Shoot the Messenger: How Chat Apps Are Security Hellholes

There are dozens of texting options available. Here are several options with different capabilities. Unfortunately, many of the apps (or their parent companies) can be used for terrible evil.
Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #528
image of chat apps like whatsapp and facebook messenger

6. Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is the poster child for evil. It’s chock-full of all the privacy-invading, psychological-profiling, manipulative addiction we’ve come to expect from anything Facebook touches.

Facebook scans your conversations to profile you for ad targeting. They keep copies of your entire message history with everyone, forever. They accidentally leak user data to hackers, purposely give it to their business partners with no oversight, and use it to deliberately manipulate people to influence elections, which they did as an experiment as far back as 2012. More recently, they’ve refused to testify when summoned by Parliament, causing Parliament to take the unprecedented action of seizing internal Facebook emails by force.

If this is your cup of tea, or think the marginal convenience is worth enabling this bad behavior, this is your platform of choice. And rest easy. Facebook messenger almost certainly won’t get you slaughtered in your sleep. Just ask anyone from Myanmar.

7. Google Chat and Hangouts

Then there’s Google and Android. Google Chat and Google Hangouts are their free communication tools. According to a 2015 article and later articles, Hangouts is not really secure. It has some encryption but Google hasn’t answered questions about the end-to-end security. 

You can trust them, though. When they do to things that might give you pause (like accidentally exposing your data to the outside world), they do the responsible thing and own up to it immediately. Just kidding! Like everyone else, they lie and cover up their actions in order to “protect their brand.”

We do know for sure that Google scans your email without a warrant to prevent the spread of certain illegal content, and they turn you over to the police if they find it. Whether they do this with Google Chat messages as well is unknown.

I’d use the Google Chat and Hangouts for non-sensitive work conversations, but not for anything else. After all, we can believe them when they say “Do The Right Thing.” It’s just...right for whom?

8. SnapChat

Snapchat started by letting teenagers send naked pictures to each other that vanished after 10 seconds. Of course, it turned out that they didn’t really delete the naked pictures after all.

Now, Snap is a full-on media company in a chat app. Now, lots of things don’t disappear, and the app is oriented around watching video “stories” from advertisers. 

If you want a general media app with questionable content, Snap may be just the thing! If you want true privacy and security, it may sort of do that kinda. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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