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The Facebook and Whatsapp Adventure

I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. A decade or so ago, I had a professor (won’t divulge their name) ask me why I didn’t have a Facebook account, given that I worked in IT. The fact was surprising to them. However, that was the main reason I didn’t have a Facebook account. Back then, I even asked people not to even put my name into it, talk about me there, or even worse, put a picture of me, or any picture that I might have been in, into Facebook. I understood their privacy practices were questionable to say the least, and this was long before their activities hit the news and the consciousness of the general public.

Eventually, I would break down and get a Facebook account, once I started to gain an interest in keeping in touch with people for whom I might not have another means of contact or whom I might not feel like texting. One of the attractive things about Facebook is convenience and you do pay for this convenience, even if it’s not in dollars. Understanding that, I still signed up, but with the understanding that I would never post anything to Facebook that:

1. I either didn’t or wouldn’t post anywhere else.
2. I didn’t mind anybody knowing about me, or knowing that I had said, that I might not have posted anywhere else.

Nor would I go around friending everybody I knew.

One of the things that I miss about Google+ is the concept of circles. In G+, you could put your contacts into circles, should you perhaps want to add context to your relationships to those people and even segregate them. For instance, why would I want a relative, someone I’ve probably known my whole life, possibly interacting with a coworker I’ve only known a short amount of time? Or even someone I’m not tight with, and possibly at odds with, interacting with someone I am tight with. Google+, I felt, left a lot less room for drama. On Facebook, you just had friends, and while there are some ways built in now to minimize the kind of drama I wasn’t interested in then, Facebook didn’t seem to care back then. It seemed like Facebook’s interest was just in knowing who you know, no matter what, for their advertising and other activities. One could argue that Google’s product was a little more nefarious, given that it did include the possibility of you adding context to your relationships, meaning that Google could get to know you a little better that way.

Nor would I install their apps to my devices. Down the line, we’d find out how much data they were siphoning out of devices using their app. They were doing the same with cookies in the browser, but with apps like Firefox Focus, I could just delete the cookies after each session. And in Windows and on Chrome, I could just go into the browser settings and delete the cookies. When I started, I also used the app, Buffer, to send social media posts into Facebook, without the need to log fully in, until they took away Buffer’s ability to send posts to a personal profile. I see responses to any of my posts that way, but I didn’t care. I’d log in and see those later.

I’d also eventually get an Instagram account once I started to get into photography and share some of my pictures until the recent situation where a news organization used a photographer’s picture without their permission. As of this writing, I’m leaving up pictures of myself (because I know nobody cares) and otherwise just using my own little platform to boost messages important to me.

This has the extent of my interest in, and usage of, Facebook. No messenger on my phone. Anybody wanting to send me any messages directly could text me (good) or send me a message on Hangouts (better) or Signal, should it be something they wanted to really keep private. I never use it as SSO. I don’t link games and such to it. They already gather up enough other information about me, though, when I looked once at the stuff they were willing to tell you they had gathered about you, I was pleased to see that quite a bit of it was inaccurate. Nor was I ever going to correct any of it.

I have joined groups and friended people, but Facebook didn’t need me to post there to know that I’m a playwright, that’s public. Nor that I’m an actor. That’s public, too. I’m affiliated with Laurel Mill Playhouse. That’s public too. And that’s stuff I want a lot of people knowing. Maybe they’ll be interested in coming to see a play of mine after the pandemic.

So, I was happy with how I use Facebook.

Then, I got a message from a friend who was starting up a group of interest to me.

On Whatsapp.

And at first, that seemed really like a bridge too far.

Again, I’ve been happy with how I use Facebook. I didn’t want to go any further into it. Yes, I know Whatsapp is supposed to be end-to-end encrypted, using the same kind of encryption found inside of Signal. But, so long as the app is owned by Facebook, I’m not going to trust it fully. But I did decide I was going to somehow join the group. I decided I’d put it on my phone and not give it any permissions in Android settings. That way, I’d at least have the illusion of control over the app.

