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February 20

Facebook & WhatsApp, Sitting On A Tree...

By Ella Miista
Exciting times! Facebook bought WhatsApp. $4bn in cash and another $15bn in Facebook shares, it's safe to say it's the wildest dream of any tech startup. That’s more than double the $8.5bn Microsoft paid for Skype or the €5.44bn Nokia cost. The $1bn Facebook spent on Instagram doesn't even sound worthy of a mention and until now it was their largest single spend. This is five years after Facebook rejected job applications from Jan Koum and his former Yahoo! colleague Brian Acton - the pair who then went on to found WhatsApp. According to the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton, that's likely how the two look like right now. Probably. A few fun facts about WhatsApp are that their office of 55 people doesn’t even have the company name on the door and that they don’t have a single person working in marketing or PR. They focus on a product that sells itself and that blatantly went well. When Skype was as old as WhatsApp, they had 50 million users. Facebook itself had 145 million people on the site. WhatsApp has 450 million. These numbers speak for themselves. They are perhaps also inducing fear which could explain all the dollars Facebook lashed out for the app. Texting is a pretty convenient way to communicate and there aren’t any ads when you send a text. No passive aggressive status updates, cringeworthy pictures or attention whoring by someone you went to high school with. It’s much cleaner. There are more than a billion smartphone users in the world today and the number is growing. Not as rapidly in Europe and the US but with companies like Samsung making more affordable 'entry level' products, developing countries like India are getting on the wagon. Zuckerberg says the app has plenty of room to grow in the states too. If your phone does 3G, why pay your telecom provider to send your mate an emoji? Basically, data messaging apps are the future. [caption id="attachment_22796" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The founders of WhatsApp, image via Forbes What they actually look like, image via Forbes[/caption] What’s scary about the future is, well, Facebook. One the one hand this takeover is just Facebook asserting its dominance which isn’t great to begin with - no one likes a monopoly unless it’s the board game and even then it’s debatable! But, there are also the phone numbers of not only the 450 million individual users but also the ones stored in their phonebooks. While the messaging app itself claims not to save any conversation history (once a message is deleted it’s gone for good) Facebook is notorious for its huge data storage. A little over a year ago their data grew over half a petabyte every 24 hours. This means every day more than 30 thousand 16GB iPhones would fill up with the new information Facebook stores. Deleting your social media presence at this stage is just a facade, an illusion. Your ex might not know who you’re dating now but Facebook still knows where you live. Pretty much every class or lecture on digital marketing and media hears a story of a father who found out his teenage daughter was knocked up through an offer sent by their choice of supermarket. Forbes wrote a lengthy piece on the statistical analysis that makes it possible for companies to come to conclusions like that and it's as interesting as it is frightening. On Valentine's Day Facebook posted on its blog about a sentiment analysis they've done to predict relationships forming. This isn't the most solid science ever because despite what Spike Jonze's latest film might suggest, robots don't have feelings. They can't detect sarcasm or read subtext. But, we're still giving away so much more of ourselves than we perhaps realise. On a side note, if someone at the Facebook HQ could analyse my profile and let me know when to expect a suitor... A Stranger Is Watching7 This isn't really all that funny. People go on tangents about NSA all the time and rightly so. Whether there are laws or political reasons to justify invading private lives, ethically it is still corrupt. Why do we then agree to give certain corporations all this information on a silver plate? We use the Internet a lot. We read the news online and upload pictures of shoes and cats to Instagram; even after Facebook bought it. We could've switched over to another app but we didn't. We could just as well leave WhatsApp for Viber or Kik but odds are we won't do this either. Neither will you. It's too convenient, and it's fine because we don't have anything to hide. Most people don't. Look, despite our penchant for shiny stuff there are no tinfoil hats covering our heads and we would never patronise you by saying how everyone is being brainwashed. We - us and you - are smarter than that. We realise what all this data is used for, at least to a degree, and we're conscious about the things we throw into this vast space waiting to be filled with information. That's the key, being conscious. As much as Facebook is a product for us use, we are exactly the same for them and it's important not to forget that. It's likely that this takeover won't drastically change our lives but it's yet another reminder that no matter how great are the passwords we come up with, the things we do with our smartphones aren't all that private.
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