Archiv der Kategorie: Privacy

It’s time to ditch Chrome

It’s time to ditch Chrome

As well as collecting your data, Chrome also gives Google a huge amount of control over how the web works
Its time to ditch Chrome
Kheat / GOOGLE / WIRED
 

Despite a poor reputation for privacy, Google’s Chrome browser continues to dominate. The web browser has around 65 per cent market share and two billion people are regularly using it. Its closest competitor, Apple’s Safari, lags far behind with under 20 per cent market share. That’s a lot of power, even before you consider Chrome’s data collection practices. 

Is Google too big and powerful, and do you need to ditch Chrome for good? Privacy experts say yes. Chrome is tightly integrated with Google’s data gathering infrastructure, including services such as Google search and Gmail – and its market dominance gives it the power to help set new standards across the web. Chrome is one of Google’s most powerful data-gathering tools.

Google is currently under fire from privacy campaigners including rival browser makers and regulators for changes in Chrome that will spell the end of third-party cookies, the trackers that follow you as you browse. Although there are no solid plans for Europe yet, Google is planning to replace cookies with its own ‘privacy preserving’ tracking tech called FLoC, which critics say will give the firm even more power at the expense of its competitors due to the sheer scale of Chrome’s user base.

Chrome’s hefty data collection practices are another reason to ditch the browser. According to Apple’s iOS privacy labels, Google’s Chrome app can collect data including your location, search and browsing history, user identifiers and product interaction data for “personalisation” purposes. Google says this gives you the ability to enable features such as the option to save your bookmarks and passwords to your Google Account. But unlike rivals Safari, Microsoft’s Edge and Firefox, Chrome links this data to devices and individuals.

Although Chrome legitimately needs to handle browsing data, it can siphon off a large amount of information about your activities and transmit it to Google, says Rowenna Fielding, founder and director of privacy consultancy Miss IG Geek. “If you’re using Chrome to browse the internet, even in private mode, Google is watching everything you do online, all the time. This allows Google to build up a detailed and sophisticated picture about your personality, interests, vulnerabilities and triggers.”

When you sync your Google accounts to Chrome, the data slurping doesn’t stop there. Information from other Google-owned products including its email service Gmail and Google search can be combined to form a scarily accurate picture. Chrome data can be added to your geolocation history from Google Maps, the metadata from your Gmail usage, your social graph – who you interact with, both on and offline – the apps you use on your Android phone, and the products you buy with Google Pay. “That creates a very clear picture of who you are and how you live your life,” Fielding says.

As well as gathering information about your online and offline purchases, data from Google Pay can be used “in the same way as data from other Google services,” says Fielding. “This is not just what you buy, but also your location, device contacts and information, and the links those details provide so you can be identified and profiled across multiple datasets.”

Google’s power goes even further than its own browser market share. Competitor browsers such as Microsoft’s Edge are based on the same engine, Chromium. “So under the hood they are still a form of Chrome”, says Sean Wright, an independent security researcher.

Google’s massive market share has allowed the internet giant to develop web standards such as AMP in Google mobile search, which publishers must use in order to appear at the top of search results. And more recently, Chrome’s FLoC effectively gives Google control over the ad tracking tech that will replace third-party cookies – although this is being developed in the open and with feedback from other developers.

Google’s power allows it to set the direction of the industry, says Wright. “Some of those changes are good, including the move to make HTTPS encryption a default, but others are more self-serving, such as the FLoC proposal.”

Google says its Ads products do not access synced Chrome browsing history, other than for preventing spam and fraud. The firm outlines that the iOS privacy labels represent the maximum categories of data that can be gathered, and what is actually collected depends on the features you use in the app, and how you configure your settings. It also claims its open-source FLoC API is privacy-focused and will not give Google Ads products special privileges or access.

Google says privacy and security “have always been core benefits of the Chrome browser”. A Google spokesperson highlighted the Safe Browsing features that protect against threats such as phishing and malware, as well as additional controls to help you manage your information in Chrome. In recent years the company has introduced more ways you can control your data. “Chrome offers helpful options to keep your data in sync across devices, and you control what activity gets saved to your Google Account if you choose to sign in,” the spokesperson says.

But that doesn’t change the level of data collection possible, or the fact that Google has so much sway, simply through its market dominance and joined up ad-driven ecosystem. “When you are a company that has the majority share of browsers and internet search, you suddenly have a huge amount of power,” says Matthew Gribben, a former GCHQ cybersecurity consultant. “When every web developer and SEO expert in the world needs to pander to these whims, the focus becomes on making sites work well for Google at the expense of everything else.”

And as long as people use Chrome and other services – many of which are, admittedly, more user friendly than those of rivals – then Google’s power shows no signs of diminishing. Chrome provides Google with “enormous amounts of behavioural and demographic data, control over people’s browsing experience, a platform for shaping the web to Google’s own advantage, and brand ‘capture’”, Fielding says. “When people’s favourite tools, games and sites only work with Chrome, they are reluctant to switch to an alternative.”

In theory, competition and data protection laws should provide the tools to keep Google from getting out of control, says Fielding. But in practice, “that doesn’t seem to be working for various reasons – including disparities of wealth and power between Google and national regulators”. Fielding adds that Google is also useful to many governments and economies and it is tricky to enforce national laws against a global corporation.

There are steps you can take to lock down your account, such as preventing your browsing data being collected by not syncing Chrome, and turning off third-party cookie tracking. But note that the more features you use in Chrome, the more data Google needs to ensure they can function properly. And as Google’s power and dominance continues to surge, the other option is to ditch Chrome altogether.

If you do decide to ditch Chrome, there are plenty of other feature-rich privacy browser options to consider, including Firefox, Brave and DuckDuckGo, which don’t involve giving Google any of your data.

source: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-chrome-browser-data

Google increasingly complicates the balance between the privacy its users deserve and the targeted advertising that drives its business.   

Abstract: Android has come a long way in enhancing its security features and building out privacy controls for users, including with its Android 12 innovations. But as Apple continues to crack down on ad-tracking in an iOS 14 feature, the bar is higher than ever—and in ways that increasingly complicate Google’s balance between the privacy its users deserve and the targeted advertising that drives its business. 

Android 12 Lets You See What Your Apps Are Getting IntoA new privacy dashboard and “app hibernation” are coming to Google’s mobile operating system.man on phoneGoogle’s new privacy dashboard breaks down app activity by category— like “Location,” “Camera,” and “Microphone”—and then shows you which apps accessed those mechanisms, and for how long.Photograph: Getty Images

Google: Marketers assign your Google device an ID and then monitor your web and in-app behavior across different platforms to generate composite profiles of demographic information, purchasing habits, and life events

The New iOS Update Lets You Stop Ads From Tracking You—So Do It

Facebook and other advertisers fought the move, but App Tracking Transparency is finally here.
apple logo
The long-awaited iOS 14.5 update gives you superpowers over cross-platform tracking.Photograph: MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty Images

If you’re sick of opaque ad tracking and don’t feel like you have a handle on it, a new iOS feature promises to give you back some control. With the release of Apple’s iOS 14.5 on Monday, all of your apps will have to ask in a pop-up: Do you want to allow this app to track your activity across other companies‘ apps and websites? For once, your answer can be no.

