I no longer have a Whatsapp account.

I deleted my Whatsapp account (so I thought) in April 2021.

What was the impact on me?

Well, without Whatsapp, I live much better but not without communicating because I do it daily with systems and services that I consider more suitable and secure.

The consequences to which I am now accustomed.

Even today - after more than a year - many people tell me by phone or through other messaging apps that they have written to me on Whatsapp and have not received a response.

I usually respond to everyone quickly as well, not being used to leaving communications hanging or ignoring those who contact me.

The problem, however, is not mine but Whatsapp’s that allows these (unsuspecting) people to view my profile (long since deleted).

I have tried to address the issue by relying on Whatsapp’s support service, and, despite my numerous requests, their “default” responses have always been of the same tenor. Indeed, I received the same message like, “we confirm that your account has been deleted,” with the associated closure of the ticket. I have deliberately avoided exercising my rights by turning to the Irish Data Protection Authority.

While it is unclear (an idea, however, I have) why many people continue to see my profile on Whatsapp to send me messages, it is, on the other hand, blatantly obvious that my profile has not been completely deleted.

It often happens that I hear from someone who intends to contact me on Whatsapp, and when I reply that I do not have an account, the immediate reaction is one of profound astonishment, as if they are looking at a Paleozoic-era man (and maybe they are).

Finally, perhaps, fortunately, some more observant people ask me, “Why did you decide to delete your Whatsapp account?”

This question would deserve a full and articulate answer. Still, sometimes partly because of limited time and partly because I don’t want to be too “technical”-it is not easy to provide detailed explanations. The interlocutors, however, patiently listen to me while I sense a sense of their bewilderment that causes me to suspend my clarifications initiated even with some enthusiasm.

My “whys.”

I try to answer the question that people usually ask me in very concise terms.

Whatsapp is based on a centralized system. The companies WhatsApp Ireland Limited (for users residing in the European Region) and WhatsApp LLC (for users residing outside the European Region) have complete control over the computer systems and related data.

Consequently, the user does not have complete control over their personal data; I recall what I reiterate very frequently, and that is that Whereas(7) of the GDPR, in its second part, provides “It is appropriate that natural persons have control over personal data relating to them and that legal and operational certainty is enhanced for natural persons as well as for economic operators and public authorities.” Control of personal data about us is a legally crystallized principle in European legislation and is not an opinion or practice. Moreover, the GDPR provides for the principle of “data minimization” in Article 5(1)(c), and the data controller (Whatsapp) must comply with it.

What data does Whatsapp collect to create an account? The answer is in WhatsApp Privacy Policy, in which we read “Your Account Information. You must provide your mobile phone number and a profile name of your choice to create a WhatsApp account. If you don’t provide us with this information, you will not be able to create an account to use our Services. You can add other optional information to your account, such as a profile picture, and “about” information.” The cell phone number is a sensitive piece of information that a provider should not ask for account creation if you follow the criteria that you usually use only by a username and password.*

One need only continue reading the Whatsapp Privacy Policy for further food for thought regarding both the quantity and quality of personal data collected and the sharing of data with other group companies (the policy states “We work with Meta Companies in the United States that assist us with the operation of our Services. To receive these services we share Information We Collect.”). Also, please read in the policy statement the purposes and related legal bases to get an idea. The legal basis of legitimate interest for Business intelligence and analytics activities is striking; in essence, “I know everything about you user.”

Whatsapp application code is proprietary means it is impossible to examine it and thus know what the processes are. The user cannot do anything but be forced to trust it.

Regarding security, Whatsapp statesThe Signal Protocol, designed by Open Whisper Systems, is the basis for WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption This end-to-end encryption protocol is designed to prevent third parties and WhatsApp from having plaintext access to messages or calls.”. In this case, security profiles are not the crux of the issue, in our opinion.

What I disagree.

At this point, I am the one who asks, “Why do you use Whatsapp?”

I usually receive the same awkward and embarrassing response from the tenor “Because everyone uses it.”

