As you may have already seen, the world of social media has recently gone up in flames. Twitter has shut down Donald Trump’s account, Apple banned ‘Parler’, the conservative social media platform, from their app store, and WhatsApp is forcing users to adhere to obscure terms and conditions.
So, does this mean all the popular social media platforms will now censor all of our content?
It is scary to see how Twitter is handling the situation. Even Apple. But we’re going to focus on how what’s currently going on with WhatsApp is extremely different.
However, we need to keep in mind that none of this has, at any point, impacted one of WhatsApp’s prime features: end-to-end encryption. Messages, photos, and other content you send and receive on WhatsApp can only be viewed on your smartphone and the devices of the people you choose to message with. WhatsApp and Facebook itself cannot access your communications. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to expanding end-to-end encryption offerings as part of tying the company’s different communication platforms together. This privacy feature doesn’t mean there isn’t still a trove of other data WhatsApp can collect and share about you and how you utilize their platform. The company states that it collects user information “to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services.”
So what do all those terms mean? Is it time to panic? Should we be switching to other apps like Telegram and Signal?
The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. If you read the terms and conditions for the app Signal, you’ll notice that it’s extremely similar to WhatsApp’s. Is it worth it to switch? Probably not. As for Telegram, there’s an extreme danger that the frum world isn’t taking into account.
I currently co-host a podcast called ‘Meaningful People‘ with my friend, Nachi Gordon. We sit down each week with the frum communities’ most influential people and talk to them about their lives. A year ago, I was doing research online and discovered that Telegram is home to many “groups” that act as great sources of information. Not knowing much about the app, I downloaded it hoping to discover said ‘groups’ dedicated to podcasting and interviewing. Instead, I was horrified. While Telegram may seem like a similar platform to WhatsApp, it is also “open to the public”. This means, almost anyone can search for and join groups dealing with illegal drugs, “filth”, and other dark web media. What makes it so dangerous is that it’s so easy to accidentally stumble into these groups or “people nearby your area” (a feature that allows you to connect with any telegram user nearby). On our episode with Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh HaYeshiva of Darchei Torah, (back in early 2020) he even mentioned the dangers of Telegram’s ability to send extremely large uncensored files.
Many people have been ditching WhatsApp and switching over to Telegram without recognizing the potential danger involved.
So what should you do?
There are really only two options:
1) Stick with WhatsApp and continue to let them tap into the data that you’ve basically already been allowing them access to for the past four years.
2) Completely boycott Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsft, and all social media platforms. Big tech uses your data to understand you better. Contrary to popular conspiracy theories, there likely isn’t some nefarious scheme to read all your texts, download all your photos, and ultimately clone your brain for the next generation of AI bionic beings.
One thing is certain. Hashem has more data on you than you can imagine.
Yaakov Langer is a digital marketer, co-founder and co-host of Meaningful People Podcast and co-founder of @YidWithSign.