A lot of the biggest data privacy crises of the past few years have come not from breaches but from all the opaque policies around how companies share user data and track those users across services for targeted advertising. Marketers assign your device an ID and then monitor your web and in-app behavior across different platforms to generate composite profiles of demographic information, purchasing habits, and life events. Apple has already taken a strong stand to disrupt ad tracking in its Safari browser; this iOS update brings the showdown to mobile. But while the step may seem like a no-brainer to iOS users, it’s been deeply controversial with companies built on ad revenue, including and especially Facebook.“This is a significant and impactful move,” says Jason Kint, CEO of the digital publishing trade organization Digital Content Next. (WIRED parent company Condé Nast is a member.) “The digital advertising business has been mostly built off of micro-targeting audiences. Facebook, as an example, has code embedded in millions of apps to collect data to target audiences wherever it wants as promptly as possible—and this cuts that off.”iOS already gave its users the option to turn off ad ID sharing completely, essentially zeroing out the unique identifier on your phone, known as IDFA, that iOS gives developers for in-app and cross-service tracking. iOS 14.5’s new requirements, though, compel each app to put the question to users individually through Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework, so you have more granular control. This allows you to grant the privilege to certain apps if, for example, you would rather see tailored ads on a particular service. But it also will simply expose how many apps participate in cross-service ad tracking, including some you may not have suspected.“We believe tracking should always be transparent and under your control,” Katie Skinner, an Apple user privacy software manager, said at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last June. „So moving forward, App Store policy will require apps to ask before tracking you across apps and websites owned by other companies.“

iphone screenshot

After you install iOS 14.5, you’ll see this pop-up when you open any app that tracks you across the web.

Photograph: Apple
Though the tracking changes in iOS 14.5 are significant, they don’t extend beyond the walled garden that is iOS. Kint likens the immediate impact to squeezing one part of a water balloon: The liquid just expands to the other side. Platforms like Android and the web on most browsers will still allow tracking, and marketers may focus even more strongly there. But Apple’s step with ATT could ultimately spark broader change.

For now, though, just download iOS 14.5 if you have an iPhone, and get ready to start tapping “Ask App not to Track” whenever you see it. Especially in places you never saw coming.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/ios-app-tracking-transparency-advertising/

A Guide to Apple’s New App-Tracking Controls (ATT) in IOS 14.5

It’s the biggest lie of our time: “I have read the terms and conditions and privacy policy.”Read a bajillion words of legalese before hitting “agree” to use an app? Surrre.Yet I have one request for you when iOS 14.5 arrives on your iPhone and privacy pop-upalooza begins: Read them. Lucky for you, they’re short and crucial to understanding how your most personal info is used.

As for how you choose to answer these prompts, I have some advice on that, too.

On Monday, after many months of anticipation, Apple AAPL -0.24% released iOS 14.5. The update isn’t as big as the full-digit release that typically arrives each September, but it does have a few useful upgrades.Siri has some new, more realistic voices. If you’re setting up a new device, the virtual assistant no longer defaults to a female voice —something I’ve long advocated for. Then, there’s the new mask-unlock trick. If you’re wearing a mask and want to unlock your iPhone without punching in a passcode, you can use your Apple Watch to confirm it’s you. Oh, and there’s a redesigned syringe emoji. No sore arm included.But the most important and most controversial update? App Tracking Transparency—abbreviated to ATT. The privacy feature requires any app that wants to track your activity and share it with other apps or websites to ask for permission.“We really just want to give users a choice,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, told me in an exclusive video interview. “These devices are so intimately a part of our lives and contain so much of what we’re thinking and where we’ve been and who we’ve been with that users deserve and need control of that information.” He added, “The abuses can range from creepy to dangerous.”

Many apps on your phone will begin showing pop-ups like these.

PHOTO: JOANNA STERN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

App developers, advertisers and social networks dependent on ad revenue don’t see it as such a humanitarian decision. For years, they’ve relied on this sort of tracking and sharing your info with data brokers to build a dossier on your digital habits to serve you highly personalized ads. Facebook has been vocal about Apple’s move, calling it “harmful to small businesses,” “anticompetitive” and “hypocritical.”“It’s people opting out without understanding the impact,” said Graham Mudd, Facebook’s vice president of Ads & Business Product Marketing. “If you look at Apple’s language and the lack of explanation, we’re concerned that people will opt out because of this discouraging prompt, and we will find ourselves in a world where the internet has more paywalls and where far fewer small businesses are able to reach their customers.”

“It wasn’t surprising to us to hear that some people were going to push back on this, but at the same time, we were completely confident that it’s the right thing,” Mr. Federighi said. While the feature’s rollout has been delayed, Mr. Federighi said that was caused not by backlash but because Apple had to make sure app developers could comply when a user opted out of tracking. Mr. Federighi said Apple worked hard on the clarity of the prompts and has created privacy-respecting ad tools for developers.After years of writing about the need for more privacy control, I’m grateful for the choice. But this is much more than just some eeny-meeny-miny-moe decision. This is a choice about who you think deserves your personal information, and how targeted you want the marketing in your feeds to be. When presented with a pop-up, here’s what to consider.

Option 1: Ask App Not to Track

This is your hands-off-my-data choice.Tapping this tells the system not to share something you probably never knew you were sharing, called an IDFA—Identifier for Advertisers. For years all iPhones have had this invisible string of numbers used for tracking and identifying you and your activity in and across apps. (Android has something similar.)Here’s an example of how it works: You download a free, ad-supported sleep app. A few hours later you start seeing ads for adult onesies in your Facebook feed. You also start seeing ads in the sleep app pertaining to other interests of yours—potentially as innocent as dish soap or as personal as fertility treatments.Behind the scenes the sleep app and Facebook were communicating about you using that identifier. And since most apps use it, the data attached to yours can include the apps you’ve downloaded, your search history, your purchase history, your recent locations and more.Tapping this option will restrict the app from accessing that tracking number (which your device no longer shares by default), but it also tells that app you don’t want to be tracked using sneakier means. That’s why it says “Ask App Not to Track” rather than “Do Not Track,” Mr. Federighi explained.Apps that might ignore the policy and continue to track through other means could be punished in the App Store, he added. “They might not be able to provide updates or their app could even be removed from the store.” Translation: Follow the rules or get out.The appeal of this option doesn’t need my explanation: Stop the tracking and the “surveillance capitalism,” as some call it, that’s been happening behind the scenes all these years.Those who prioritize privacy—or just don’t like pop-ups—can opt out of tracking altogether with a universal setting that tells all apps, “No.” On your iPhone go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking. You’ll see “Allow Apps to Request to Track.” Turn it off and apps won’t ask—and they won’t have access to your identifier.

