Friday, July 26, 2013

Whatsapp/Viber and their stalkers/telemarketing friendly behaviour

Whatsapp and Viber are next generation of messengers. Who uses Yahoo, Gtalk or MSN messenger anymore? I guess not much of the population. Get a phone, enable data connection, install app and bang, you are connected to all of your friends in your phone. No hassles of finding who is on which messenger, mail id or anything like that. Just a phone number is all you need...Whatsapp seems to be replacing group medium like forums and mailgroups too. Make a group and gather online. Easy and near-online way to chatter, syncup and share things. Once live voice and video conferencing comes in, that could be another step.

With Whatsapp and Viber, I generically refer to similar family of messaging applications that are cropping up on various app stores. Whatsapp is used by me and many others that I know. So focus of this post remains on Whatsapp. Feel free to replace word Whatsapp with app of similar behaviour.

I have never been a fan of modern programming techniques, used by majority of Android and iOS clan. Call it generation gap and I would not mind too. Compare features on any old messengers and you would probably realise how half baked current software is. 

What Whatsapp and others dont tell you is the way it can affect you in a negative manner. Here's how...

These apps upload your contact list to their server. If your contact is on their records, its a match and you are connected. You can see that person online on your list and you can send a message right away. This is a convenience for stalkers/.
  • All they need is the number of other person, add it and shoot messages, till they block.
  • As long as the stalker doesnt send a message, he/she can see your display picture and status message. Depending on how much enthusiastic you are about your profile, you can give out good clues to them, about your name, gender, location and current activity.
  • They can see it without you even knowing them. You wouldnt know who has added you on their list. There is no way you can find it out.
  • You cannot prevent others from contacting you, you can block numbers but a determined person can use new numbers.
  • An idle person doesnt need to know your number too, they can add any random number to their contact list and voilla, they can start.
  • Telemarketers (in India atleast) can be banned from SMSing or calling you. Whatsapp broadcast storm is probably not under scope of DnD. Sooner or later telemarketers would start adding you on their contact list and spam with messages.
How can you save yourself?

Nothing much you can do beyond blocking people who approach, but...
  • Change your display picture to a generic picture, use your favorite celebrity, cat, dog, motorcycle, car, building, road or whatever. This will attract less contact mining stalkers who randomly add you.
  • Avoid putting detailed status messages, better yet, do not put one at all.
How the developers can help you?
  • Build user's contact list on mutual existance i.e. only if two people have each other's number saved on phone. So unless you know each other, you cannot see each other online, till both want to be seen.
  • By default block people who are not on your contact list. This will prevent random people from seeing you or contacting you or following you
  • Allow people to send out invitation request in old fashioned way
  • Allow users to choose if they wish to be contacted by people not on their list. If they select not to be, people can't send invitations.
As per mashable, As of June 20, 2013, WhatsApp has over 250 million active users, and handles 27 billion messages in a single day. There are already security concerns over your contact list lying on various servers and evesdropping poorly written apps that transmit plaintext data. Encryption can solve that to an extent but with every other app reading your contact list, you can't trust all, can you?