2016 saw one of the biggest mud fights between the U.S government and one of the most popular agents of big data, Apple. The FBI wanted access to the iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters who killed 14 people in late 2015. Apple resisted the government’s request, citing the risk of setting a dangerous precedence in efforts to safeguard user data and personal information.
Among other things, this has exposed the soft underbelly of human rights and freedoms in the face of a growing digital world that is ferrying more data than was ever imaginable. Social platforms and mobile apps are becoming more data-centric, usually depending on personal information to improve and customize the user’s experience.
But are these platforms doing enough to ensure your information is protected?
Check out these 5 popular messaging platforms where your personal data might just be at risk.
1. BlackBerry Messenger
Long before WhatsApp and Google Hangouts became famous, BlackBerry Messenger – BBM – was the king of instant messaging. In the mid-2000s, instant messaging was a fast and often cheaper way of sending messages and BBM was comfortably in the driver’s seat. By 2012, BBM had over 60 million users around the world.
A few years later, BlackBerry started its downfall, taking BBM with it. There were many reasons for the fall of BlackBerry, one of them being privacy issues with BBM. While BBM provided end-to-end encryption for messages on the platform, this was only available in the paid version of the app. This meant that users with the basic version of the application did not have their messages encrypted.
BBM only recently unlocked some of the privacy features on the premium package for its basic users. Others are still exclusively available on the premium version, which basically means data associated with basic users can still be accessed by governments and spy agencies whenever they want to.
Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has grown to become one of the most popular social platforms for image and video sharing. Snapchat allows you to take photos and videos which are then deleted 10 seconds after the recipient views them. That means you are less likely to get stalkers and other sinister individuals downloading your photos and videos for their personal use, right? Wrong.
Users can still take screenshots of your pictures before the 10-second countdown expires. You still get a notification when a screenshot is taken, but that’s pretty much the only defense you have.
3. Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts is one of Google’s IM platforms that offer one of the simplest interfaces for any IM platform. Hangouts supports video calls and conferencing, which makes it a worthy alternative to Skype. However, Hangouts doesn’t support end-to-end encryption, which makes it easy for anyone with the right tools and authority to access your messages.
Viber is another popular IM app that enables users to send and receive both voice and video messages. It has over 100 million active monthly users and growing, which makes it extremely popular in a world dominated by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Viber provides end-to-end encryption for messages sent between its users. However, Viber does not provide a definition of threats on its policy document and also has a poor notification system about available threats within the app.
WeChat is a cross-platform IM application that enables users to send voice, video, and text messages. It is also one of the fastest growing chat applications in the world, with over a billion accounts having been created as of 2016. It is owned by Tencent, a company based in China, which means communication via the app is regulated under Chinese law.
WeChat collects personal information from users but does not apply any form of encryption on messages sent between users. Amnesty International recently cited WeChat as one of the platforms with the poorest policies for freedom of expression and data security. This essentially means that any data and personal information sent via WeChat can be accessed by third parties such as governments.
Instant messaging has become an intrinsic part of everyday life that most of us can’t do without. The threat to personal privacy, however, is as real as could be. If you are a user on any of the platforms discussed, there are practical measures you can take to ensure the safety and security of your data.
It’s a big data world out there, so stay safe and put a lock on your personal information.
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