If you want to stop tracking across all apps, and prevent future pop-ups, go to Settings and turn off ‚Allow Apps to Request to Track.‘

PHOTO: JOANNA STERN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If an app doesn’t have a pop-up, it doesn’t have your identifier and it shouldn’t be tracking and sharing your info with other apps. Apple’s own apps won’t have pop-ups, Mr. Federighi said. Google has also announced that many of its iOS apps will no longer use the IDFA.

Option 2: Allow Tracking

Tap this option and your data flows like the Mississippi—at least among the apps that get your consent. App makers have two opportunities to explain how they will use the data and convince you they’re worthy.When you get the pop-up, under the question “Allow [app] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” you’ll see a message from the app maker in small text. Most are short and tend to explain the need to track for “relevant” or “personalized” ads. Still, read them—you may be surprised by what’s said.Others go a step further. Before you get to that official pop-up, some will show a full screen explaining the benefits of advertising and how they use personal data.Merriam-Webster sure got my attention: “The Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus with hundreds of thousands of entries are free, but we couldn’t do that without ads.” That’s one way to pull at the heartstrings of a professional writer. The McDonald’s app offering more ads for “food you love”? Not as compelling.

Before you see the official iOS prompt, apps may show a full screen encouraging you to opt into tracking.

PHOTO: JOANNA STERN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When I asked business owners and execs in the ad industry and social media to explain why people should tap “Allow,” their answers boiled down to the following:

  • You want relevant ads. Many tracking pleas mentioned the days when our social-media feeds were full of pointless ads. “I don’t have a baby. I don’t even like babies! Why are you trying to sell me diapers?” But remember tapping this won’t make all ads—and not even all relevant ads—go away. There are still ways to deliver targeted ads without this sort of tracking.
  • You want to support small businesses. “As a consumer and mother, I get it. As a business owner, this sucks,” Erin LaCkore, a 35-year-old owner of LaCkore Couture, a small jewelry brand, told me. “There are so many more people I would be able to reach.” Facebook’s ad tools allow her and many other small businesses to carefully target people who would be interested in their products.

“When people go to make this decision, I want them to A) think of their safety but B) what you might have missed out on that you might have loved as a consumer,” she added. (My colleague Christopher Mims explored the impact on small businesses in a recent column.)

  • You want the internet to remain free. Facebook argues this move threatens the ability for apps to remain free and ad-supported. Mr. Federighi said that there was a similar response years back when Apple introduced privacy features in Safari, yet ads still appear on websites viewed in Safari.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people will likely say no to tracking. AppsFlyer is a measurement firm that helps businesses evaluate ad-campaign performance. According to the company’s data, based on the early use of ATT in iOS, the opt-in rate was an average of 26% per app across nearly 550 apps. People are more likely to allow tracking with nongaming apps and brands that they trust.Whatever you decide, you can always change your mind. In that Tracking section of your Privacy settings, you can adjust your choice for each app.“People have their own sense of privacy and how important it is to them,” Mr. Federighi said. “So we will all make our personal decisions.”His personal decision? Oh, he’ll be opting out. I plan to do the same for many apps—especially ones that handle my most personal information—but I will consider it case by case, and read each pop-up with care.

Apple vs. Facebook: Why iOS 14.5 Started a Big Tech Fight
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Apple vs. Facebook: Why iOS 14.5 Started a Big Tech Fight
Apple vs. Facebook: Why iOS 14.5 Started a Big Tech Fight
A new privacy feature in Apple’s iOS 14.5 requires apps to request permission to track you. And Facebook isn’t happy about it. WSJ’s Joanna Stern put Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook into the ring to explain why this software update has kicked off a tech slugfest. Photo illustration: Preston Jessee for The Wall Street Journal

How This Apple IOS Feature Will Change Your iPhone Forever

Apple’s biggest mid cycle operating system update ever, iOS 14.5, is due to launch over the next few days, the iPhone maker has confirmed. The iOS 14.5 ugrade includes a barrage of cool new features, but the most outstanding by far is App Tracking Transparency (ATT)—and it will change your iPhone forever.

ATT has ruffled many feathers across the advertising industry because it effectively spells the end of the IDFA (identifier for advertisers), a unique device code that companies use to track your activity across iPhone apps and services. The iOS 14.5 privacy change hurts companies such as Facebook the most, and the social network has been protesting against ATT for months.

What exactly is ATT?

ATT is a feature that requires app makers to ask for your permission to track you across iPhone apps and services. In reality, that means after upgrading to iOS 14.5, you will see a pop-up box (see picture below), which reads: “Allow X to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?”You can then choose “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow.”

In iOS 14.5, if you ask the app not to track, it will lose access to the IDFA, the unique device code I mentioned earlier. Apple has also stipulated that app makers must not track iPhone users in other ways using data such as email addresses.

Why has Facebook kicked up such a fuss about ATT?

Facebook has been very vocal in its opposition to ATT since the feature was delayed from the initial launch of iOS 14.5 last year. The social network even took out full page newspaper ads to criticize Apple’s privacy move, saying it would hurt small businesses the most.It’s true the iOS 14.5 privacy change will impact small advertisers, but it is the likes of Facebook who will be impacted the most. Unlike Apple, whose business model is based around the hardware and services it sells, Facebook’s is based around advertising. Access to the IDFA has helped data-hungry Facebook to demonstrate the effectiveness of ad campaigns. You might see an ad on Facebook, then Google the company’s website and make a purchase. If you allow iPhone IDFA tracking, this data can be collected and used to measure the success of ad campaigns to improve personalized ads.Facebook says iOS 14.5’s ATT is being used by Apple to push its own business model for profit, at the expense of Facebook’s and others. Indeed, a recent Financial Times report detailed how the iPhone maker is due to dip its own toes back into mobile ads, via an expansion of its App Store ads business. There is also the argument that Apple is trying to force app developers to charge more for things such as in app purchases and subscriptions, and the iPhone maker of course takes a cut.

What does ATT mean for me and my iPhone? 

In reality, ATT is good for you and privacy on your iPhone. The reason? Transparency. Even if you choose to allow tracking, at least you have done so with the full knowledge that it is happening. Apple’s iOS 14.5 is game-changing for mobile advertising more widely too. It’s thought Google’s Android will bring in something similar, which ultimately would see internet advertising changed, for the better, forever. So the implications of ATT are great for the privacy of iPhone users, and internet and smartphone users more broadly too. Privacy experts approve of Apple’s iOS 14.5 move. Sean Wright, SME application security lead at Immersive Labs says ATT’s “a good move by Apple.”As well as making things more transparent to users, he hopes it will force app developers “to seriously consider all the data they are attempting to collect, and if they really require it.”