So I give the interlocutor some data on Whatsapp:

  • 2.2 billion active users in 2021, and the first quarter of 2022, 2.376 billion users;
  • in 2021, 5.3 million downloads;
  • worldwide popularity of 31%;
  • WhatsApp’s annual revenue in 2021 of $8.7 billion: what is the revenue, aside from advertising, considering that the app is free?

The chart below (source https://www.businessofapps.com/data/whatsapp-statistics/) clarifies WhatsApp users per quarter from 2012 to 2022 (in mm).

WhatsApp quarterly users 2012 to 2022 (mm)

This data, in our opinion, does not lay in Whatsapp’s favor.

Earlier I called the response received from the interlocutor “angry and embarrassing” because it should also be considered as an indicator of the social conditioning caused by the Whatsapp “phenomenon.”

Indeed, beyond the above arguments, serious consideration should be given to the phenomenon that qualifies the user as a “Whatsapp addict” since it prevents them from abandoning that app. In essence, a real “addiction” to Whatsapp has been determined to distress the user the moment it is proposed to change the solution. The Whatsapp user does not intend to leave the app because he fears that he will no longer be able to communicate if he leaves the “mega-group” of Whatsapp users.

We can define the phenomenon in terms of addiction, awe, and slavery, but we must remember that we are free and especially to choose.

Privacy effects of “distorted” use of Whatsapp.

This aspect is unrelated to the app and depends solely on individual users. In any case, in our opinion, it constitutes a significant phenomenon.

Strange but true: many people also use Whatsapp for work by exchanging documents (sometimes even with sensitive data) and sending strictly private and confidential voice messages.

The data controller and processor, taking technical and organizational measures, complying with the GDPR, for Italy also the privacy code, should prepare good corporate practices and policies to discourage the use of Whatsapp in organizations.

Unfortunately, in reality, the opposite happens very often; legitimizing communication through Whatsapp reiterates a centralized system without any control by the user, even by sending documents or images of them with frequently sensitive contents.

The same applies to public agencies, where there are not a few cases of officials accustomed to the reckless and audacious use of Whatsapp both for internal service communications and sometimes for those with users.

Almost all sectors have a terrible habit of knowingly (?) exchanging sensitive communications, even by sending documentation. Very frequently, it happens to make a dispatch- perhaps even of document-by mistaking recipients.

Separate discussion deserves voice messages exchanged between users that - we remind ourselves - flow to the servers of a centralized system where the user has no control. Indeed, the user can delete the individual message, image, and content exchanged with other users. Still, they have no power to control that these elements have also been removed from the servers.

What awareness and cautions?

One uses a messaging app to communicate in a secure manner, allowing the user to have complete control over their personal data and perhaps even with decentralized resources.

How can anyone still think that Whatsapp is a suitable solution for messaging?

After what we illustrated, in our opinion, it is absurd to think that Whatsapp can be a suitable solution for messaging.

The user’s primary role imposes on the data controller the utmost respect for current legislation on data protection and privacy.

The user must always be free to have complete control over their personal data in a system that should be decentralized and not, instead, concentrated in the hands of a single entity.

Moreover, in Europe, the proposal on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) imposes further reflections. In fact, “gatekeepers” will be required to comply with the proposal’s rules, allowing other players to obtain APIs so that users can access them from different resources, as, moreover, indicated in the press release issued in March.

The European Commission recently sent a second letter to Whatsapp “reiterating their request that consumers must be clearly informed about WhatsApp’s business model and, in particular, whether WhatsApp derives revenues from commercial policies relating to users’ personal data.”.

Incidentally, it should not be forgotten that Whatsapp received an ultimatum from the European Union earlier this year regarding terms and conditions of service, not excluding the conditions stated in the privacy policy.

Appropriate assessments should be made, in advance, about the data controller’s compliance with the GDPR rules and, specifically, knowing how a messaging app provider complies with them in practice.

The critical issues we have outlined are the ones that prompted us to delete our Whatsapp account.

That is not why we were isolated from the world without communication tools.

The solutions are there, and we will outline them in the next contribution we will publish soon.

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