From a purely privacy-focused perspective, it can be hard to convince people to jump ship from WhatsApp to a series of less-popular alternatives
But we can, and should, think about apps in terms of more than just message privacy. I use Signal at least partially because it is end-to-end encrypted, but also because it’s an independent non-profit, with development supported by grants and donations. There is no risk of my metadata on this platform being shared with a major tech company. I can’t switch to it completely – it doesn’t yet have the critical mass needed for me to be able to do so – but it’s always good to have options. This is what the Facebook monopoly takes from us: the ability to be able to choose between apps and platforms, and to get rid of them if we want to. And as much as I want convenience, I also want interesting social media platforms, different user experiences, and innovative apps. When I eventually quit Facebook, it will be at least partly because the platform itself has become dull and overcrowded, amalgamating different affordances of competitors which it has bought out rather than building anew. If we ever want to build a tech landscape that thinks about different communities and alternative user experiences, we need to stop letting major tech companies write the story of social media.
We may not all be ready to quit Facebook products for good, but it’s important that we attempt to explain to ourselves what kind of platforms – or indeed, protocols – we want to support. We can and should be able to ask more from platforms than just the assurance that they are upholding basic message privacy and convenience.
Nayana Prakash is a doctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, writing primarily on gender, colonialism and technology in India.