How do I use ATT?

Once you’ve downloaded iOS 14.5, which is coming at some point during the next week, using ATT is easy. You simply wait for the pop up to appear in each app you use and allow, or don’t allow, tracking on a per app basis.Another cool tip that you might find useful is, you can also go to your settings in iOS 14.5 and turn off tracking altogether. Just go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking > Allow Apps to Request to Track.This will be automatically toggled to “on,” but you can toggle off the ability to track altogether here. That will stop a potentially annoying pop up appearing in each iOS app you open. You can also control the apps you have allowed to track here, if you want to turn them off, or enable them to track you.

Is there anything else I need to know?

The iOS 14.5 move is massive for iPhone privacy, but you need to be aware that apps do still collect your data. Apple’s privacy labels made that clear—they were a stark reminder that Facebook owned WhatsApp collects vast amounts of information and way more than its rivals. There is a decision you make when you use free apps and services and that’s whether to give them your data. If you are not paying for the product, you are the product, after all. At the same time, Apple does say ATT applies to its own apps, and we will hopefully see this in action in iOS 14.5.Experts have pointed out that like Cookie notices, the pop up to allow tracking may get annoying, so it’s important not to just “Allow” in a bid to speed things up. If you don’t want tracking at all, you can toggle it off in the settings as I described. Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET says: “ATT should not be ignored and viewed as yet another pop up which gently forces you to agree and accept it. This is a perfect time to allow people to reflect on their personal data and what the large corporations are doing with it. Companies such as Facebook heavily rely on iPhone users to consent to data sharing and such intrusion shouldn’t be taken lightly.” 

Should I turn iPhone IDFA tracking off for all apps?

IOS.14.5’s ATT really is an outstanding new feature and to track, or not to track, is the key question here. If you care about privacy on your iPhone, and you are uncomfortable about the data being collected about you online, ATT now gives you the means to turn that off. In iOS 14.5, the choice, as they say, is yours—and that’s the truly important thing.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2021/04/24/ios-145-how-this-outstanding-new-feature-will-change-your-iphone-forever/

Signal Founder May Have Been More Than a Tech Adviser to MobileCoin

  • Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike, whom MobileCoin previously described as a technical adviser, may have been more deeply involved in the cryptocurrency project.

  • An earlier, nearly identical white paper found online, which MobileCoin CEO Joshua Goldbard called „erroneous,“ lists Marlinspike as the project’s original CTO.

The founder and CEO of encrypted messaging app Signal, Moxie Marlinspike may have been the former CTO of MobileCoin, a cryptocurrency that Signal recently integrated for in-app payments, early versions of MobileCoin technical documents suggest.

MobileCoin CEO Joshua Goldbard told CoinDesk this 2017 white paper is “not something [he] or anyone at MobileCoin wrote,” though it is very nearly a verbatim precursor to MobileCoin’s current white paper. Additionally, snapshots of MobileCoin’s homepage from Dec. 18, 2017, until April 2018, list Marlinspike as one of three members of “The Team,” though his title is not given there. He is not listed as an adviser until May 2018.

The team for the self-described privacy coin has always acknowledged Marlinspike as an adviser to the project, but neither the team nor Marlinspike has ever disclosed direct involvement through an in-house role, much less one so involved as Chief Technical Officer.

If Marlinspike actually was involved as a CTO in MobileCoin’s early days, the recent Signal integration raises questions of MobileCoin’s motivation for associating itself with the renowned cryptographer, along with his own motive for aligning with the project, given the MOB team has historically downplayed this involvement.

“Signal sold out their user base by creating and marketing a cryptocurrency based solely on their ability to sell the future tokens to a captive audience,” said Bitcoin Core developer Matt Corallo, who also used to contribute to Signal’s open-source software.

A screenshot of MobileCoin’s website frontpage on Dec. 18, 2017. Marlinspike is listed as a team member until May 2018.
(Wayback Machine)

Goldbard shared another document dated Nov. 13, 2017, same as the other white paper, which does not list a team for the project. He claimed that this white paper was the authentic one and the other was not.

“Moxie was never CTO. A white paper we never wrote was erroneously linked to in our new book, ‘The Mechanics of MobileCoin.’ That erroneous white paper listed Moxie as CTO and, again, we never wrote that paper and Moxie was never CTO,” Goldbard told CoinDesk.

This book is actually the most recent “comprehensive, conceptual (and technical) exploration of the cryptocurrency MobileCoin” posted on the MobileCoin Foundation GitHub, which Goldbard describes as project’s “source of truth” and serves as the most up-to-date technical documentation for the project.

This ”real” version of the paper is nearly identical to the “erroneous” white paper except there is no mention of team members or MobileCoin’s pre-sale details. (Both white papers and current MobileCoin technical documents are embedded at the end of this article for reference.)

Goldbard said the “erroneous” white paper was accidentally added as a footnote to this latest collection of technical documents compiled by Koe, a pseudonymous cryptographer who recently joined MobileCoin’s team. That footnote also lists Marlinspike as a co-author of the paper along with Goldbard.

“He just googled it, like everyone on the internet seems to be doing today, and put [it in] as a footnote. It was an oversight. I did not notice it in my review of the book prior to publishing,” Goldbard told CoinDesk.

A metadata analysis of the papers run by CoinDesk shows that the “erroneous” paper was generated on Dec. 9, 2017, while the “real” paper was generated two days later. 

A meta analysis of MobileCoin’s disputed white paper.
(Colin Harper)
A meta analysis of MobileCoin’s „real“ white paper.
(Colin Harper)

Marlinspike declined to comment on the record about his professional relationship with MobileCoin.

A tale of two papers

In a December 2017 Wired article titled “The Creator of Signal Has a Plan to Fix Cryptocurrency,” Marlinspike went on the record as a “technical adviser,” a title CoinDesk has also used to describe his relationship with MobileCoin in the past.

“There are lots of potential applications for MobileCoin, but Goldbard and Marlinspike envision it first as an integration in chat apps like Signal or WhatsApp,” the article reads. 

It also states that “Marlinspike first experimented with [Software Guard Extensions (SGX)] for Signal.” These special (and expensive) Intel SGX chips create a “secure enclave” within a device to protect software, and MobileCoin validators require them to function (validators, as in other permissioned databases, are chosen by the foundation behind MobileCoin).

In the 2017 white paper that Goldbard disavows, Marlinspike is listed under the “team” section as CTO, with experience including being “the lead developer of Open Whisper Systems, [meaning] Moxie is responsible for the entirety of Signal,” which had just over 10 million users at the time. This same white paper describes MobileCoin’s Goldbard as a “high school dropout who thinks deeply about narratives and information systems.”

Signal’s code has historically been open source, though this changed about a year ago; code for the MobileCoin integration was added in Signal’s last beta. The nonprofit, which has five full-time employees, subsists largely on donations and has no clear revenue model, though Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton injected $50 million into the app in 2018. A 2018 tax filing shows revenue of just over $600,000 for the fiscal year and over $100,000,000 in assets and $105,000,000 in liabilities.

