Why I deleted my WhatsApp account

This week I deleted my WhatsApp account for the reasons listed below.

My privacy is not respected

WhatsApp uses phone numbers as IDs. I can’t chat with anyone without giving them my phone number, which would be okay for family and friends but it’s entirely not okay with strangers. To make things worse, my phone number is broadcasted to all group members when I’m unwillingly added to groups (more on that later).

I understand that phone numbers offer some advantages for service providers and users alike because they usually map to a single person and it’s a concept most people are familiar with. However, WhatsApp could have adopted a login system, as Telegram did, and allow users to decide what works better for them.

Unfortunately, some companies insist on using SMS as a 2nd-factor authentication mechanism despite all its flaws which makes sharing my phone number a security issue as well.

Anyone can add me to a group

WhatsApp does not have a group invite system. Groups administrators are allowed to add anyone to their groups without first asking if users would like to join. The “solution” is a cat-and-mouse game where you have to block the administrator that added you, only to be added later by a different administrator.

Recently, WhatsApp added a mechanism by which you can leave a group twice and then if an administrator tries to add you a third time, they won’t be allowed. That’s awesome! So now you have to follow this script:

A proper solution? Just add group invites like any sane chat platform. It’s simple and easy.

Fake news heaven

In 2018, we had elections in Brazil, and I had a massive amount of fake news sent to me on a daily basis.

Since I don’t like to be manipulated and also don’t like to see my family and friends being manipulated, I decided to investigate most of the content that was shared with me and report back if it was fake, hoping to deter people from spreading misinformation and raise awareness about the issue.

I don’t remember getting a single thank you from anyone that shared fake content with me. Quite the opposite, it only got me into more arguments.

Too much power deposited in a single company

WhatsApp is ubiquitous in Brazil. Besides being used to talk with friends and family, it’s also used as a support channel for companies, to schedule all sorts of appointments (including medical ones), to talk to your bank manager, etc. It’s used by everybody for everything.

It’s become so critical that I would dare to compare it to public utility companies. Yet, there is zero regulation on it. Network effects also ensure a de facto monopoly without any competition. This is far from ideal.

Additionally, Facebook and Instagram are the other social media platforms most people use, and now you have a single company to worry about: Facebook Inc. This is complete madness at a country level.

I’m not advocating for heavy regulation like some politicians affected by fake news are. They are more worried about their reputation and getting votes in the next elections. While I’m more concerned about a healthy platform that doesn’t lock you in and respects your privacy.

Adopting some federation system would likely make things more complicated for WhatsApp and users alike, but it’s a necessary evil for something as critical as it’s become. People learned to use user@domain for email just fine, so I think they will manage as well.

Proprietary software

While there are a considerable number of chat platforms out there, we can’t ignore network effects. If we are going to have a de facto chat platform, I’d prefer it was not completely proprietary from client to server like WhatsApp is.

I consider myself an open source advocate, and I don’t have much else to say about this. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to be contributing to WhatsApp success when they hold orthogonal values to mine. Congratulations to them for creating a platform that people find useful and that has achieved massive adoption, but I’d instead contribute to something else more open.

The burden is always on me

If my phone number gets shared and later spammed, the burden is on me to find a solution to block that.

If I’m added to groups I don’t want to join, the burden is on me to leave the groups and argue with their administrators.

And now the cherry on top to make me less likely to go back to WhatsApp again. If I delete my WhatsApp account as I did, WhatsApp doesn’t have the decency to let me go peacefully: it spams all groups with the message “John Doe has left the group.” No, I haven’t! I deleted my WhatsApp account, that’s pretty different.

So the burden now is on me to fence off questions about why I left such and such group. Do I hold a grudge against someone? Did something happen? No, I just deleted my WhatsApp account. I did not decide to leave any specific group.

I understand why WhatsApp wouldn’t want to spam all groups with “John Doe deleted his WhatsApp account” but at least let me go quietly.

Final words

Chat platforms have become really important in our society to the point where I was asked if I was okay when I deleted my WhatsApp account. I am okay and pretty calm. I don’t wish to become a hermit. I want to keep in touch with friends and family. But it bothers me that this much of my social life is in the hands of WhatsApp. So I’m doing something about it.

I’m unlikely to convert friends and family to another chat platform that is less problematic. To begin with, I don’t even have a chat platform that I would recommend to anyone in 2018, which is really sad. I have a lot of hope for Matrix.org but it needs to improve its usability before I can responsibily suggest that to my family.

Hopefully, quitting WhatsApp will give me some mental space to focus on other more productive things and stop ranting on the Internet.

UPDATE: As a compromise, I bought a pre-paid SIM card, recreated my WhatsApp account and only shared the number with a few people. This is like me having to pay to select a different login name (if WhatsApp even allowed that). This new number is not used for anything other than WhatsApp so it should minimize my attack surface. I will have to load some credits on it from time to time to keep the number, so I guess WhatsApp isn’t totally free for me anymore (which is fine, I’d gladly pay for having a decent service but WhatsApp isn’t into that).