The fall of WhatsApp; Tim Berners-Lee wants to remake the web; CES 2021; and more

💬 1 important thing: the fall of WhatsApp

Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company, recently announced an update to the popular end-to-end encrypted messaging app’s terms and conditions. As part of the new agreement, users will be forced to share their WhatsApp data with Facebook. Users have until February 8 to accept the new terms, and there’s no option to opt out.

“Many of us would mindlessly agree to this regular-looking policy update, but diving a little deeper into the text tells you how Facebook’s plan to use your WhatsApp data comes into play here,” writes Karandeep Singh for Android Police. “Hitting that "accept" button will give the IM app your irrevocable nod to share any information that it holds on you with Facebook and its various subsidiaries.”

This change has been confusing for many WhatsApp users, but this shared data practice has been happening for years, according to Wired.

When WhatsApp launched a major update to its privacy policy in August 2016, it started sharing user information and metadata with Facebook. At that time, the messaging service offered its billion existing users 30 days to opt out of at least some of the sharing. If you chose to opt out at the time, WhatsApp will continue to honor that choice. The feature is long gone from the app settings, but you can check whether you're opted out through the “Request account info” function in Settings.

For a messaging app that users rely on for privacy and security, this data sharing with Facebook has caused a revolt for many users, forcing many to look for alternative encrypted messaging apps, including Signal, which is the top messaging app in the iOS App Store at this time. This new policy update could result in the end of WhatsApp as we know it.

Why this matters

  • It’s past time for users to be able to take control of their data, without having to be concerned about how it’s used or shared. In just the week since I’ve been writing this newsletter, I’ve mentioned the importance of privacy several times (including in the story below). The mass collection and sharing of data has gone too far and users need to know that their data is secure, even if that requires regulations to help make that happen.

🕸 Tim Berners-Lee wants to remake the web

He’s the father of the World Wide Web, having created the system of media linking that is the backbone of the web today, and now Tim Berners-Lee wants to make the web he originally intended, one that allows users to control their own data.

“Too much power and too much personal data, he says, reside with the tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name,” notes the New York Times. “Fueled by vast troves of data, he says, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation.”

The solution, according to Berners-Lee, is to create personal online data stores, or “Pods.” The concept gives users control over their data, which are hosted within an individual’s data safe. This means users will control what data is stored and who has access to it. Users can then choose which companies can gain access to their data by sending them a secure link.

“Mr. Berners-Lee’s vision of personal data sovereignty stands in sharp contrast to the harvest-and-hoard model of the big tech companies,” the Times adds. “But it has some echoes of the original web formula — a set of technology standards that developers can use to write programs and that entrepreneurs and companies can use to build businesses.”

Why this matters

  • The control of user data has been a growing concern over the years and has attracted the attention of European Union and U.S. regulators, who want to clamp down on massive data collection. There are also a growing number of users who desire to take back control of their data. While many large tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and others, use user data to profit from advertising, a future where users control their data may include Berners-Lee’s Pods or a purchase-for-use service where users pay for the service in exchange for security. Either way, a more secure web is a more user-friendly web.

Need to know

  • 🚫 Twitter permanently bans Trump (The Verge)

  • ✈️ Bill Gates joins Blackstone in bid to buy British private jet firm (The Guardian)

  • 🍇 Amazon shuts down Prime Pantry delivery service (Gizmodo)

  • 🍿 Bored? Can’t go anywhere? Here are five sci-fi movies to watch (Inverse)

  • 💻 Six trends to watch for at CES 2021 (CNET)