MobileCoin supply and other details

The disavowed white paper also shows details of MobileCoin’s proposed distribution, which the paper says included selling 37.5 million MOB tokens (out of a 250 million supply) in a private presale at a price of $0.80 each for a total of $30 million. 

Indeed, in the spring of 2018, MOB raised $30 million from crypto exchange Binance and others in such a private presale, TechCrunch’s Taylor Hatmaker reported. Goldbard referred to the TechCrunch article when discussing MobileCoin’s financing with CoinDesk.

In a MobileCoin forum on Jan. 8, one user asked for details about MOB’s circulating supply.

“Supply: 250mill MOB; Circulating supply: impossible to know (‘circulating’ is pretty hard to define anyway),” Koe responded. MobileCoin does not currently have online tools such as a blockchain explorer to search the network for data.

One user chimed in to say that because all 250 million MOB were generated from a “premine,” or creation of maximum supply before launch, there’s no way for users to earn them through staking or mining.

“I suppose you could request donations,” Koe replied. 

Perhaps summing up the sense of betrayal the Signal community feels, one post simply reads, ‚Et tu, Signal?‘

MobileCoin’s consensus model copies Stellar’s, meaning only MobileCoin Foundation-approved nodes, which must run on a machine that uses the aforementioned Intel SGX chips, can partake in consensus. The white paper makes no references to rewards or payouts to validators from MOB supply.

MobileCoin Token Services, an affiliate of the MobileCoin Foundation, is currently selling MOB (presumably the remaining coins that did not sell in the presale) to non-U.S. investors by taking orders over email. 

MOB, for now, trades on FTX  and Bitfinex, two popular crypto exchanges, and a few smaller venues.

When the coin began trading in January, it first listed for around $5. Now, it’s worth about $55 (which, assuming a supply of 250 million MOB, gives the coin roughly the same market cap as Chainlink or Litecoin, the 10th and 9th most value cryptoassets by market cap). The coin clocked over $15 million in volume over the past 24 hours between FTX and Bitfinex, according to exchange data.

Speaking to the coin’s design, the founder of privacy coin monero (XMR, +2.85%), Richard Spagni, claimed that MobileCoin uses the privacy building blocks of his project’s source code for its own design without giving credit.

Who is Moxie Marlinspike?

Something of a legend in cryptography circles, Marlinspike began working on Signal in 2014 after founding Open Whisper Systems in 2013. Before this, he served as Twitter’s head of security after his 2010 startup, Whisper Systems, was acquired by the social network in 2011.

His only on-the-record professional relationship with MobileCoin comes from his technical advisory role, which he took on in late 2017 at the height of bitcoin’s last bull market and its accompanying initial coin offering bubble. 

Reporting on the project in 2019, the New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper and Mike Isaac originally wrote that “Signal … has its own coin in the works” before amending the article to clarify that “MobileCoin will work with Signal, but it is being developed independently of Signal.” The correction seems to typify the shifting narrative of Marlinspike’s and MOB’s relationship across various records. (Wired’s 2017 coverage, for example, says that “The Creator of Signal Has a Plan to Fix Cryptocurrency.”)

“I think usability is the biggest challenge with cryptocurrency today,” Marlinspike told Wired in the December 2017 article. “The innovations I want to see are ones that make cryptocurrency deployable in normal environments, without sacrificing the properties that distinguish cryptocurrency from existing payment mechanisms.”

Signal’s own users are less convinced.

The app’s Reddit page is plastered with submissions complaining about the decision to add MOB, with many confused as to why Signal would integrate a coin in the first place, let alone one that isn’t very well known (and which only went live this year).

“Using your messenger service to sit on the blockchain hype for no good reason, bloat a clean messenger app and introduce privacy concerns was more than unnecessary,” one post reads.

Perhaps summing up the sense of betrayal the Signal community feels, one post simply reads, “Et tu Signal?”

Speaking on Moxie’s involvement and the app’s decision to add MOB, Anderson Kill partner Stephen Palley said, “I can’t speak to the discrepancy between investor materials and what you’re being told, but I don’t necessarily judge them for wanting to make a buck after years of providing great open-source software basically for free.”

Signal first out the gate (but tripping)

Other messaging apps like Telegram and Kik have tried and failed to launch in-app cryptocurrency payments by rolling their own coins. Both attempts were promptly quashed by regulators. Encrypted messaging app Keybase was the first messaging app to add cryptocurrency payments when it integrated Stellar’s XLM (+14.33%) in 2018.

Given Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp, its involvement in the Libra coin project (now known as Diem) may be seen as a similar attempt.

Oddly, Signal’s addition of MobileCoin is the first instance of a messaging app actually pulling off a crypto integration. 

The question now is how many of Signal’s 50 million users, many of whom aren’t crypto enthusiasts, will use it.

Read the official and disputed MobileCoin white papers below:

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/502074292/content?start_page=undefined&view_mode=undefined&show_recommendations=undefined

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/502074632/content?start_page=undefined&view_mode=undefined&show_recommendations=undefined

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/502244393/content?start_page=undefined&view_mode=undefined&show_recommendations=undefined

Source: https://www.coindesk.com/signal-founder-may-have-been-more-than-tech-adviser-mobilecoin

Marlinspike argues, Signal didn’t enable those criminals, but instead simply made their tools available to more casual, non-criminal users.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/signal-mobilecoin-payments-messaging-cryptocurrency/

 

Signal Adds a Payments Feature—With a Privacy-Focused CryptocurrencyThe encrypted messaging app is integrating support for MobileCoin in a bid to keep up with the features offered by its more mainstream rivals.

Money goes into one phone and out another.MobileCoin will bring payments to Signal, but also added complexity and potential regulation. Illustration: Elena Lacey

To try to tame that volatility problem, Marlinspike and Goldbard say they imagine adding a feature in the future that will automatically exchange users‘ payments in dollars or another more stable currency for MobileCoin only when they make a payment, and then exchange it back on the recipient’s side—though it’s not yet clear if those trades could be made without leaving a trail that might identify the user. „There’s a world where maybe when you receive money, it can optionally just automatically settle into a pegged thing,“ Marlinspike says. „And then when you send money it converts back out.“The mechanics of how MobileCoin works to ensure its transactions‘ privacy and anonymity are—even for the world of cryptocurrency—practically a Rube Goldberg machine in their complexity. Like Monero, MobileCoin uses a protocol called CryptoNote and a technique it integrates known as Ring Confidential Transactions to mix up users‘ transactions, which makes tracing them vastly far more difficult and also hides the amount of transactions. But like Zcash, it also uses a technique called zero-knowledge proofs—specifically a form of those mathematical proofs known as Bulletproofs—that can guarantee a transaction has occurred without revealing its value.On top of all those techniques, MobileCoin takes advantage of the SGX feature of Intel processors, which is designed to allow a server to run code that even the server’s operator can’t alter.

