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The Functionality Compromise

BY Matthew Brown

For many years, I’ve struggled with the knowledge that the trade-off for getting access to apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Alexa, is that these giants are granted in return access to my personal data.  I agree to this in the Terms and Conditions that I scroll past as I await the OK or “I agree” button at the bottom, so I can listen to a new tune on Amazon Music or view a photo belonging to an Instagram user who I follow.

 This was as much as I knew – I was happy to forgo my data in exchange for functionality for a long time, but as I’ve grown less comfortable with it, my mindset has shifted, and I no longer feel the need for some of these apps.  I’ve left WhatsApp as I was unhappy with their latest round of T&Cs.  My interpretation of these is that, effectively, WhatsApp can now share my data with Facebook, firstly to make their advertising to me more targeted based on my behaviour, but also allowing Facebook to use my data set to compare with other data sets and build data lakes of similarly profiled data sets.  I’m not comfortable with that, and therefore I’ve hit my functionality compromise limit. The value I get from WhatsApp is no longer outweighing the data compromise.

 So I turned them off.  I’ve switched to Signal, and I already had Telegram – both are worthy alternatives, and unlike WhatsApp they remain fully encrypted, at least for the time being.  My view is that once these platforms get really big – big like WhatsApp – then they will come under shareholder pressure to divulge their greatest asset – the data.

“At that point I’ll look for something else.“

I listen to music now by streaming music to a Bluetooth speaker, I unplugged the Amazon Alexa, and put it out of sight; what got me was that it was listening even when it was turned off.  That isn’t cool for me, and beyond sarcastically apologising to Amazon or Google while on a phone cal with a friend where the content gets a little illustrative, I was genuinely worried about what Amazon was collecting – again I scrolled right past their T&Cs.

 It’s akin to a credit card balance transfer model – you have to keep moving the debt, otherwise you’ll end up paying interest.

 Without WhatsApp, I was lonely to start with. All those group chats, gags and memes flying around, but slowly I realised I didn’t need them, or it. I think I’ve lost 20 or so conversations, but I don’t know with who! It’s like you’re house being burgled, and not identifying every stolen item until you need something and realise it’s gone.

 My personal data – and yours too – is valuable. There’s no denying it.  But where is the value to you, other than in trying in vain to protect it, if that’s something you’re into.  It’s an impossible fight.  If it wasn’t valuable then how have hundreds of third party vendors made significant margins on trading the data with brands and other service providers?  How do you think Facebook, Google and Instagram make a large slice of their money?

 I, for one, am experimenting with removing my data from these platforms, and seeing what the fallout is. So far, the functionality compromise is working for me. I don’t miss the apps I’ve ditched, I spend less time on screen, and I still have quality time with friends on more secure apps. Now I’m going to try to work out how to get out of Google.

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The Functionality Compromise