. Greenwald was also one of the first reporters to see and write about the Snowden files. He explains why the public should care about privacy even if you're "not doing anything you need to hide."