MobileCoin uses that feature to ensure that servers in its network are deleting all lingering information about the transactions they carry out after the fact and leave only a kind of cryptographic receipt that proves the transaction occurred. Goldbard compares the entire process of a MobileCoin transaction to depositing a check at a bank, but one in which the check’s amount is obscured and it’s mixed up in a bag with nine other checks before it’s handed to a robotic bank teller. After handing back a deposit slip that proves the check was received, the robot shreds all 10 checks. „As long as SGX is working as promised, you can prove every robot cashier is working the same way and shredding every check,“ Goldbard says. And even if Intel’s SGX fails—security researchers have found numerous vulnerabilities in the feature over the last several years—Goldbard says that MobileCoin’s other privacy features still reduce any ability to identify users‘ transactions to low-probability guesses.If MobileCoin’s privacy promises hold true, Marlinspike says he hopes the cryptocurrency can help Signal reverse a troubling trend toward financial surveillance. If successful, Signal’s use of MobileCoin will also face the same hurdles and critiques that surround all privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies. Any technology that offers a way to anonymously spend money raises the specter of black market uses—from drug sales to money laundering to the evasion of international sanctions—along with the accompanying crush of financial regulations. And that means integrating MobileCoin could expose Signal to new regulatory risks that don’t apply to mere encrypted communications.

„I think it’s phenomenal from a civil liberties perspective,“ says Marta Belcher, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency lawyer who serves at special counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But Belcher points to a coming wave of regulation to control exactly the sort of anonymous cryptocurrency transactions Signal hopes to enable, including a new „enforcement framework“ the Justice Department published last fall and new regulations from FinCEN that could force more players in the cryptocurrency industry to collect identification details of users. „Anyone who’s dealing with cryptocurrency transactions, especially private cryptocurrency transactions, should be really concerned about all of these proposals and the government pushing financial surveillance to cryptocurrency,“ Belcher says.Matt Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University, puts it in starker terms.

„I’m terrified for Signal,“ says Green, who helped develop an early version of Zcash and now sits on the Zcash Foundation board as an unpaid member. „Signal as an encrypted messaging product is really valuable. Speaking solely as a person who is really into encrypted messaging, it terrifies me that they’re going to take this really clean story of an encrypted messenger and mix it up with the nightmare of laws and regulations and vulnerability that is cryptocurrency.“But Marlinspike and Goldbard counter that Signal’s new features won’t give it any control of MobileCoin or turn it into a MobileCoin exchange, which might lead to more regulatory scrutiny. Instead, it will merely add support for spending and receiving it. „The regulatory landscape is complicated, but there are ways to do privacy-protecting payments safely,“ says Goldbard. „To be frank, there’s a moral imperative to do so, because Signal has to offer payments in order to remain competitive with the world’s top messaging apps.“As for the possibility of enabling dangerous criminals and money launderers, Marlinspike offers an answer that mirrors one he’s long given for encrypted communications. Just as criminals used encryption for decades before Signal, they’ve used anonymous cryptocurrencies for years before Signal added MobileCoin payments as a feature.

For those criminals, the threat of law enforcement made using even clunky, tough-to-use tools necessary. By making those secure communications and payments easier, Marlinspike argues, Signal didn’t enable those criminals, but instead simply made their tools available to more casual, non-criminal users.“With Signal, we didn’t invent cryptography. We’re just making it accessible to people who didn’t want to cut and paste a lot of gobbledegook every time they sent a message,“ Marlinspike says. „I see a lot of parallels with this. We’re not inventing private payments…Privacy preserving cryptocurrencies have existed for years and will continue to exist. What we’re doing is just, again, a part of trying to make that accessible to ordinary people.“

 

How you farewell a Facebook account. And what you can do next

If the lack of news is a deal-breaker for your use of Facebook, how can you delete your account – and what are the consequences?

 

With Facebook blocking all news pages and links from its Australian service, some people will be weighing up how they’ll continue to use the social media platform.

Facebook is ubiquitous, and for many of us serves as a link to our friends, family, events, photos and memories. After Facebook’s snap decision on Thursday to block Australians from seeing news articles on its platform, some users began experimenting with loopholes to continuing sharing news, even resorting to breaking up the text in creative ways or using pictures of cats when posting news stories, to throw Facebook off the scent. But in the hours since, those loopholes appear to have been closed.

Is the lack of news a deal-breaker for your use of Facebook? If so, how will you go about deleting your account – and what are the consequences? And are there good alternatives for services that serve news to you?

How will I get my news?

If you previously relied mostly on Facebook for news it’s time to find an alternative, and the service(s) you choose will depend on how you like to consume your content.

If you’re moving to a new social media network, Twitter is an obvious choice. On Twitter, as with Facebook, you get to pick your friends, companies, personalities and outlets, and see their updates in a feed. A lot of news outlets post the same stories to Facebook and Twitter, and may even be more active on the latter now Facebook is out. One advantage of Twitter is you can follow a wide variety of news without crowding your feed too much. For example, you can save curated lists of people and outlets, say, by topic or friend group, to keep things separated. Or you can save specific searches so you’re always up to date on a specific topic or hashtag (those little phrases starting with # that people use to categorise comments, like #auspol for Australian politics).

 

You could also try Reddit or Discord, if you’re more into discussing the news with a like-minded community.

If you’re sticking with Facebook to keep up with friends, you might just want a straight news service or aggregator to get the latest headlines. Google News is available on every type of device and is good for either skimming the headlines or diving deep into a topic. It has curated “top stories”, suggestions based on your tastes, and you can save favourite sources and topics to a custom feed. On mobile phones, a News Showcase feature lets you read some usually paywalled stories for free. Apple News is similar if you solely use Apple devices, though its premium offering Apple News+ is more curated and you need to pay for it.

For a more DIY option you can collect things called RSS Feeds, which show you every article published on a given website, but they can be messy. Some more advanced RSS reading services, like Feedly, make it easier to create your own news service.

Finally, you can always go directly to the outlets you like. Bookmark the topic pages on websites you’re interested in, or many news outlets also offer newsletters, podcasts and apps to make accessing news more convenient.

What happens to my photos and posts if I delete Facebook?

If you’ve been on the social network for years you might wonder what the repercussions would be if you deleted that app and nuked your account. And the truth is, depending on how you’ve used it, there can be consequences.

 

Completely deleting your Facebook account will delete all the posts and photos you’ve shared on the service, and remove you from conversations and posts on other people’s Facebook feeds. You will no longer be able to use Facebook Messenger or access any conversations you had there.

If you used Facebook to sign up to other services, such as Spotify or Instagram, you may find it difficult to access them once your account is deleted. Facebook hardware products, such as Portal smart displays and Oculus VR (virtual reality) headsets, require a Facebook account for most functions. In the case of Oculus, you could lose any games you paid for if you delete Facebook.