What I did not know was that the app required a telephone number to sign up.

That was a problem. I had no intention of putting my phone number into Facebook.

Now, I know that anybody with my number who has signed up with Facebook and who has me in their contacts, and uploaded them, would have already given my number to Facebook. But that doesn’t mean that I need to verify this information. No. No phone number.

But it was difficult to complete the signup without giving them one. I looked up some ways to subvert the process, but those looked a little too complicated, which would quickly become ironic.

I decided I would sign up for a free number with Talkatone. I’d used Talkatone in the past before, when it tickled me that I could do so much texting on my (older) iPad. Eventually, I’d let it go and they’d close my account, but this seemed like the perfect time to join back up. All I needed was to receive a single text.

And even better, I could sign up using Facebook. So, not only would I have a more or less burner text number, signing up using Facebook could, in theory, give them a number that they would know was mine and was good. Even though, from where I’m sitting, it’s far from.

I complete the signup within the app and then tell Whatsapp to use that number as my number for the service. Nope. When the app reported having received Whatsapp’s verification text, it said that this was a premium text and I had to make a purchase within Whatsapp in order receive the text. I figured Talkatone must be a means that a lot of people have used to sign up for Whatsapp or other services and this was Talkatone’s way of making a few extra bucks. I wasn’t upset or nonplussed. That’s just how the online game works.

And they’re far from the only app offering free texting. My next approach was TextFree, another free texting service I’d used in the past with my (old) iPad (I should do a post about free texting services one day). I signed up for another account and put the app on my iPod. This time, the verification SMS from Whatsapp didn’t even reach my inbox. I sent a message in from one of my Google Voice numbers and that went through, so I figured TextFree was outright blocking Whatsapp.

I thought about going to Text+, yet another free texting service, but I didn’t want to keep creating new accounts on these services, even if they would end up holding nothing but Whatsapp verification messages. Instead, I decided to use one of my Google Voice numbers, which I did not want to do at first. But, I settled on the one I use the least and since I configured it to not ever ring to my phone, there was no harm in using it. And it’s the most disposable of all my Google Voice numbers, so if I needed to quickly change it for whatever reason, that would be fine too.

So, I completed the signup with that number and joined the group.

When I was doing the initial signup, I declined to give Whatsapp access to my contacts. Uploading them into Whatsapp was tantamount to uploading them into Facebook, which I’ve never done, and I have many more contacts than Facebook knows that I have, which is how I like it.

After I was done signing up and joining the group, I decided to look around the app. I hit the new message button and the app explained that uploading my contacts was helpful, I guess, in finding out who I might know that used this app. Again, I declined, and this time, I checked the “don’t ask again” box because really, don’t ask me again. When I went back to the new message button, it told me that to help me message my friends and family, to go into Android permissions and turn on Contacts. When I tapped on “Not Now,” it went right back to the inbox. So, I guess you can’t initiate any conversations with anybody unless you give up your whole contacts list. Even if I know just one person who uses it, and even if they’ll know exactly who that one person is, they won’t allow you to just talk to them unless you tell them everybody you know. I’m guessing that this person could just initiate a conversation with you if they have your phone number, assuming that they themselves have uploaded their own contacts and are allowed to then send a message.

I don’t think I know anybody else who uses the service and that’s all well and good. I also don’t need to know, since I have other ways of contacting people. I’ll just use the app for the group and delete it once it’s done.


Updated: 14 May 2020

Functionally, I get why they want you to upload your contacts. Comparing them with known users of the service makes it easier for you to connect with them through that service. I still don’t like that, given that I still don’t want to give Facebook any more information about me than they’ve been able to hoover up from all across the web (I do not use Facebook for sign-on into any other site, so that’s helpful and I limit my use of Google for this purpose where I can). It’s a shame because Whatsapp is a pretty cool app. And one of the best parts is the login on the web, which I use often for my previously mentioned group. I just hop on the computer, receive the daily message, send my reply, then log out and most importantly, clear out my cookies.

Writer, et. al.

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