After 30 days your Facebook account data becomes unrecoverable, although Facebook says it may take 90 days until all your data is gone from its servers.

So how do I do it without losing all my stuff?

For a less nuclear option you can “deactivate” your account; in which case the company keeps your data and you can still use Messenger. Other apps and websites can still log you in with Facebook, and you can reinstate your account in the future.

So if you’re removing yourself from Facebook, you first have to decide whether you’d like the option to come back later. If you do, you should choose a deactivation. If not, you want a deletion. Either way you will go to the same place.

How do you delete or deactivate a Facebook account?

On a computer:

  1. Log in to Facebook and hit the triangle at the top right of the page.
  2. Click on Settings and Privacy, and then Settings.
  3. Click on Your Facebook Information, and then Deactivation or Deletion.

On the mobile app:

  1. Tap the three horizontal lines at the bottom (iPhone) or top (Android) right of the screen.
  2. Scroll down and tap Settings and Privacy, and then Settings.
  3. Scroll down and tap Account Ownership and Control, then Deactivation and Deletion. See below for how to recoup your old posts, including photos.

Deactivation is as simple as entering your password and confirming a few times, but if you’re deleting your account and want to keep your stuff there are a few loose ends to tie up first.

When leaving Facebook, you have a choice of a deactivation where Facebook keeps all your data, or a total deletion that locks you out for good.

When leaving Facebook, you have a choice of a deactivation where Facebook keeps all your data, or a total deletion that locks you out for good.

Facebook can send your photos and videos directly to another service, such as Dropbox or Google Photos. Or, alternatively, you can download and store any or all information from your Facebook account. This can take some time if you want to keep everything, as it might include years of posts, photos, videos, comments, messages, event details and group discussions, marketplace listings, location information and advertising data. To do either of these things, follow the steps above but at step three choose Transfer a Copy of Your Photos, or Download Your Information.

How do you access Instagram if you’ve ditched Facebook?

Next, you’ll want to make sure you can still access other services. You can keep using Instagram after a Facebook deletion but you may need to make some changes. Before deleting Facebook go to Instagram’s settings, hit Accounts Center, then Logging in Across Accounts, and make sure it’s turned off. If you originally signed up to Instagram via Facebook, this will prompt you to create a password. Now your Instagram and Facebook accounts are separated – but be aware they are the same company and do share your data.

 

As for non-Facebook apps and services you used Facebook to sign up for, most will have an option in their settings to choose a different login or unlink from Facebook. If you’re unsure if this applies to any services you use, go to Facebook’s settings and hit Apps and Websites to see a list of services you’ve linked to Facebook.

What are some other services for sharing photos?

Google Photos and Apple iCloud are services you may already be using to back up pics from your phone. But you can also use them to share pictures with others, tag people and make comments. If you’re specifically wanting to share photos of the kids you can set up shared folders in Google Photos that do this automatically. Tinybeans is another good app specifically made for sharing photos of kids with family members and friends.

If you’re deleting Facebook entirely and want a Messenger replacement, Signal is probably closest since it’s secure and has seamless integration between mobile and web. You could say the same for WhatsApp, but if you’re completely expunging Facebook from your life that’s a no-go. If you need all the goofy stickers and video chat features, your phone’s default iMessage or Android Messenger is as good as you may get.

Groups and events are the hardest Facebook features to replace, as it can feel like you’re going to miss out if you’re not on Facebook. But there are alternatives, just make sure you have a phone number and/or active email for each of your friends before you leave. Paperless Post is a good service that lets you create events, send invites and track RSVPs, and you can always create a group chat on your messaging platform of choice.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/technology/how-you-farewell-a-facebook-account-and-what-you-can-do-next-20210219-p573wy.html

It’s time to unfriend Facebook when it resorts to starving us of news

 

If there was ever any doubt about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the network of users it has created, this news blackout is definitive. To Facebook, we are all merely pieces of data to be observed, exploited and monetised. As citizens we are worthless.

Australians need to respond with our mouses. We need to unfriend Facebook and find alternative places to connect and collaborate, free of its surveillance models and reckless self-interest.

 

The 30 per cent of Australians who rely on Facebook as their primary source of news will have to find it elsewhere or live a fact-free life following the Big Tech behemoth’s decision on Thursday to purge journalism from its site.

Overnight, Facebook has removed access to its users from any site that smells like news: not only local major mastheads such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but also specialist sites like The Conversation and global leaders such as The New York Times.

News blackout ... Facebook is ignoring the public interest while acting in self-interest.

News blackout … Facebook is ignoring the public interest while acting in self-interest. Credit:iStock

It also seems Fire and Rescue NSW, the Bureau of Meteorology, MS Research Australia, Doctors without Borders and state health departments are among many placed on the blacklist, showing the scope of the Mark Zuckerberg edict from Silicon Valley.

This is an arrogant and reckless move that will be dangerous for all Australians who are relying on an evidence-based response to a global pandemic, but also self-destructive to Facebook. While Facebook argues it does not make much money from news in its network, it is wilfully turning a blind eye to its value. News provides the facts and evidence to anchor what it claims is a ubiquitous digital experience.

If there was ever any doubt about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the network of users it has created, this news blackout is definitive. To Facebook, we are all merely pieces of data to be observed, exploited and monetised. As citizens we are worthless.

By rejecting the decisions of our elected representatives to implement the findings of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s review of its monopoly power, Facebook is asserting its commercial interests should prevail over the public interest. Indeed, Facebook seems more comfortable with its networks supporting despots and dictatorships by algorithmically fomenting division than respecting a government working in support of democracy.

This decision was made hours after our elected leaders from across the political spectrum endorsed the work of experts to deliver a significant reform that will make our democracy stronger.

The News Media Bargaining Code, the brainchild of the ACCC and its chairman Rod Sims, was a systemic response to the monopoly power that Google and Facebook exert over advertising and its impact on public interest journalism.

 

Under Australian law there is now a legal mechanism to place a value on fact-based news within the digital platforms that have come to dominate our online world with their algorithmically powered engines of division, distortion and denial.

The spectre of the code – with its global precedence – has already begun to do its job. Google has rushed to finalise premium-content deals with media organisations. These deals will not only make the Australian media, which has shed more than 5000 jobs in the past decade, stronger; it will help address the built-in weaknesses of digital platforms that refuse to discriminate fact from fiction.

And they were only the first step in the program of digital platform reform that the ACCC has laid out to address the power of the Google/Facebook monopoly.

 

A review of privacy laws is currently under way, looking at the way Australians’ personal information is collected and monetised by online platforms with a view to designing consumer rights and protections. A separate process is focussing on the responsibilities social media should have to address harmful misinformation and disinformation, dispelling for good the myth that they are platforms with no broader social obligations for the harm they cause.

There’s also a review of the creepy world of ad-tech, where automated, virtual trading floors are running real-time auctions for our attention every time we visit a news page.

But this sort of expression on democratic reform is a red line for Facebook, which believes its network is stronger than our public institutions.

Australians need to respond with our mouses. We need to unfriend Facebook and find alternative places to connect and collaborate, free of its surveillance models and reckless self-interest.

Peter Lewis is the director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/national/it-s-time-to-unfriend-facebook-when-it-resorts-to-starving-us-of-news-20210218-p573lt.html

 

Is it time to leave WhatsApp – and is Signal the answer!

 

The Facebook-owned messaging service has been hit by a global backlash over privacy. Many users are migrating to Signal or Telegram. Should you join them?

Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram app icons  on a smartphone screen
WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram: three leading choices for messaging services. Photograph: Rafael Henrique/Sopa Images/RexShutterstock
 

Earlier this month, WhatsApp issued a new privacy policy along with an ultimatum: accept these new terms, or delete WhatsApp from your smartphone. But the new privacy policy wasn’t particularly clear, and it was widely misinterpreted to mean WhatsApp would be sharing more sensitive personal data with its parent company Facebook. Unsurprisingly, it prompted a fierce backlash, with many users threatening to stop using the service.

WhatsApp soon issued a clarification, explaining that the new policy only affects the way users’ accounts interact with businesses (ie not with their friends) and does not mandate any new data collection. The messaging app also delayed the introduction of the policy by three months. Crucially, WhatsApp said, the new policy doesn’t affect the content of your chats, which remain protected by end-to-end encryption – the “gold standard” of security that means no one can view the content of messages, even WhatsApp, Facebook, or the authorities.

 

But the damage had already been done. The bungled communication attempts have raised awareness that WhatsApp does collect a lot of data, and some of this could be shared with Facebook. The BBC reported that Signal was downloaded 246,000 times worldwide in the week before WhatsApp announced the change on 4 January, and 8.8m times the week after.

WhatsApp does share some data with Facebook, including phone numbers and profile name, but this has been happening for years. WhatsApp has stated that in the UK and EU the update does not share further data with Facebook – because of strict privacy regulation, known as the general update to data protection regulation (GDPR). The messaging app doesn’t gather the content of your chats, but it does collect the metadata attached to them – such as the sender, the time a message was sent and who it was sent to. This can be shared with “Facebook companies”.

Facebook’s highly criticised data collection ethos has eroded trust in the social network. Its practices can put vulnerable people at risk, says Emily Overton, a data protection expert and managing director of RMGirl. She cites the example of Facebook’s “people you may know” algorithm exposing sex workers’ real names to their clients – despite both parties taking care to set up fake identities. “The more data they profile, the more they put people in vulnerable positions at risk.”

And the social network isn’t known for keeping promises. When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, it pledged to keep the two services separate. Yet only a few years later, Facebook announced aims to integrate the messaging systems of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. This appears to have stalled owing to technical and regulatory difficulties around encryption, but it’s still the long-term plan.


Why are people choosing Signal over Telegram?

Signal, a secure messaging app recommended by authorities such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Edward Snowden, has been the main beneficiary of the WhatsApp exodus. Another messaging app, Telegram, has also experienced an uptick in downloads, but Signal has been topping the charts on the Apple and Android app stores.

Signal benefits from being the most similar to WhatsApp in terms of features, while Telegram has had problems as a secure and private messaging app, with its live location feature recently coming under fire for privacy infringements. Crucially, Telegram is not end-to-end encrypted by default, instead storing your data in the cloud. Signal is end-to-end encrypted, collects less data than Telegram and stores messages on your device rather than in the cloud.


Does Signal have all the features I am used to and why is it more private?

Yes, Signal has most of the features you are used to on WhatsApp, such as stickers and emojis. You can set up and name groups, and it’s easy to send a message: just bring up the pen sign in the right-hand corner.

Signal has a desktop app, and you can voice and video chat with up to eight people. Like WhatsApp, Signal uses your phone number as your identity, something that has concerned some privacy and security advocates. However, the company has introduced pin codes in the hope of moving to a more secure and private way of identifying users in the future.

As well as being end-to-end encrypted, both WhatsApp and Signal have a “disappearing messages” feature for additional privacy. The major difference is how each app is funded. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, whose business model is based on advertising. Signal is privacy focused and has no desire to analyse, share or profit from users’ private information, says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.

Signal is supported by the non-profit Signal Foundation, set up in 2018 by WhatsApp founder Brian Acton and security researcher (and Signal Messenger CEO) Moxie Marlinspike, who created an encryption protocol that is used by several messaging services, including WhatsApp and Skype as well as Signal itself. Acton, who left Facebook in 2017 after expressing concerns over how the company operated, donated an initial $50m to Signal, and the open-source app is now funded by the community. Essentially that means developers across the world will continually work on it and fix security issues as part of a collaborative effort, making the app arguably more secure.

But there are concerns over whether Signal can maintain this free model as its user base increases to the tens, or potentially in the future, hundreds of millions. Signal is adamant it can continue to offer its service for free. “As a non-profit, we simply need to break even,” says Aruna Harder, the app’s COO.

Signal is exclusively supported by grants and donations, says Acton. “We believe that millions of people value privacy enough to sustain it, and we’re here to demonstrate that there is an alternative to the ad-based business models that exploit user privacy.”


I want to move to Signal. How do you persuade WhatsApp groups to switch?

The momentum away from WhatsApp does appear to be building, and you may find more of your friends have switched to Signal already. But persuading a larger contact group can be more challenging.

Overton has been using Signal for several years and says all her regular contacts use the app. “Even when dating online, I ask the person I want to go on a date with to download Signal, or they don’t get my number.”

Some Signal advocates have already begun to migrate their groups over from WhatsApp. Jim Creese, a security expert, is moving a neighbourhood text group of 100 people to Signal. He is starting with a smaller sub-group of 20, some of whom struggle with technology. Creese says most are ambivalent about switching “as long as the new method isn’t more difficult”.

He advises anyone who’s moving groups across apps to focus on the “why” first. “Explain the reasons for the change, how it is likely to affect them, and the benefits. Don’t rush the process. While WhatsApp might not be where you want to be today, there’s no emergency requiring an immediate move.”

Moore thinks the shift away from WhatsApp will continue to gain momentum, but he says it will take time to move everyone across. Until then, it’s likely you will need to keep both WhatsApp and Signal on your phone.

Moore is in the process of moving a family chat to Signal, for the second time. “When I originally tried, one family member didn’t understand my concerns and thought I was being overcautious.

“However, the recent news has helped him understand the potential issues and why moving isn’t such a bad idea. The next hurdle will be getting my mother to download a new app and use it for the first time without me physically assisting her.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jan/24/is-it-time-to-leave-whatsapp-and-is-signal-the-answer